As practicing Roman Catholics, the title may seem obvious. Of course, Jesus Christ became flesh and blood so that He could die on the Cross and save us from Original Sin. This may lead us to wonder why we celebrate this Feast of the birth of Christ with so much festivity, while the Easter Triduum is a much more somber time.
Some of us may even have heard priests preach about how the distractions of Christmas parties, shopping, singing and general commercialization somehow misses the spiritual point of Christmas. I am not sure it does.
We focus on the beginning of Jesus’ life to celebrate the Word became Flesh. This Feast is celebrated on 25th of December, around the time of the winter solstice, when during the darkest point of the year, the light begins to grow, symbolizing the Light of Christ entering into the world.
We live in an increasingly secular society. But many of the customs that Americans observe around Christmas time, even many who are non-believers, in fact align with the deep Theological truths of the Christmas message.
For example, during Christmas we embrace people, we call for peace, we contact people with whom we have not been in touch, especially family members. We accept family members who may be estranged, we purchase gifts for our friends, business associates and acquaintances. We try to reach out and bring harmony to all –whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jews, or of no faith at all.
Because of the Judeo-Christian culture, this holiday is Christmas, even non-Christians and non-believers participate as secular Christians.
Traditionally, Christmas decorations are to be displayed beginning on December 24th, Christmas Eve, and then continuing through Epiphany (always the 12th day after Christmas, namely January 6) . Epiphany is when the Orthodox (and many European Catholics) exchange presents, echoing the tradition of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the infant Christ on that day.
The Christmas celebrations continue at least through the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, which occurs several days to a week after Epiphany, but technically, the Christmas season does not end until the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple which is celebrated on February 2.
Interestingly, until Pope St. John Paul II became Pope in October 1978, he insisted that Christmas decorations stay up until the Presentation, which established that custom. In fact, 10% of the days on the calendar are committed to celebrating this important festive season!
While many families display their decorations at the beginning of Advent, our own family tradition is to put up our Christmas tree before Thanksgiving, and I coax my family to keep it up through early January.
For the last 34 years, our family has hosted a Christmas Eve party for friends and family. We celebrate Mass at 4:00 PM, and then have a beautiful reception & dinner. There is no exchange of gifts.
Many of our friends who are Jewish come to this Christmas Eve party every year. We began a year before our marriage and it was our opportunity to bring together people who were in California but whose family were elsewhere, even if they did not share the Christian faith. So whenever during the year, when we have people who move out to California to settle and who are not returning to their families, we invite them over for the Christmas Eve celebration. It is our opportunity to embrace family, acquaintances, and people not so familiar to us, and to allow them to witness our love for them and, in turn, their love for their life, their family and friends.
We are big Christmas people and anybody who comes to our house will know. It’s impossible to miss the 20-ft. Christmas tree in the front hall and Christmas trees in every room, lights on the outside, and yes, we just put a 40-ft. Christmas tree at the new Vista Collina Resort in Napa across from the Meritage Resort. I encourage all our resorts to put up Christmas trees after Thanksgiving so that when people come for the Christmas or corporate holiday parties, we remind them it is the season to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord and the Son of God.
People may think we spent too much time on the seemingly secular aspects of Christmas, but as humans to reach for spiritual aspects, sometimes embracing the external celebrations actually leads us to the love of Jesus Christ, because they are rooted in the deep truths of the Faith.
We pray for all of those who may pass away these next 30 days during this most important time
of the year.
I have noticed over the years many people die around these festive times. I just had
my close friend, Bishop Robert Morlino, pass two days after Thanksgiving, November 24
th. My father passed on November 17, 2015, five days before Thanksgiving.
There is a custom that we particularly enjoy around Christmas time: We watch Hallmark Mysteries and Movies, and Hallmark Movies together as a family. That is our favorite TV station throughout the year but especially at Christmas. We set aside several evenings alone during November and December to watch these Christmas movies.
All of these customs can help us to spread the overwhelming joy and gratitude we feel at
Christmas time, as we reflect on that great mystery of the Word becoming Flesh. It is that
extraordinary, gratuitous, undeserved Gift, which inspires us to give our own small gifts to each
other, as we overflow with joy knowing that God the Father has given us his own Son, undeserved, to Save us and bring us back to Himself.