Way back in 1963, the renowned Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper wrote this in his wonderful little book In Tune with the World - A Theory of Festivity: “The opinion has been voiced, in all seriousness, that commercial advertising is not misusing the symbols of the Christmas festival, but rather that the Christmas holiday has borrowed the various motifs so successful in the department store displays, in order to exert a more powerful influence on the public.”
So, according to that viewpoint, Christmas has not been taken over by commercialization. Rather, commercialization has been taken over by Christmas. I don’t know the origin of the phrase “blaming the victim,” but this may be it.
There is no doubt that since the time of Pieper’s writing the celebration of Christmas has become more and more associated with crass commercialization, but that should not cause us to throw up our hands, shout “Humbug!”, and throw the covers over our heads.
On the one hand, there is a need to lean into the whole Christ-mas, or Christ’s Mass, spirit. Advent wreaths and candles, creche displays where baby Jesus and the three Wise Men don’t show up until their proper times, and attendance at one of the four different Masses of the Nativity - Vigil, Night, Dawn, Day - are all ways to keep the religious meaning of Christmas at the forefront of your family’s celebration.
But there is another aspect to Christmas, and insofar as we Catholics are concerned, it is as essential as the religious. The celebration of Christmas is not complete without Mass, but it is also not complete without the festivity. Our world has not only forgotten what Linus Van Pelt called “the true meaning of Christmas” - the religious significance of the birth of the Messiah in a manger in Bethlehem - but also the joy attached to it.
As we approach the end of the World Cup in Qatar, there are many - myself included - who hope that the final will be contested between Argentina and Morocco. And, a lot of it has nothing to do with football, rooting for Messi, or cheering on the underdog. It has to do with the fact that of the 32 nations represented at this World Cup, none have been more festive than the Argentines and the Moroccans. They have been the loudest, the most colorful, and the most celebratory. They understand that despite all of the side shows that have attempted to derail this World Cup, this is meant to be a festival.
Christmas, as a feast of the Church, should be celebrated in a similar fashion. I could not help but have these thoughts as I sat with my wife, daughter, and son-in-law in the Music Hall at Cleveland Public Auditorium, watching the matinee performance of The Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet: a Christmas festival tradition. The combination of the gorgeous music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the grace and athleticism of the dancers, and the visually stunning sets and costumes made for a true festival event.
But the ballet on stage was only half of the festival. It was the hundreds of children in the audience, dressed in their holiday best, who made this a true festival. Taking the time and effort to have children approach such an event with the care it deserves is a tribute to the parents who wanted their children to have the experience of one of the most impressive of our Christmas traditions, and to dress in such a way as to become a part of that experience. They have given their children not only the great gift of The Nutcracker!, but also, the more important gift of a full-on festive occasion.
In The Little Prince, the fox teaches the prince several important lessons, and one of them involves the definition of the word rite. A rite, so says the fox, is that which makes one day different from all of the rest. We need rites in our lives, especially those rites that involve the co-mingling of the sacred and the worldly, the spiritual and the material, that which brings us to our knees in adoration, and that which brings us to our feet in dance.
There are ten days between now and Midnight Mass, let us use that time to find ways to make Christmas a true festival celebration, even if it is something as simple as going outside with family and friends to enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations in your neighborhood. So, be festive, and in doing so, spend time with those you love and enjoy the celebration of the true, and full, meaning of Christmas.