Do you hear that friends? The ring, ting, tinkling of sleigh bells accosting your ears in the grocery store or while you’re waiting at the bank? Seems like October 31st, at the stroke of midnight, store owners ditched the monsters and ghosts and brought out the evergreens—a violent shove from scary and ghoulish to jolly and cozy. It’s almost as if they can visualize the Christmas dollars flying out of our wallets and into their pockets—and it can’t happen fast enough, so they must get to Christmas as soon as humanly possible (while still cashing in completely on the previous holiday). Christmas commercials, radio ads, and flyers have already been out for weeks. I have to laugh because the ads are touting these picturesque, snow-filled scenes, and I look outside my window and everything’s still green-ish. The malls are filling up and the patrons are getting grumpier by the second. Companies are not only planning, but having their “holiday” parties—and it’s November 16th. Does it feel a little early? Well children, that’s because it IS early—disconcertingly early. Our good neighbours to the south haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet and many to their direct north have had their trees and lights up for two weeks now.
I have nothing against commerce. Our society, such as it is, depends on our needs being met by businesses great and small. But since when have we become so materialistic that we would allow (or worse, demand) that media and big business dictate the start of the Christmastime, or even the changing of seasons in general? Has our hedonism consumed even the natural progression from season to season?
But it doesn’t end there. Not only do we wake up from our Halloween sugar-highs to a holly, jolly Christmas, but there is a certain hysteria that’s created in the months and weeks leading up to December 25th. “You only have 43 more shopping days until Christmas!!! Did you hear that??? FORTY THREE!!! You had better get out there and BUY, BUY, BUY!!” And we wonder why we’re so bloody exhausted on the 24th and dreading the (real) Christmas season. I think it’s a tad embarrassing really, us reacting like Pavlov’s dog the second this starts—and I’m totally guilty of it too. I get sucked in just as much as everyone else.
Luckily, the Church has built-in ways of snapping us out of the worldly and back to the real. Through her liturgy, which reflects the progression of seasons through its feasting and fasting, the changing of colours and altar cloths, the smells and the bells and the music, we can realize the harmonious transition from autumn to winter, from (Canadian) Thanksgiving and All Hallows Eve to Advent and Christmas. As nature retracts, gathers itself in, and burrows down deep into the earth once again in preparation for winter, Advent calms and subdues us, giving us time and space to pause and reflect on the past year and to begin the new year with the infant Jesus in our hearts. There is truly so much to ponder—I mean, the birth of this infant was so spectacularly universe-altering that even the stars were proclaiming him. Have we forgotten this? Has this exceptional babe born in Bethlehem been obliterated in the mania we call the “Christmas Season”?
It’s possible that he has. So I’ve come up with a few suggestions—Sarah’s Helpful Holiday Hints, if you will. Consciously slow down. Reflect. Be peaceful. And for the love of all that’s holy, stay away from shopping malls. Be attentive to the liturgical (and natural) seasons and let Christmas come upon you and your family—peacefully unhurried. Refuse to be sucked into the swirling vortex of materialistic hedonism. Smile at people. And most of all, pray for them and for yourself to be changed by our Infant Saviour. Then Christmas is transformed into a season of joy, excitement, and energy, instead of the soul-sucking, bank-account-draining exhaustion that it has become.