Bring Back the Creche!
Less than 10 years ago Christmas in North America was a happy, joyous occasion for practically everyone. Suddenly, it faced an almost instant eclipse as secular humanists proclaimed it foisted superstitious practices on wide-eyed children and their confused parents. Responsive public school principals banned carols and Nativity plays, fearing they could be divisive and offensive to non-Christian newcomers.
Carefully orchestrated demands to make December 25 culturally inclusive had politicians in a sweat as they swore eternal fidelity to political correctness. As could be expected, spiritually deformed guiltnik parsons wrote their Saturday newspaper columns about the mythology of the Word made Flesh. Why pollute young minds with nonsense?
On a parallel plane, humanist and scientific gurus proclaimed that the gospel of Progress had replaced outworn folk tales. Christmas now became a dirty word, with a mandarin in Ontario Premier Bob Rae's socialist government warning his sycophantic minions against allowing Christmas "iconography" on public property.
Going one better, officials of a Toronto YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) felt the name "Christmas tree" was too denominational, so it was changed to "holiday tree." Fortunately, a normally phlegmatic citizenry roared with indignation and both edicts were hastily withdrawn.
These constant brush fire skirmishes against Christian symbols and beliefs suggest something far more portentous. In once-Catholic Quebec ice festivals replace Christmas and Epiphany celebrations, and in England the city of Birmingham blends Christmas figures with the Hindu and Sikh Diwali, the Jewish Hanukkah eight-branch candlestick, and Chinese and Vietnamese emblems. Thus Christmas becomes another syncretic victim.
Just to ensure that the great unwashed get the message, obliging editors invite "scholarly" contributions from experts who debunk the Infancy narratives. Only occasionally is space found for a column on the birth of Christ, the God- made-Man, and the Theotokos (the God-bearing mother). Should Christmas demand editorial attention, the media either treat it with a neurotic sensitivity or paganize the feast with reports on cash register sales. Tragically, this newly-hatched anti-creed has become accepted by millions as true Christianity. But it's the very opposite. A new cam-recorder or "holiday" tree mock the crib scene which not so long ago was found on countless town squares.
The opinion-formers and trend setters have little grasp of what new immigrants really want. Take Raheel Raza, an irate Muslim who vented her wrath in last December's Toronto Star. She was astounded that her traditional Christmas party had been renamed Holiday party by a politically correct company executive.
She asked why Christmas suddenly becomes a "skeleton in the closet and not mentioned by name, let alone celebrated openly without any hangups?" To her colleagues, all religious illiterates, she explained that in Islam Jesus Christ is seen as a great prophet and so should be honored.
Naively, she asks what is happening. Significantly, nine months later at the Cairo conference on population, the answer was clear as hundreds of harpies, led by the archcrone Bella Abzug of New York, screamed and cursed when Church teachings on life took centre stage. With strong support from Islam, pro-life forces checkmated the humanist bid to accept abortion as a birth control technique.
Birth is what Christmas is all about. During the Church's earliest years, it ranked with the Annunciation, and in the Middle East it was twinned with Christmas which, depending on the region, was celebrated on Dec. 25 or Jan. 6. The following day, the faithful celebrated the Incarnation of Christ, as the Annunciation was called.
The slaughter of the Holy Innocents was intertwined with these momentous events, becoming an important part of the Christmas octave. Here were the first martyrs of the Church, baptized by blood.
So Christmas is not a cutesy soap opera script. There's Christ's birth in a clammy cave used to stable hillside animals. His prickly straw bedding foreshadowed the nails that were to come 33 years later, and later came the Holy Family's flight to Egypt which effectively banished the Messiah.
Still part of the drama was the slaughter of Bethlehem's little boys because King Herod feared that one of them was a threat to his rule. Hence the holocaust which has a horrifying parallel in today's world. We could brood on St. Augustine's feeling that they died not only for Christ but prefigured the Crucifixion.
However, painful reminders of man's redemption usually get swept under the carpet at this time of the year and since pain is viewed as the worst of calamities, that carpet's mole hill gets larger and larger for much of the year. Even carols, now omitting the names of Christ and the angels, are replaced by "Christmassy" pop music, while increasingly common euphemisms include Happy Holiday and Yule Greetings.
Likely, inane folk using these terms are blissfully unaware that "Holiday" is a contraction of holy day, while "Yule" is an Old Norse heathen feast spanning 12 days which was "baptized" by the Church and grafted on to the Christmas cycle.
Today's trend is a complete reversal of this beautiful transition, and forces us back to darkness visible when Druids burned or slew men and women in great fire festivals, and a grotesque Earth Mother perhaps would use the ashes to enhance fertility.
Now, more and more Christmas or "Season" shopping catalogues focus on a smiling mother and father — or are they live-ins? — salivating over a mound of highly ornate, gold-ribboned packages. But where are the children? Their presence, perhaps, would connote fun spoilers. Life is now, not in the past nor in the future. And certainly a traditional crib around the "Holiday" tree stirs too many subconscious emotions.
