Should Catholics watch Christmas movies before December 25th? Should Christmas music be banned before the Vigil Mass of Christmas? How are Catholics supposed to discover “the true meaning of Christmas?”
We can run into groups or individuals who want to live Advent in a radical manner. Christmas cookies do not enter their home before the actual feast of Christmas. Christmas music is deemed noise pollution and strictly forbidden both at home and in the car. For them, going out to the mall seems almost like a walk through Sodom and Gomorrah, as the mistletoe, candy canes and Deck the Halls all represent the commercialization of Christmas and how Christ has lost out at Christmas.
But does it really seem necessary to demonize Frosty the Snowman? Is Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer the harbinger of the demise of Christendom? Can a Christian live Christmas in a secularized world?
Christians, and much more Catholics, have always had a knack to see the good in the world around them. Maybe the ubiquitous references to Christmas speak to society’s need to believe in something greater than itself. Yes, there is definitely a commercialization of Christmas. Coca Cola’s depiction of Santa Claus has a lot to do with the advertisements, Black Friday sales and general holiday rush. But at the same time, Christ is still behind it all. Perhaps he is hidden from view and forgotten by many, but he is still the “reason for the season,” as so many bumper stickers proudly proclaim.
Catholics are called to live Advent well. The Advent wreath is a nice Advent tradition that can help Catholics remember that Advent is essentially a time of preparation for Advent. The four candles represent the four weeks that the Church’s liturgy gives us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. The Advent wreath can remind us to pray grace before meals and perhaps read the Gospel of the day before we sit down to a family meal during the holiday season.
Christmas music can seem banal and is thus rejected by some who want a more spiritual Advent. But at the same time, we should ask ourselves honestly what we will end up listening to instead. Much of the mainstream Christmas music does remind us of giving and generosity and family tradition, at least in a roundabout fashion. Maybe it is not so bad after all. And when we are able to listen to Christmas hymns, even still during Advent, maybe they lift our minds and hearts and prepare us to celebrate Christmas in a spiritual way more readily.
As a child, I was fascinated by the effort of so many Christmas movies to find the true “spirit of Christmas.” This happened, even though I was fully aware of the Christmas Mass we would attend, as well as the Christmas calendar and Advent wreath we used religiously. The true “spirit of Christmas” or meaning of Christmas is that God becomes man to redeem mankind. This is truly a great gift and worth celebrating. Some would ban Christmas movies in their homes, but I would be wary to see what we will be watching instead.
In the end, I think each person has to see how he can best live Advent. It is admirable and laudable to look for more silence and withdraw from much of the secular pre-celebration. But for many Catholics, this is simply not possible at a general level. Most of us have to go to office celebrations well before Christmas. It is also an opportunity to connect with people who are important to us, but whom we do not see as regularly as we like most of the time.
Advent is a time for Catholics to be “in the world, but not of the world.” In the midst of Christmas shopping and maybe even humming along to some Christmas tunes, Catholics can remember. They can remember that two thousand years ago, a scared young mother and her husband found a cave where the Savior of mankind was born. They remember that Christ came to earth to redeem mankind, not to condemn it. In the same way, we should not condemn the world in which we live but try to spread a little bit of light so they can be led to the Christ Child. We are called to be the Star of Bethlehem for a people living in darkness. (cf. Mt. 4:16)
Christmas is meant to be a joyful time. The octave of Christmas (which ends with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1st) should be joy-filled. We should be careful that the pre-holiday celebrations do not dampen our spirit for the true celebration, which begins with Christmas itself.
A good way to measure our Christmas celebration is to see how we are on Christmas Day. Are we excited to receive the new king or are we tired and ready for it all to be over? If the King of kings arrives and our reaction is “meh,” we should re-think our Advent activities.
Greater silence and reflection are great practices for Advent. But we should start off looking at what is possible. Maybe we can integrate more religious Christmas music into our playlist or limit the Christmas movie watching to free up some time to make it over to church for adoration. May our pre-Christmas celebrations prepare us to welcome the King of kings.