Category Archives: Holidays

Merry Christmas (and Happy Holidays?)

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I took an extended vacation from work (and blogging) over the Christmas and New Years holidays.    I sincerely hope everyone has found joy thus far in the Christmas Season.   Also, as a reminder, in our Catholic faith the Christmas Season begins on Christmas Eve – and it doesn’t end the next day!

I love Christmas.    I encourage everyone to find time to continue to celebrate this season through Saturday, which is the end of the official celebration of Christmas (the baptism of our Lord).    Keep in mind that we have not yet celebrated Epiphany, which is really the feast celebrating the first time representatives outside of the Jewish world met our new King.

It’s really easy to forget to continue this celebration because we all start off the New Year, we get back to work, and life resumes somewhat back to the normal that it was in the days preceding Christmas.    Keep it up!

Since I took a break, I have not had my follow-up on the Pope and Climate change.   There will be one, if not two, follow ups to that post.    I not only believe it is an important topic, but it has always been a scientific topic of interest of mine, and so I will be spending time on it, both from a scientific perspective but also from a faith perspective.

In the meantime, I wanted to just place a few thoughts down regarding the annual weirdness around whether or not people should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or anything else.

I find the whole thing an odd mixture of political correctness, and also a sincere recognition that not everyone believes all the same things.   So here is a litany of thoughts on the subject:

  • Christmas is on the calendar. To not mention the word at all, or to be unwilling to wish someone else that you know celebrates Christmas is simply stupid.   We wish people a good Memorial Day or Labor Day whether or not we actively celebrate the meaning or intent of that day (most of us really don’t.   Maybe some of us do on Memorial Day, and fewer yet could even come up with an explanation as to how Labor Day came to be and why.   And yet, none of have any issue wishing each other well on those days.   That’s because there’s no religious association attached to it.   Well, for those people who are not believers, it still doesn’t negate the holiday itself, even as a secular celebration.   So there should be no issues with wishing anyone a Merry Christmas, but even if you want to be sensitive to the matter of religious affiliation, if you know someone religiously or culturally celebrates it, just say it.
  • We’ve reached the point where wishing people a Merry Christmas almost feels like you’re taking a stand on something. That bothers me.   I say it because I want to, but I, too, have been browbeat with the political correctness to the point where it somehow feels bold or courageous to wish someone a Merry Christmas.   I hate that feeling.   It’s messed up.    Further, people who read an e-mail that says “Merry Christmas” probably feel like the person sending it just took a risk of offending people.     That’s even more messed up.
  • Having said all that, I don’t have anything really against “Happy Holidays,” under certain conditions:
    1. If someone has no idea whether the people they are addressing are believers, celebrate Christmas, or are Jewish, Muslim, or anything else (and there is a more than reasonable chance that the situation exists) then see nothing wrong with a generic salutation.
    2. If I know with certainty that someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas then I would give them a generic salutation. I would have no issue with talking about my own faith or celebration of Christmas, but in this situation why would I purposely wish them a happy celebration of something they don’t celebrate?   While I may wish in my heart they did celebrate it, it would be somewhat pointless outside of any other evangelization effort.   It would be like wishing someone in another country a happy US Independence Day.
  • If I make the mistake of wishing someone a Merry Christmas who doesn’t celebrate it, the appropriate response is “Thanks.” Don’t be a jerk.    It is also appropriate, in the case of someone you may be running into more often, to clear up the misunderstanding charitably by saying, “Why thank you.   Just so you know, though, I don’t celebrate Christmas but I certainly hope you have a Merry Christmas.”    There’s nothing wrong with that response.
  • If you are a Christian and you know that someone celebrates Hannukah, then wish them a Happy Hannukah, for crying out loud. It is not against your Christian religion to acknowledge someone else’s celebration.   I’d say the same thing about Kwanzaa, but I’m still convinced that’s generally made up and I know of nobody who actually celebrates it.   But for the five people that do, if you find them, then by all means extend a Merry Kwanzaa, or whatever the appropriate greeting, is.
  • The most annoying thing to me in this whole thing is that a number of good Christian people now seem scared to wish anyone a Merry Christmas. It’s one thing to take some precautions around more general audiences, or in uncertain situations.    But if you are a Christian, and I know you’re a Christian, and you know I’m a Christian, and you wish me a “Happy Holiday” then I want to whack you upside the head.   You have now officially conditioned yourself into being in “safe” mode and you aren’t even thinking about it.

