Saturday, December 10, 2016

The nonsense surrounding the Christmas season

The 'Thinking Anew' column in 'The Irish Times' today.

Michael Commane
Are there any platitudes left to say about Christmas and the weeks leading up to the festive day?

Last Saturday driving back from climbing Djouce mountain in Wicklow, the prospect of getting caught in a traffic jam leading to a south Dublin shopping centre brought on nightmares. Indeed, it took away some of the great joy of the day's walking in the hills.

Are these just the thoughts and feelings of a grumpy old man with no children and no grandchildren getting annoyed about the razzmatazz of Christmas? There are times when I simply can't believe the madness that surrounds the 'Christmas season'.

During the four weeks of Advent it's a mix of clerics doling out preposterous clichés about preparing for the great event of the birth of Jesus, with the world of commerce trying every trick in the book to cajole us to buy buy, buy, buy.  There is an element of mass hysteria about it, which means it's difficult not to get caught up in it all.

Half a century ago the season of Christmas began on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception and ended with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

One cannot avoid wondering is there some sort of link between losing faith or belief in the incarnation with placing a far greater energy on celebrating the event, even if we don't have any belief in what it is all about.

If I read another word about how to cook the turkey, another word about how to behave at the Christmas office party, another word about how to avoid a hangover, I might explode. 

Honestly I'm bored to tears with it all. It's simply annoying and just as the world seems to be expressing a tiredness with conventional politics, it can't be long before we will all admit that we are punch drunk with the nonsense that surrounds Christmas. And again, like hysteria, many people are simply afraid to step off the carousel and admit that it has all got out of hand.

Is it as bad as that? Or is this simply not the thoughts of Charles Dickens'  miserly Scrooge, who sees Christmas festivities as humbug. That is, until he allows himself to experience conversion, be filled with joy and join in in the fun and games of the season of good will.

Of course, Christmas is a great time for children. Those who have been fortunate to have had happy childhoods will always recall childhood Christmases as special events in their lives. I can still remember, probably as a seven-year-old, getting a toy bus for Christmas. It had a battery, which meant I could turn on and off the lights. It was pure magic.

In my childhood, our liturgical celebration meant attending the earliest and quickest Mass possible to be home to play with the toys, and for Mum to get cracking on the Christmas dinner.

Certainly, the commercialisation was not as intense then as it is now but it would seem there has always been an ambivalence about Christmas. These days, just as with so many aspects of our lives, we tend to exaggerate the occasion.

I am reminded of the poet Patrick Kavanagh’s line when he wrote about Advent: "We have tested and tasted too much, lover/Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder."

Imagine, if we could take our leave of tinseltown for a moment, and think of the event we are celebrating, even ask ourselves imponderable questions about God: whether we believe in God and then whether we believe that Jesus Christ is God. What does it mean to say I believe in God?

Tomorrow's Gospel (Matthew 11: 2 - 11) talks about a God who heals, a God who makes the blind see. Surely Christmas is a time to think about healing and seeing.

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