by Cullen Schippe
We’re makin’ a list and checking it twice!
The time is upon us again for the annual Christmas balancing act. Some time after Labor Day, the first hints of red and green appear in stores. The early precursors of the pending Christmas shopping season are a bit muffled by the mania that surrounds Halloween. Nonetheless, before the last mini-candy bar is eaten, the jingle bells of Christmas retailing are at full volume.
I have no intentions of using a liturgical fire hose to rain on the Christmas parade, but on the other end of the balancing act is the season of (and I stress) calm and joyful expectation that is Advent and the glory of Christ’s birth. The Collect of the Mass for the First Sunday of Advent prays for the “resolve to run forth” to meet the treasure that is Christ. On the ride home from Mass, however, the car radio invites us to “run to the mall” to harvest Yuletide treasures.
In our culture, there really are two Christmases—one the season of parties, spending, toys, games, and goodies, and the other a season of celebrating that “God so loved the world that he sent his Son!” I used to think that the two seasons were mutually exclusive—that the commercialized and secularized holiday shouted so loudly that it drowned out the angel choruses, the gentle Advent assemblies, and the hushed moments at the crèche.
I have come to realize, however, that with a little effort, these two modes of celebration can be brought into balance.
I would like to offer you an Advent/Christmas exercise to share with those you teach and with their families. I hope that the activity will be of help in the enjoyment of the wonderful aspects of the Christmas event without ignoring the more secular or overwhelming the spiritual.
I call the exercise, “Window Shopping.” The experience works best as a family outing, but it could be a class event, too. There is no right or wrong way to do this window-shopping outing but a few simple rules apply.
First set aside at least two hours to go to a mall or a shopping center that is in full Christmas mode. The idea is to become immersed in all the sights and sounds and smells of the place.
Rule One: Don’t actually enter any of the stores. Rather, go from window to window and look at the available wares. Also part of Rule One: Buy nothing.
Rule Two: Talk together about what you see.
Rule Three: Make a list of things that members of the family or the class might want to receive as gifts. Mark each item on the list with a w if it is just a wish, with an n if it is something you really need, or with an s if the desire is “just plain silly.” For example: A new video game might be labeled a wish; a winter jacket might be a need; and a diamond-studded kitty collar might be just a tad silly.
Final Rule: Look for items that your family or your class could give to a family in real need.
After you have explored all the stores and kiosks, find a quiet corner in the mall and talk for a few moments about the birth of Jesus and how that wonderful moment has given rise to all this celebration. Pray together the Lord’s Prayer, and head home or back to the parish. Take time to check the list you made and, within the next week, follow through by providing a gift for a person or a family in need.
A story about St. Francis and the celebration of Christmas shows how the saint of Assisi viewed Christmas feasting. One day Brother Morico came to Francis and suggested that the brothers should refrain from meat on Christmas because it fell on Friday—a day of fast and abstinence. Saint Francis replied to Brother Morico, “You are wrong, Brother, calling the day on which the Child was born to us a day of fast. It is my wish,” he said, “that even the walls should eat meat on such a day, and if they cannot, they should be smeared with meat” (Thomas of Celano, Second Life of Francis, Chapter 41).
It may not be a good idea to smear walls with meat on Christmas, but the story and the window shopping activity can serve to remind us that all the pleasures and joys of the season can be ours so long as we never forget the birth of the Savior and the challenge to spread the Good News to all we meet.
Cullen Schippe has been in Catholic publishing for well over 40 years and currently serves as Publisher of the Peter Li Education Group and Editor in Chief of CATECHIST.
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, March 2014.
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