 

In the end, does it all really matter?   Well, yes and no.   What clearly matters most is what’s in the heart and what your intent is.    Some people, in my opinion, turn this a bit too much into a war against political correctness, while some do go too crazy on the political correctness.   And there are tons of ancillary issues around Christmas that lead to all of this – arguments about displays on public property, songs sung in schools, etc.    But most people just want to wish people well, and we should recognize that.    But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back when we reach the point of silliness.    It’s good to not get overly dogmatic about things, but it’s also good to stem the tide of cleansing Christmas from Christmas.

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It’s Still not too late to say “Merry Christmas!”

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One of the things I love and appreciate about our Catholic faith is that we know how to celebrate! Now, many of you non-Catholics may be confused. After all, aren’t Catholics the ones who have these penitential seasons of Lent and Advent? Aren’t we the ones who have that “Catholic guilt” that drives us to confession? Aren’t our Masses, in general, not all that charismatic and – if not properly understood for what they are – boring?

Well, it is true that we give things up for Lent. And Advent is also penitential. And we do go to confession. And, unfortunately, Mass can all too often lack enthusiasm. Without going into an in-depth theological and philosophical musing on all this, let’s just say that to those Catholics who fully understand why we do all the things we do rather than just “following the rules” all these things have a purpose, and bring us joy. They may not be fun, and they may involve self-sacrifice, but the end result enhances the spiritual life and is a net positive on the “joy” meter. As for Mass, I personally wish we would be more enthusiastic as a whole about attending and participating in Mass. But again, for those who understand the Mass, our enjoyment and appreciation of it are not from charismatic singing and pulpit-pounding preaching. The Mass can certainly be enhanced with good music, a joyful congregation, and a good preacher, but the true joy of the Mass is the Word of God in both Scripture and Eucarist. Those elements are always there, and it is that from which our joy comes.

But, believe it or not, the Catholic faith not only encourages prolonged celebration, it outright demands it! Advent, for example, is a period of preparation and anticipation. It is not dissimilar to the rest of the world, both religious and secular, who decorate and buy presents and wrap them and make plans – all in anticipation of Christmas. Much of the rest of the world celebrates Christmas on Christmas Day, and then put their trees out to the curbs and take down their lights and start thinking about other things the day or two after. For the Catholic, though, Christmas Day is simply the first day of Christmas! Many Catholics I know exchange gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas, culminating on Epiphany. In fact, some make Epiphany the major gift exchange, since that is the actual celebration of the arrival of the wise men.

Even more pronounced is the celebration of Easter. After our Lenten sacrifices, we’re told to celebrate for the next 50 days! Unfortunately, too many of us do not carry through with the call to continue celebrating Christ’s resurrection, even though we faithfully heed the call to sacrifice during Lent. I think we sometimes do lose sight of the importance and need for celebration of our faith.

So, while everyone is saying “Happy New Year!” tell them to have a Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas! It is still not too late to wish them a Merry Christmas.

And, by the way, Merry Christmas!

Of Lent, Lenten Practices, Holy Week, and the Triduum

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Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on April 9, 2007.

I feel guilty for not posting during the last week on the Holiest week of the Church year.  As I wrote that first sentence, I recalled the old jokes about Catholics and guilt.  OK, so I don’t feel really, really guilty.  I just feel a little guilty.

But Holy Week has now passed us by and we have embarked upon the 50 days of celebrating the Easter Season!   Woo hoo!    Hey, you non-Catholics can tease us Catholics all you want about our 40 days of Lent and giving things up and not eating meat on Fridays,  but what you fail to realize is the unabashed partying that takes place after all that.   (“Unabashed” and “partying” probably need a more refined, Catholicized, interpretation in this reading.  But still…)

I didn’t really post all that much on the Lenten Season.  I had hoped to get around to it, but life often throws you in another direction.  For me, that direction was my Dad, my kids, my sudden interest on Global Warming and Earth’s cycles, my CD project, and so on.  But I would like to take a little time to reflect on the last 40 days leading up to and culminating in Easter, which is not as much about the Easter Bunny as some may think, and probably more to do with the Resurrection of Christ than many wish. 

