Thursday, December 13, 2007

Easter & Christmas go together

I'm still hung up on Advent, I can't stop thinking about it. What I've been mulling over lately is the connection between Easter and Christmas.

Christmas isn't truly significant if we don't believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate on Easter. If we don't believe Christ gave himself up for us on the cross to save us from eternal separation from him, otherwise known as hell, then his birth is nothing more than a quaint story. Secular culture tries to make Christmas important by gift-giving and eating and getting together with friends and family, but the reason to do these things are dictated by a mere date on the calendar, as well as tradition. No, Christmas doesn't really make sense unless we believe in Easter.

The thing that has really been sinking in is that because of these reasons, Christmas is not the highest holy day of the Liturgical year-- Easter is. Christmas is only the beginning of the greatest story ever told....Easter is the end of it, the grand finale in which God fully reveals himself to us.

But Christmas gets all the attention! And I don't know what to do about it, exactly. Shall I deflate my 'Christmas spirit' in the name of being Christlike? Christmas has always been the big deal holiday, the only one that's so important I will get on an airplane to be with family. This isn't a bad thing, is it? But what do I do at Easter to celebrate that compares?

I'm grateful that I have experienced Easter as a Catholic, because Easter was profoundly different for me this year having observed Lent before hand. Easter didn't suddenly appear unannounced, I had been preparing for it for 40 days. Instead of coaxing some joy out of myself over Christ's resurrection, I couldn't help but feeling joyful. I wanted to throw a big party on Easter. It felt wrong not to.

I've been thinking of Advent as a mini-Lent, but it doesn't feel remotely the same. There are no jangly commercials to make me desperate for a remote with a mute button during Lent, there is nothing on my 'to do' list save 'get right with God', there is no planned overeating. Lent makes me think of a clean chalkboard, and December a cork board overflowing with push-pins and papers. These invasions are not Advent itself, but they make Advent harder to observe. So shall I dispense with them all? Shall I never throw a Christmas party? Not set foot in the mall?

I'm just looking for some balance here - a way to make the secular embellishments of Christmas more toned-down so I can sit down and have time to ponder my position relative to God. I don't want to go so far as to say that Christmas should be strictly celebrated at Church and in the heart, because it is a day worthy of rejoicing, and part of that is adding our human embellishments - feasting, visiting, a little extravagance here and there. That's just the way we do things on planet earth, and I think God understands...and perhaps there should be some more of that at my house on Easter.

I guess all I can say at this point is that I am really, really looking forward to Lent and Easter. This mini-Lent of Advent is making me crave the real thing.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on how to properly celebrate Advent, Christmas, or Easter, please share them!


onionboy said...

I enjoy Christmas but I love Easter.

There needn't be a false dichotomy of Christmas or Easter any more than there need be one such as Jesus or Mary, the Bible or Tradition. In our wonder-full and rich Catholic faith it's both and. Jesus and Mary, the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, Christmas and Easter.

I don't need to enter into the falsehoods manufactured around a secularized Christmas but neither do I need to cast it off in favour of Easter. In a sense we wouldn't have Easter without Christmas and Christmas reminds me again of the Yes of Mary and the (greater?) Yes of the second Person of the Holy Trinity so both Christmas and Easter are wonderful.

O {arts & fath} {faith & art}

Melanie B said...

I really liked this post and your last one. I think you do have a good understanding of the Liturgical Year.

You're right that in the Church Christmas is really a secondary feast to Easter. I was thinking about this the other day and talking about it with my husband. Why if Christmas is secondary, it is celebrated so much more.

He reminded me that part of that is that Christmas comes in the dead of winter, when we need festivities to lift our spirits... looking at the snow and sleet outside my windows this morning I can certainly appreciate that.

