The Biggest “C” in Christmas
Christmas – the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord – tends to bring out the many and varied understandings that people have regarding the Christian faith. When it comes to both Christmas and Christianity there are lots of “dead ends” – paths which, though attached to the main road, don’t go anywhere, which often fulfil an important function but which, if treated as ends in themselves, won’t get us where we want to go.
I’d like to suggest six “C’s” whose presence is ubiquitous during the Christmas season which fall into this category, as well as a 7th which gives meaning to them all.
Church. We all know that people generally attend Church services more at Christmastime. The “C & E” (Christmas and Easter) crowd, though large, is fleeting. Many people seem to expect that the Church will be there for them, year in and year out, without thinking too much about the fact that someone has to pay the bills, look after the maintenance, fill out reports, etc.
Others are involved in the Church on a day-to-day basis, engaged in administration, active in organizational life, working with youth, helping out wherever and however they can. For some people these activities become an end in themself.
Whether our Church membership is completely nominal or totally active we must never forget that Christmas is not simply about “Church”.
Cuisine. One of the most beautiful traditions of the Ukrainian people is the Holy Supper on Christmas Eve. The Holy Supper ties together all that is good and blessed in our life. But for some, sadly, it’s nothing more than an opportunity to eat “Ukrainian Soul Food”. Family members often attend the Holy Supper without attending worship services. We mustn’t forget that Jesus wasn’t born simply so that we might eat borscht and stuffed cabbage.
Culture. Who among us has not enjoyed the music of Christmas carolers? Who hasn’t been filled with joy during the performance of a Christmas play? Language, music, folk customs and even literary works (e.g. the public readings of “The Night Before Christmas” in our Canadian society, or the often elaborate and beautiful “vinshuvannia” of our Ukrainian carolers) are a mainstay of our Nativity celebrations. A tree cut off from its roots, though, is bound to die. What is the root of our “Christmas Culture”? What truth does it express?
Clan. Songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas” or “Christmas is for Children” became popular for good reason – it’s a time of year when people gather together as family, no matter what their faith or lack thereof. This custom, which is good in and of itself, can also be cut off from its roots. I heard not long ago about a family who had “Sviat Vechir” (Christmas Eve) in August! As with many families, the children were scattered all over the globe due to work, career, etc. The only time everyone could get together was in August. They decided, therefore, that they would have their Christmas Eve dinner at this time.
No one would disagree that it’s a good idea for families to spend time together as often as possible. But the Nativity is a feast day of the Church. Making the celebration of the Nativity of Christ into a family centred, rather than a Church centred celebration is problematic for obvious reasons.
Country. Here in Canada we’re proud of our Ukrainian heritage. One of the biggest opportunities we get to “self-identify” as Ukrainians is the celebration of our holidays according to the Julian Calendar. For over a century our friends and neighbours have heard about “Ukrainian Christmas”. But again, Jesus wasn’t born so that we might simply be proud of our Ukrainian roots, or our country of origin.
Community. It’s sad that in our contemporary western society the importance of community is more and more being eroded. Due to employment, economic factors, the “suburban lifestyle”, geographic dispersion, the cult of privacy, the internet, etc. we see more and more people living a solitary and secluded life. The Church, thank God, exists (among other things) to be community. There is no salvation in isolation. But reducing our religious life only to community, where we socialize with friends, do good works together, help and support one another, etc., turns it into just another club, nothing more than a free association of like-minded individuals.
Church, Cuisine, Culture, Clan, Country, and Community are all very important. But from the standpoint of our faith there is one more “C”, more important than any other, which gives meaning to all of them. As you may have guessed, it’s Christ.
Without Christ there is no Church. He is, as the saying goes, the “reason for the season” – but that’s not all. He’s the reason for everything, for the altruism we show towards one another, for the beautiful culture we are heirs of, for the love of God and neighbour we share at this Christmas season.
As we celebrate His birth, let us never forget that without Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). That the joy we feel is only meaningful and lasting insofar as it is the joy He gives us (Jn 16:24). And that only with Christ will our Christmas Eve suppers, parish gatherings, carols, families, churches and celebrations be blessed and holy, full of eternal meaning and heavenly joy.
Fr. Bohdan Hladio