Rorate Caeli

Opinion: Have yourself a Merry "Little Christmas"

On my way home from Mass on St. Stephen's Day, I passed by a supermarket where I could see a clerk hurriedly taking down red and green regalia from some front end tables in order to make room for a liquor display in anticipation of the following week's High Holy Day of Chronolotry. It was an annual reminder that whatever the "holiday" is that the secular world celebrates every year at this time, had once again come to a screeching halt just as Catholics were beginning to celebrate Christmas. Sadly this phenomenon has rubbed off on some younger or poorly formed Catholics (I know; those are often mutually inclusive) who unwittingly deprive themselves of the ongoing merriment of Christmastide because society has conditioned them to do so.

When I was very young, the BVM nuns who taught us would sometimes refer to the Feast of Epiphany as "Little Christmas". It was explained to us that, next to the Nativity itself, this was the most important event surrounding the birth of Christ. While shepherds were the first to pay homage to the newborn King at the invitation of angels, the Magi were the first men to come of their own accord to adore a King of whom they knew nothing about. Prestigious men. Foreign men of knowledge and considerable wealth who travelled a great distance without really knowing what to expect. It was the first sign of humanity being aware that things were about to change. Thus, "Little Christmas" is rightfully the other bookend of the "twelve days" we spend celebrating this season and, in this era perhaps more than any other, it should be given full recognition by the Faithful. Here follows a few ideas I propose to those who’d like to share the joy of the season with those who are ignorant of it.

Say "Merry Christmas" throughout the season - This will certainly provoke commentary, particularly when offered during the early days of the new year giving you a perfect opportunity to explain to your inquisitors a few things about the liturgical calendar.

Make some time to go to Mass - The feast days within the Octave of Christmas are of significance to the season (St. Stephen, protomartyr, St. John the Apostle...certainly The Holy Innocents) and attending Mass on at least some of these days is a way of keeping the season holy.

Exchange gifts at Epiphany rather than on Christmas Day - This will be sure to get some attention. Imagine this: Catholics far and wide avoid shopping malls and department stores with all the attendant insanity and ill will that abounds in such places during the designated "shopping season". When December 25th has come and gone, the Catholic population can take advantage of post "holiday" sales and pay a fraction of the price for things that others were standing in long lines to pay top dollar for just a few days prior - even the wrapping. Sure, some of the "hot items" may be gone, but what better way to take attention off the desires of mankind and focus them on the event mankind is celebrating? The world will no doubt ask "Why are Catholics exchanging gifts on January 6th while the rest of us have turned our thoughts toward profane things concerning Valentines Day?" (a subject for another day). At that point we can just tell them that we're commemorating man’s first gifts to God’s gift to man.

Music, caroling - Sure enough, all of those radio stations that were eager to get your attention with non-stop Christmas music starting three days before Halloween suddenly pulled the plug at midnight on December 25th and returned to more musically significant features like "Sabbath Day Black Sabbath" or "Madonna-rama Monday". Fortunately modern day electronics allows you to enjoy your favorite carols and hymns throughout Christmastide simply by popping CDs into the player when friends come to visit. You can do the same in your car and, depending on circumstances, maybe even your workplace. If you're a singer, why not schedule a couple of more caroling engagements with your choral group. The shopping malls and hotels may not want you anymore, but I don't think the retirement homes or hospitals will be quick to turn you down.

The Feast of Epiphany - If possible, take off of work or school on January 6th. Many companies allow their employees to take several paid "personal holidays" every year. Use the time to help swell attendance at Mass and then go do something festive with family or friends. If your employer or anyone else asks, tell them that you're observing a Holy Day. If enough of the Faithful did this, it could someday result in businesses being forced to scale back activity every year in deference to a Catholic feast day.

Epiphany water and chalk - If he doesn't already do so, ask your priest to honor the custom of blessing water and chalk on the eve of Epiphany or at Mass on the day itself. The water can be used to bless the rooms of your home and the chalk to make the traditional inscription above your doorway. Long after the Crèche is put away and the Christmas tree is gone, the yearly insignia of the Magi will still greet you and everyone who enters your home.

There you have it - some suggestions for keeping the fullness of the season. Undoubtedly you have a few you your own that you keep within your family or your parish and I invite you to share them with us. And I wish everyone a Merry Little Christmas.

[Original post 1/5/11]