Christmas. Christ’s Mass. The birth of Jesus. The advent of the Christ child.
This is the season to rejoice, because we have been sent a saviour. “A saviour?”, some might wonder, “What are we being saved from?”
The answer is extremely simple on the surface. Jesus saves us from our sins; to give himself as a ransom for many. Simple, right?
But there are so many deeper levels of understanding of this simple statement which will not be elaborated here because this isn’t the purpose of this post. It also wouldn’t be possible for me to explain this to an adequate level of understanding in any one instance, for to do so would be to elaborate on the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church.
This post is about my worry over what Christmas has turned into.
Yes, there are many well-articulated writings on this issue, and mine will seem like a random rant. But something still urges me to go ahead and attempt to describe this worrying state that we’re in.
Christmas is celebrated in many countries around the world. Even non-Christians enjoy the festivities of Christmas, in the forms of feasting and the giving and receiving of presents. Just as how my family and I would seize the opportunity to have a nice meal during one of the many other religious public holidays in Singapore, it is totally understandable for non-Christians to engage in such festive activities.
But for us Christians, I just wanted to share a few thoughts or reflections on some of the things I’ve observed.
1. Are we really giving to those in need with the intention to alleviate their suffering, or so that we can feel good about ourselves?
Many charitable organisations do make use of this season of giving to promote their efforts and to seek for help from the public. But why do we need to wait until Christmas to do something good? Sometimes “feeding the hungry” during this period ends up contributing to the massive amount of holiday waste because, well, let’s face it, even the hungry can only consume a finite amount of food right? So again, are we doing good so that we feel good? We have the capability to do good at any time – and certainly at all times – of the year.
2. Could the time spent shopping be better spent elsewhere?
The culture of giving presents during Christmas is a pervasive one. But many times we end up getting unnecessary things for others – things that others simply don’t want and end up being trash. All that time could have been spent on prayer and reflection with Jesus in the adoration room. Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of having to squeeze with the crowd in malls, we ended up all squeezing inside our parish church’s adoration room to pray for our loved ones and to reflect on the coming of true love that is Christ?
3. When we have lunches or dinners, do we gather to be with one another, or are we focused on the irrelevant?
Christmas is the time to be together with family. That there is food around our gatherings is simply incidental. Yet, most of the time the food ends up being the reason for the gathering. There are many in the world who are not able to be with their families during this time. I’m sure they would give up that leg of ham or roast beef for an opportunity to be home with family. So let’s not abuse that privilege that we have. In fact, some of the best gatherings I’ve been to had, on hindsight, some of the worst food ever served. Yet everyone had enjoyed themselves because there was communion with one another.
4. Churches are packed on Christmas (and only on Christmas)!
A few years ago, someone exclaimed to me that she had fulfilled her “obligation” by attending Christmas Mass. I kept silent. The trouble with that was that at other times of the year, she was missing from church, having skipped Mass for one reason or another. Apart from Sundays, there are only four other holy days of obligation in Singapore. Yep, Sundays are days of obligation as well! Churches are packed during Christmas and usually more “spacious” at other times of the year. This bizaare phenomenon also manifests itself in the churches in other countries. One explanation I can think of is related to #1 above – that we attend Holy Mass during Christmas to “feel good”. The celebration of the Eucharist transcends our emotions. It is a public prayer that is part of our deposit of faith (depositum fidei) that is itself steeped in the richness of the church’s sacred traditions handed down by the apostles. If attending Mass is boring (like what I used to think) to us, then the problem is with our understanding of its significance.
Christmas is indeed one of the most wonderful times of the year. So let’s focus on receiving this “good gift” – the Eucharist – for Christmas (and for all times).