We try to give things up as a family and as individual members of the family during the Lenten season.  I try to be careful to be low-key on those things so as to not be building myself up.  But that will not be a concern this year.  If I’m being honest, I don’t think I made Lent the season it was intended to be this year as much as I would should have.  I’m human, and while that is a reason, it’s not an excuse.   But still, our whole family did manage to use the season to get a good confession in – as I think everyone should.  We said more complete Rosaries and/or Divine Mercies as a family, and we greatly curtailed our dining out.  All in all, the season still looked a little different.  In reality, it probably looked more like it should look!  Many people in the world have it a lot worse every day than I have it on my worst day during Lent, that’s for sure.

Holy Week was a little more trying this year because of the situation with Dad.  He offered his own “passion” for the week with the Passion of Christ as best he could, I think.  The Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are always very enjoyable to me.  I know some people can’t get past the amount of time these services last (although the same people can sit and watch a stupid movie for two hours with no issues) but I hope most people take away the lessons of those days.  Holy Thursday, for any non-Catholics who may be interested, is celebrated in the Catholic Church as a celebration of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.   Of course, that’s the summit of it, but there are other interesting elements involved in that night. 

Normally, the tabernacle in the front of the Church houses our Lord in His Eucharistic presence, and so we genuflect as a sign of reverence.  This becomes commonplace for us and we sometimes forget why why do what we do.  Holy Thursday reminds us, because on that night the hosts are removed from the tabernacle and it is open.  Thus, no genuflection takes place, just a simple bow to the sanctuary.  Also, during the Mass there is a “washing of the feet” ceremony where the Priest washes the feet of the Parishioners.  I always welcome a good explanation of the sign of humility involved with that ritual.  In Christ’s time, this was the ultimate lowering of oneself in complete servitude to another.  The other thing about Holy Thursday that is special is the stripping of religious symbols (or covering them) in the Church.  All crosses/crucifixes are covered, the altar is stripped bare, holy water is emptied, etc.  This is because Holy Thursday marks the beginning of our Lord’s passion.  We will uncover all these things at the Easter Vigil in celebration of His Resurrection.

The Triduum is interesting in that the three days, Holy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter Vigil are all considered to be one continuous and long Mass.  Holy Thursday begins with the Priestly blessing, we have the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist, but there is no profession of faith and no final blessing.  On Good Friday, there is no Mass said.  It is, in fact, the one day of the year where it is not permitted.  Instead, we have a service where we read John’s account of the passion and a veneration of the cross.  The veneration in a large church like ours takes a long time, but it is a wonderful opportunity to symbolically take your burdens and place them at the cross.  We do have communion with Eucharistic hosts consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass, but no prayer of consecration is said, and thus it is not a Mass.

Finally, the Easter Vigil is the wonderful, high point of the Christian year in the Catholic Church.  The church starts out dark with only a single candle (a large candle that will burn all year, called the Paschal candle) lit.  From this candle, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the world, all persons in the church will receive a flame to light the candles they are holding.  When all is done, the church lights up and the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection begins!   The Vigil is lengthy, but very much worth it.  It is the night that many, many catechumens fully enter membership into the Church.  Any people that have not received a Christian baptism (non-Catholic but Christian baptisms of proper form are valid) are baptized.  Children are baptized.  People receive their First Eucharist.  People are confirmed.  It’s a wonderful celebration.  The readings, the Eucharist, the litanies, the candles, the entrants into the Church…   All point to Christ, and it is a fitting beginning to the Easter season!

Now, in our family, we used to attend the Vigil before, oh, the fourth kid or so.  As the kids get a little older we will go back to that, but for now we’ve attended Mass on Easter Sunday.  That’s very nice, too, but not as large a celebration as the Vigil.  (The early Vigils used to be the only Easter celebration, and would go all night! Now, people complain if they go past a couple hours…)   This year my two daughters and I joined in the music at the 10:30 Mass, so that was nice in a different way.

Of course, the Easter tradition with the kids just wouldn’t be complete, though, without a visit from the Easter Bunny.  That tricky bunny does have a knack for hiding the baskets of the older kids in the most difficult places!

Ash Wednesday’s Here? How’d That Happen?

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Originally posted on http://digitalditribes.wordpress.com on February 21, 2007.

