December 14, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Christmas is a nostalgic occasion and holy time for people of faith

Cynthia DewesThere is a lot of nostalgia connected with Christmas. Which is kind of interesting since it is largely nostalgia for times or events or even people we’ve never experienced in real life. That is, except for the spiritual experience of Jesus and the true Christmas story, of course.

Still, it’s fun to watch a movie like A Christmas Story about the little boy in the 1940s who wanted a BB gun for Christmas. Even though some of us are ancient enough to actually remember how it was then, most people today are not familiar with things like the ornery furnace which the boy’s dad fights loudly and incessantly.

Nor do they know much about being dared to stick your tongue against a frozen pipe outdoors and finding it painfully stuck there or having your mouth washed out with soap when you used a forbidden word. Even belief in Santa Claus seems confined to younger children than in those days.

Of course, the reason we enjoy this movie is because the ideas presented are still in play today even though the examples used are not. Well-married dads still enjoy a bit of mild titillation as does the boy’s dad when he wins a shapely lamp made to look like a lady’s leg. And little boys still long for toys unapproved by Mom though a BB gun may not be one of them today.

The movie It’s a Wonderful Life is a similar nostalgia piece. And while much of the plot’s contents, like dancing the Charleston at the high school prom, bank failures or the Depression in the 1920s and 1930s are unknown to most of us, the themes behind them are not. We still have greed, honesty, generosity and love.

What about Charles Dickens’ 19th-century story A Christmas Carol? Why are we still eager to hear this tale about a mean old miser who dreams about his Christmas Past, Present and Future? Why do we relate to someone who lived in such a different world?

Well, again we understand greed—there’s always greed—kindness, poverty, courage and love no matter how they are presented. We continue to be moved by them and learn from them.

True, there are many so-called “Christmas” entertainments which are not the products of nostalgia unless you count longevity. Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer come to mine. Cute as they are, it may be a stretch to connect them with the story of Christmas. And it’s certainly hard with Christmas songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

Still, all these examples, some meaningful and some iffy, contribute to the “feel good” nature of the holiday. And I do mean “holi-day,” not “holly-day” or “jolly-day.” Such determinedly secular words are meant to downgrade the religious aspects of Christmas while maintaining the “feel-good” part. But, I’m sorry, that is impossible.

You see, Christmas is first and foremost a religious holy day, celebrating the promise of human salvation from sin and despair. That’s why we feel good! But, religious or not, everyone has to recognize that these problems are part of the human condition, and that we want to avoid them.

We should indeed enjoy all the fun things at Christmas time. We can take the kids to ask Santa for their hearts’ desires, put up a decorated tree, and party with friends and family because joy is the result of Christmas.

But during Advent we should always remember what that really means, and prepare for the ultimate joy of joining our generous God in heaven.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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