As for ideas about keeping Advent.... Here's a few off the top of my head:

1. Fasting.
Do you know that in the Orthodox church they fast for 40 days during advent just as they do in Lent? You could try fasting one day a week, or more depending on your situation. I can't fast this year because I'm pregnant. But I don't think it's a bad idea to maybe deny yourself some of the holiday treats and sweets until Christmas. Maybe save some special things that you eat only at Christmas, eggnog or special cookies or cakes and don't eat them until Christmas. And then let yourself enjoy them through the whole Christmas season. I think I'll do that with my family's traditional rum balls. It does make Christmas that little extra special when you get to enjoy a treat you only have once a year.

You could also fast from playing Christmas carols at home during Advent. I know you can't avoid them at the stores; but you can hold off putting on the radio in the car and not play your cds or mp3s until Christmas.

You can also postpone decorating your home, putting up your tree, etc. We would usually have got a tree by now but money has been a little tight. It has felt a little more like Advent, anticipating putting them up. I think we'll put up some decorations and our Nativity Scene today. Our parish priest recalls, though that they used to wait until Christmas eve.

Another idea is you could put up one ornament a day or one decoration a day, making the tree or house only gradually more festive until you put up whatever's left on Christmas Eve.

2. Prayer and Spiritual Reading

My husband and I are reading a little bit of the pope's new encyclical, his letter on Hope, which seems especially appropriate for Advent. We say evening prayers after we put our toddler to bed and then read a little bit and discuss what we've read.

I've also got a great little pamphlet called The Mystery of Christmas, by St Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) which I really like because she explicitly connects the moment of the nativity with the crucifixion. I've been meaning to post some excerpts on my blog. And I've got another book of Christmas meditations I haven't started yet that I mean to open this coming week. Maybe I'll write about that as I get to it.

3. Liturgical Traditions for the Home. There are many nice domestic customs that have grown up over the centuries by which Catholics mark time during advent and prepare for Christmas.

Lighting the advent wreath at dinner is a nice way of marking the passage of Advent. You light one more candle each week (purple or pink like the priest's vestments), marking the coming of Christ the light of the world. Traditionally at Christmas you light a big Christ candle, usually white or red. You can find books, or probably websites, that give suggestions for prayers or readings to say as you light the candle. Kids really like this, are fascinated by fire and enjoy the counting down aspect of it.

Your son is probably a little young this year for many of the great advent traditions like opening the doors to an advent calendar or making a Jesse Tree; but next year you might be able to do something with him.

The Jesse tree is fun and a very good exercise for mom as well as the kids. Essentially you read parts of the Bible, reviewing the history of God's covenants with his people, beginning with the creation of the world and continuing with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.

You can have the child color a picture, make an ornament and hang it on a tree (either on your Christmas tree or sometimes on a picture of a tree or other substitute.)

The advent calendar is similar. There are many variations, you can buy them or make them. The basic idea is that you open a door for each day until Christmas. There might be a picture inside, representing a Biblical figure like an angel or a shepherd. Some of them have a piece of chocolate for each day.

I saw a cute advent calendar for kids at the Catholic book store the other day. It's a magnetic nativity set and you put one piece up a day (they're numbered) and finally on Christmas you put baby Jesus in the manger.

Those are a few ideas. I'll probably think of more later.

Andrea said...

Since becoming Catholic I have also wanted to figure out a way to make our Easter celebration equal or exceed Christmas since it is even more significant liturgically and spiritually. I haven't come up with a whole lot yet, but I let you know if I do ;-) I think once we have a larger family of our own and we can start new traditions with our own crew, that might make it easier. I also think that with Christmas and Easter, one way to distiguish ourselves is to celebrate the whole season instead of just one day. Christmas 12 days and Easter for 50 whole days!

Melanie B said...

There's a good online advent calendar here.

jogger mom said...

The 12 days of Christmas is great--Christmas for just one day can be such a let-down after all the preparation/anticipation--I'd like to come up with some ways to carry Christmas over to 12 full days, sounds like a fun job. I'd forgotten Easter is for 50 days until yesterday when I flipped through the missal and saw there are 8(?) Sundays in Easter! Appropriate.