In our pagan age, which Pope John Paul II described as a greater threat to real human freedom than communism, the child is often viewed as an oddity. Few wish to be reminded that they were once children with several sisters and brothers. Worse still, an embryo in their mother's womb.
But that's how Christ and Christmas started, despite what pop theologians may contend. Second century Christian art forms depict the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin; quite astounding when we recall that the last of the apostles still lived in the same century. This makes Father Francis Xavier Leftlather-Yackly look a little silly when he writes that "magic-saturated" stories about Christ's origins have their roots in the early Middle Ages.
Over the centuries mosaics and paintings of the Annunciation were perceived to be an integral part of the Christmas story. Artists may show Mary by the well in Nazareth, working with her spinning wheel or saying her prayers piously, but always St. Gabriel appears in the background.
These depictions in the great abbeys and churches of Europe and the Holy Land run a popular second to the Crib scene. Why not? One is dependent on the other, and birth is not possible without conception. The Incarnation, God-made-flesh, was a "conception" without parallel since it started Christ's life on earth.
During Medieval times, painters depicted the fetal Christ as a fully formed child Jesus carrying a cross. This idea, a licence taken by painters and mosaic workers, was not smiled upon by the later Council of Trent: it distorted what had happened in Mary's womb. However, it reinforced the idea of what Christ was destined to do.
More poignant is the statue of the Virgin nurtured in the vast Romanesque cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in northwest Spain. She is portrayed as becoming most visibly pregnant the moment after the Annunciation, and a sublime contentment on her face left my wife, Benita, and me in frozen wonder. We must have been transfixed for at least 10 minutes.
Later, we learned that local hedonists and the pro-abortion lobby felt the carving was decidedly unseemly and made a "statement" that offended the modern mind. But the constant flow of pilgrims from France, Germany, across the Iberian Peninsula and local colleges felt differently. Their lips moved in whispered prayer as well-fingered rosary beads clicked between their fingers.
Another unusual approach to the Nativity was found in Braga, a 4th century seat of learning built when Portugal was yet Lusitania. Here, great bishops and scholars fanned across southern Europe preaching against the Arian heresy that had engulfed much of the Church. Those who questioned that Christ, from the moment of his Incarnation, was both God and Man were chased from the region.
In those days there was no dialogue to dilute truth. Prayers to the Virgin resolved all difficulties, and the many statues testify to her response. One in particular. Our Lady of the Milk, portrays her feeding the newly born Christ. There is no shyness as she glances down the apse, resplendent in a riot of robust Manueline brilliance; at the same time she emanates a restrained piety.
However we see the Christ child and Mary, there is always the Christmas message of peace and love to those who open their hearts and minds to the message of redemption through the Cross. All the subtle and not so subtle media cavilling against the festival's religious implications, despite apparent short-term success, will ultimately lead to their self-destruction.
More and more readers and viewers openly question the blatant materialism presented as today's Christmas spirit. We are told repeatedly that the Christmas tree came from the green-black forests of Germany via England in the 19th century and symbolizes Victorian well-being and jollification, so ending the dreariness and false religiosity that had supposedly blighted celebrations until then.
Not true. It was brought into the Christmas cycle to tell a story. Back in 1603 an apostolic Bishop of Strasbourg encouraged his people to place fir trees in their homes and adorn the branches with rosy apples. Apart from the pleasant decorative contrast these Paradise trees, as they were called, served as a reminder of Adam and Eve's original sin. Here was the analogue of our first parents and Christ, the New Adam, and the Second Eve, Mary.
There are other falsehoods, with some gurus, such as Notre Dame theologian Richard McBrien, dismissing the Virgin birth and the angels over Bethlehem with a condescending wave of the hand. But when the pride and froth are skimmed off, we are still left with the greatest event in history: God came down from Heaven to redeem a squalid, ungrateful mankind.
While Jesus and Mary were alone in that cave, Mary took the Infant in her arms and, as St. Luke relates, "wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger." Everything was so simple, so quiet. Modern Spanish writer Father Francis Fernandez suggests that Mary would have "kissed the Babe's feet because He was her Lord, His cheek because He was her Son."
Since Christ was born poor, we are taught that happiness is not found in an abundance of earthly goods. Moreover, those passing shepherds were humble; they were not dismayed at finding the Messiah in a cave, dressed in the attire of a simple peasant baby. Their gifts to Him and the Holy Family, as was the custom in the Middle East, would have been a lamb, cheese, butter, milk and curd.
Here was reality. No tinsel, no glitter, no glitz, only the murmurs of a mother with her child. For the next 30 years Mary would be preparing her Son for the greatest of all missions.
© Challenge, St. Bernard Charities Inc., P.O. Box 94, Lodi, NY 14860-0094.
© Challenge, St. Bernard Charities Inc., P.O. Box 94, Lodi, NY 14860-0094.
This item 769 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org