Life’s pace never ceases to amaze me.  I know in my head that time goes along at a steady beat, but it just doesn’t seem like that’s the case.  Months and years become a blur.  Kids grow older and you find yourself thinking, “You shouldn’t be saying things that make you sound like an adult.  Stop it and go do something stupid so I can send you to the corner.”

So, as I reflect on the fact that it is Ash Wednesday, I’m thinking “How is it Ash Wednesday? I thought we just celebrated Christmas!”

But, nevertheless, I am incapable of slowing down or stopping time.  And so I must accept that we are now entering the Lenten Season and all that goes with it.  And, as with most things, I have a few random thoughts on this day.

The first is that I need to focus.  And it is my hope that everyone focuses.  What I mean is, an honest answer to the question “Why do we do that?”   It is so easy to refrain from eating meat on Fridays and getting ashes on the head today, and fasting today and on Good Friday, and so forth, without ever asking the question “What are we doing?”

Indeed, more than once us Catholics have been criticized for being overly ritualistic.  This criticism is unfounded in Scripture, however, as we observe Christ keeping the Passover and observing the Jewish laws and customs.  In fact, Christ even directed people to do what the Pharisees told them to do in obedience, but not to follow their hypocritical example in other ways.   There is humility in obedience, and humility in following the “laws” that our Church lays out for us.  And, it is true that Jesus relaxed certain laws, and had the authority to do so as the fulfillment of the Law.   But to suggest that this makes Church Law a sham is ill-conceived.  For one thing, Paul – a bishop of the Church – tells us to hold fast to our traditions.  Not to mention, we Catholics do believe that Christ established the Church to direct and guide us in His name.  Christ relaxed laws that had served their purpose to prepare the way for Him.  Also, many laws had lost their meaning, and people were going through the motions without thinking about their greater meaning.  This only shows us that certain rituals, obligations, or laws can occasionally be changed to meet the spiritual needs of the people.  These would not be doctrinal positions on faith and morals, but disciplines that help us live according to those doctrinal positions.  It also shows us that people have always had a problem with remembering that there is a reason they do what they do.

And therein lies the rub.  If there is one aspect of these criticisms that I do appreciate as being fair and on point, it’s the fact that too many people never think about why they are doing what they are doing.  And if that is the case, then people may be falling into a ritualistic trap of thinking they are saved by just doing things they are told.  While that certainly is obedient, it lacks the fullness of the beauty behind these rituals.  It also leads to the risk of loss of faith by just looking at these things as pointless rules that are placed in our path for the sole purpose of making our lives more difficult and taking the fun out of everything.  We should all understand the fact that such is not the case.  And if anyone reading this doesn’t understand that there are actual spiritual reasons behind the actions, then I encourage you to contemplate what those reasons might be, and then use this season to find out more aboout it.

Why do I get ashes placed on my forehead in the shape of a cross?  Think about it.  We are mortal.  The very words spoken as the ashes are applied should shake our sense of mortality.  Yet, the cross is a reminder that our mortality in one sense is no different than the mortality of Christ on the cross.  And with it comes the promise of Resurrection.  And why abstain from meat?  Why fast?   And why do we do what we do at Mass?  Why do we genuflect before the tabernacle and kneel during the consecration?  The list goes on.

Today and the next 40 days are a great time to reflect on the “why” of our worship both at Mass and in our daily lives.  There is real meaning to it, and it is beautiful in its constant theme of drawing us to divest oneself of the world and draw closer to Christ.  It is not the kind of detachment that says the whole world is bad.  It is a detachment that says, “All this will pass.  God will not.  Respect creation for what it is and as a temporary gift on your way to salvation, and don’t become too attached to it.”

I’m also always struck by the constant theme I see, and seem to be bringing to this blog: the need for balance.  For example, we read the Scripture today that tells us to not gloat about our fasting, and admonishes us not to go moping around drawing attention to ourselves.  And if we brag about our sacrifices, we have already received our reward.  Then, we receive ashes and our told to go out and display them for the world to see.  What gives?

Again, things are easily misunderstood, and context and balance are everything.  These things are about the heart.  Bragging brings glory to self.  And if you are wearing your ashes to draw attention to yourself in a way that makes you feel proud, then you should wash off those ashes.  But if you are “proud” to be a witness for Christ, and wear your ashes as a simple tool of evangelization and solidarity with Jesus, and offer this up for God’s glory, then by all means you should wear them until they fade.

May you all have a blessed Lenten Season.