It is no secret that the Christmas season is a paradoxical time. For the Christian church Christmas or the celebration of the Mass of Christ does not actually begin until Christmas Eve and then continues until New Year’s Eve. Sometimes there is a first Sunday of Christmas, sometimes not. For my mother, growing up on a ranch on the prairies of South Dakota, Christmas parties, and ice skating and programs were all celebrated between Christmas and New Year’s. It just wasn’t Christmas until it was Christmas.
The secular world has changed the rules and Madison Avenue rules the season. The tradition of the Magi bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child as gifts for a king, have been translated into piles of presents and a tradition of going into debt for the accumulation of more than we could possibly need.
Decorating our homes inside and out is probably a mirroring of the bright star which hung over the place where the child lay. From Santa Claus, reindeer, stars, trees, bright lights now with music attached we light up our streets with all the colors of the season.
Drinking and eating and piles of food may harken back to Medieval celebrations when the days before Christmas were to be a sober time of prayer, fasting and self examination to prepare ourselves to be ready for the coming of Jesus. When Christmas came all the fasting turned into feasting in excess much as we do now.
Four Sundays before Christmas are known as the Season of Advent, of waiting and preparing for the coming of the Child much as Easter is preceded by Lent and Holy Week in preparation for the resurrection of Christ. In the Christian church, this time is the beginning of the Church Year as we wait in eager anticipation for Christmas.
The parallels of universal celebration and sober reflection run from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. For people who are grieving, there is a real disconnect between what is going on around them and what they are actually living. Some Grief groups meet more often during the holidays. And there is a service called “A Blue Christmas”. How do we find joy when we feel such pain?
The excesses of the season are all around us. In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” the ghost of Christmas present is portrayed as a drinking, feasting Spirit, while underneath his robe he reveals the children of poverty and ignorance whom society has forgotten. The excesses of Christmas erase the Curry and Ives’ notion that Christmas is all wonder and light. People drink too much, spend too much, eat too much and age-old quarrels can flare when families attempt to come together to heal wounds
Christmas is a very complicated season. We (myself included) love the color and the wonder and the music and the gift-giving and the well-wishing of the season. God meant for the birth of God’s Son to be the high point of joy in our lives. How we prepare for Christmas has everything to do with how we will celebrate Christmas.
Does anyone out there have a good book to recommend? I can’t find anything that really holds my attention and I’m getting a little frantic as most readers understand. I picked up a couple of Nora Roberts’ discount books the other day and although I read through them, rapidly, ugh! They were formula writing; they were predictable; they were trite. Now I like a Mary Higgins Clark book as well as the next person but only when I am in the mood for something that has no enduring value -- just chocolates and a late night.
I’ve recently tried some Scandinavian mystery writers again. Henning Mankill and his Wallender series were good, but sooo dark. To read the Northern European mystery writers one would think the whole population is on the verge of mass suicide! However, a cousin in Sweden recommended Jussi Adler-Olson so I read the first three of his Department Q series and they weren’t too bad, but then I picked up a book CD of his entitled The Alphabet House and I am fast forwarding through that. Jo Nesbro, a Norwegian mystery writer has one with a wretched title, Cockroaches. It is about a Nowegian ambassador murdered in a brothel in Bangkok. A detective is hauled out and sent there to solve the case. It is all very hush-hush as there are a lot of political ramifications which is where the symbolism of the cockroaches comes from, I assume. When I am finished I am sending them to my brother who is a much more discriminating reader than I am and see what he thinks.
Next in line is David Silva’s The Black Widow. Sometime back Silva created a character Gabriel Allon. It must have taken a lot of time as Allon is very complex. As you read through the books you learn he is with Mossad in Israel, becoming involved after the Munich Olympics' massacre of Jewish athletes in 1972. His son was killed in a car bombing in Vienna after which his wife was never the same. Allon is an accomplished art restorer who tries time after time to separate from Mossad and live his solitary life. At last in Venice he meets the woman who becomes his second wife and who is also with Mossad. There are a variety of secondary characters who re-appear in Silva’s books, each one a real stand-alone, in their own right. Allon is positioned at this time to become the head of Mossad, but who knows, something always happens to skew a logical progression to his finding some peace and stability for himself and his family. I am hopeful for this new one.
The problem is, of course, that personal reading tastes don’t always run in the same direction. The author you enjoy may not touch me at all. I do like good biographies -- I remember reading Last train to Memphis, on Elvis Presley’s early years and it was fascinating. Right now I have The Fatal Shore on my end table. It is about the settlement of Australia by convicts from Britain and how that influenced the history of the nation. It is very revealing and well-written but only a few pages at a time, thank you.
Oh, well. There is joy in the search as well as the finding and I will find something, hopefully soon.