Happy holy days

Is it my imagination, or has the Christmas shopping season (or “holiday shopping season”) extended itself by another few weeks?

What we used to call “Black Friday” sales, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, seem to be creeping back toward early November.

So we are heading toward an amorphous two-month “holiday season” – not much consolation to those who will be working harder than ever during these months, either to sell us presents or to earn enough money to buy them (or both). Some holiday.

And Thanksgiving may increasingly lose its meaning, merely marking the halfway point in the commercial frenzy. It’s an embarrassing holiday for secularists anyway. Who or what can they thank? And ugh, Puritans are involved.

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by some grocery store cashiers with “Merry Christmas.” I’m pretty sure this year it will be “Happy Holidays.” And I’m tempted to confuse my greeter by replying “Happy Holy Days!”, which has the advantage of covering both Christmas and Hanukkah.

So I have some practical tips for keeping one’s sanity during this Advent and Christmas.

First, be countercultural by setting your Christmas clock differently. Dec. 1 begins Advent, which means “It’s coming!”

We await the first coming of Jesus in the manger, with an eye toward his second coming in glory. Hold off with Christmas decorations until Advent begins. (This may be hard if you have small children.)

See Christmas day as the beginning (not the end) of festivity and gift-giving. On or near the 12th day of Christmas, hold an Epiphany party (you can tell your secular friends it’s an “after Christmas” party).

People may ask why you’re doing things this way. Then you get to tell them. This is how evangelization begins.

Second, find ways to keep the religious meaning of the season before your eyes.

Pray, in ways and at times you usually don’t. The periodical “Magnificat” has a shortened version of morning and evening prayer for every day. Each day, with your loved ones, pray Mary’s own Magnificat (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord …”), thanking God for choosing her as mother of the Savior and for overturning the schemes of the rich and mighty.

Try some spiritual reading. “Watch for the Light” by Plough Publishing House has a reading by a great Christian writer for each day from Nov. 24 to Jan. 7. Each year, Bishop Robert E. Barron issues a booklet of Advent Gospel reflections. Other resources abound.

Remember that Jesus is not someone you have to squeeze into an otherwise secular holiday. Christmas means anything at all because it marks the beginning of the central event in the history of the universe.

When I’m in danger of forgetting that, I recall the poem “Christmas” by John Betjeman. Written decades ago and set in London, some of the poem seems dated and its references unfamiliar. But the last three stanzas are timeless:


“And is it true? And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,

A Baby in an ox’s stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?


“And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant.


“No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare –

That God was Man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.”


May you have a blessed Christmas.


Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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