By: Kathleen Yacharn
Christmas is, without a doubt, one of my favorite times of the year. Preparing in Advent, anticipating family gatherings, and coming together with all kinds of Catholics at a bustling Midnight Mass warms my heart every year. And while not everyone celebrates Christmas as a remembrance of the Birth of Jesus Christ, I love that people across wide spectrums of faith and culture come together to enjoy family, generosity, gratitude and joy, sit-down meals, and gatherings. It is an evangelization at its core; the tenets of giving, charity, and love permeate even the secular nonsense that have warped the origins of the holiday.
At the same time, Christmas is of the most frustrating holidays for me. The air is charged with frenetic holiday “cheer” and crazed, egotistical shoppers run over each other in a quest to get the perfect gift. Even before Thanksgiving is over, nostalgic tunes begin to play in every store (horrible pop covers are on in the trendier stores). Besides the commercial aspects, the newer trend is to indulge every sense we have from December to January. Never-ending parties boast a smorgasbord of delicacies, guilty pleasures, and indulgences. Gluttony and imprudence reign supreme during the season, and in the secular adaptation, seem to define it. An informal survey of my peers, and a review of my Christmases past, seems to suggest that the sheer amount of treats and cocktails contribute to Holiday Weight Gain, which inevitably becomes a motivator for the next New Year’s Resolution.
Reflecting like this makes it hard to spread Christmas cheer! After all, why reflect before Christmas? There is no Advent in our culture’s fascination with the holidays; no reason to reflect on anything except the latest flyers, ads or deals. Any growth required this time of the year is not of character but of waist, shopping list, and credit card debt. There are Hallmark mentions of doing good deeds for others but with no messages encouraging us throughout the year to continue doing so. Without the balance of watchfulness, preparation, and reconciliation in our spiritual lives, the joy and gaiety of the Christmas season becomes an exercise of sensual pleasures, with no anticipation and no natural end. It’s no wonder so many people experience the blues in the middle and end of the season. This season can be especially difficult time for those who have lost loved ones and are lonely or struggling, but reaching out to others is not currently a very popular holiday theme.
Every year I anticipate the Catholic Christmas season, and every year I stumble over the confusing themes offered by society and culture. Like a game of telephone, the original story has been lost in translation and only a garbled version remains. For this reason, one of my favorite movies is A Charlie Brown Christmas, which plays practically every other night this time of year. Charlie Brown senses that Christmas means something much more than dancing, gifts, or decorations, or even his friends’ and sister’s fixation on money. He doesn’t know why his holiday feels so empty. Only after he gives up on his search for meaning do his friends show him any affection or charity.
Although Charlie Brown is the antihero of the movie, my attention also is drawn to Linus, even before he asks for the lights to be dimmed to make his big speech. Linus enjoys the season by dancing, ice skating, and playing in the snow. But he also tries to be a sounding board for Charlie Brown, giving advice and occasionally becoming exasperated with his friend’s gloominess. The kids only reflect on the story of Christmas after he tells them. Even after Charlie Brown hears the message, he can’t overcome his own gloom. Linus is the first to try to cheer him up by helping to decorate his little tree, giving his beloved blanket to support it. Most importantly, he is spending the season of Christmas with its real meaning in his heart. He takes to the stage telling the Nativity story and putting the holiday into perspective for the whole Peanuts bunch, especially Charlie Brown. It may seem silly to write so much about a children’s movie, but there’s a reason it’s a beloved classic: it’s one of the few seasonal movies that tells the Nativity story and offers a moral. We should all try to be Linuses through the Christmas season, extending our charity and love to friends, families, and strangers. Most importantly, we should live the Good News through our actions and be ready to proclaim it at every opportunity. Although the translation may be different from what we will read at Christmas Mass, I’ll end on the best note possible: