Mark it: 2011 was the year society shattered the pretense of any Christmas reverence or good taste.
Department stores, having whittled away at the Thanksgiving feast for years, finally broke the pre-dawn Friday barrier to shoppers to swing open their doors and cash registers even earlier: on the holiday itself. Frenzied shoppers left the warmth of family and friends for a heated pursuit of gifts for those very same people they had just left.
A few of my ambitious neighbors began their holiday celebrations early as well. One family was outside stringing lights and positioning giant inflatable figurines even as I returned from my brother’s home Thanksgiving evening. The second candle on my Advent wreath was still unlit, but their home’s electric meter was whirling quickly as an illuminated Winnie the Pooh, Santa, and gingerbread men fluttered amongst the light-wrapped pines on the front lawn.
“At least they’ve remembered the Christ child,” I thought as I spied a small wooden nativity scene in amongst the secular figures, then blinked in disbelief at the tall sentinels posted nearby. Apparently these good folk own a different version of the Bible than I, for my St. Joseph edition of Luke’s gospel neglected to mention the shepherds or Magi resemble four-foot, strobe-lit candy canes.
Another neighbor couldn’t wait for Christmas to open his gift. Standing mutely at the curb last week was an empty box from a 64-inch, flat-screen, high-definition LCD television with surround sound (complete with the new brain probe option to determine and program favorite shows, sold separately). Perched alongside the box, in mute reproach, was the family’s prior model: a large, faux-wood encased console television awaiting its final trip to the town dump. Its owner must have felt a pang of guilt and wished it to find a new home, for the small sign taped to the screen read simply:
“Works, Just Old”.
Hey, I turned 51 years old today and well know that feeling; I might take a walk over there and ask to borrow that sign to wear around my neck.
Though my front lawn does not resemble a secularized amusement park like my neighbors, I cannot cast stones; I, too, often rush through my preparations for our Lord’s arrival. It is all too easy for my Christmas Eve to devolve into a race from church to church without any thought or spirituality. This year, my resolution is to breathe deeply, savor each distinct liturgy as it unfolds, and remember, as always, it is not about the lights but about the Light of the World.
With that, let me walk away from the light of this computer screen and prepare myself for the beauty of this evening’s Masses. I wish each of you a blessed, peaceful Christmas! Rejoice! He has come.
(Early breaking news: The race through the season continues. My friend Lisa in Texas just texted me: “At department store: Christmas out, Valentine’s Day on shelves!”)