Together on Christmas Day

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

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I steal away for a few moments to write these words between the flickering of the tree lights, the sound of a four-year-old yelling “puddles!”, and the slam of the door as she escapes. The toddler slams his favorite step stool around the office, determined to involve himself in my activities. As soon as I begin a new activity, the sick six-year-old pleads for his ear drops. In the midst of it all, I pause in the excitement of a husband home from work on vacation, the promise of days, parties and devotions yet to come.

“Breakfast is almost ready; don’t get too wet!” he yells through the window to the children I do not dare see in this state. I want to write. I want to pursue the passion and dream that feeds my soul.

I like to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It is not a show I recommend to everyone due to some content and a lot of bad language, but it explores themes we rarely see considered in modern media surrounding women, their art, and their personal lives. The second season circled around the question, to fully give yourself to your art, must you lose everything else? Ultimately the creators of the program decide, yes, you cannot have it all, you must give up your commitment to others in your life, the last semblance of normalcy you possessed to move within the circles of civilians. It is artfully done, and I look forward to the following season to see the fallout of such a decision because, in the end, I disagree.

Aristotle told us in Politics, “man is by nature a political animal.” Political in this sense means men and women develop their potential and realize their natural end in a social context. That is the good life to which the title of this column refers.

The Catholic Christian Meta hold that human beings are interpersonally related and this is integral to who we are.

“No man is an island entire itself,” said the poet and preacher John Donne, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And even more seasonally, Jacob Marley exclaims in response to Scrooge’s excuse for Marley’s indifference to others’ wellbeing while he lived, “Mankind was my business!”

Why does this season matter so much to others? Not everyone believes in Jesus or God or Christianity. Yet it is so widely celebrated and loved.

I have thought long about the sensory aspects. Nostalgia wisps in the air at the sights and sounds of Christmas: twinkling lights, cinnamon-scented candles, peppermint mochas, and in Hughson, N’Sync and the honk of a fire engine horn.

Ask the average person on the street and most will tell you this is the time of year to look out for the little guy, to be together, to care about each other.

The man collecting donations for charity tells our famous Mr. Scrooge, “At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time…We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”

Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, not merely a man, but God Incarnate. It marks the change in salvation history, the moment when God entered time to save men and women from their sins, opening the gates of Heaven. It is the moment that begins the journey of the All-Powerful telling the lowly, you are worth the time, the sacrifice, the pain.

You matter. You are not alone. You are not forgotten.

Thus the message of togetherness rings through the season, with all its chaos, to-do lists, cooking making, present wrapping, leading up to Christmas day. If you celebrate this time of year, mark the meaning for you, hold onto the moments, allow yourself to miss this who are no longer here, recall their presence, tell their stories. Christmas comes by once a year.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

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December Links

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been off my blogging game. Here are some pieces that stood out to me since then.

Here’s a great post on giving each season its due, in this case, Advent before Christmas. I’ve heard the analogy of celebrating Advent the way we prepare for a new baby (you’re allowed to decorate). This writer draws a similarity to how one plans a wedding:  “Ideally, I think, that’s still how we’d celebrate it today. I think of it like I was planning a big wedding. It would be on my mind months ahead of time. I’d get a few major projects done well in advance so I wouldn’t have to worry about them as the big day approached. Then in the weeks before the wedding, I would focus on having everything I needed available and organized and cleaned. I would bake the cake and prepare the food. I would scrub down and decorate the church and the reception hall in the days just before the wedding. I would be prepared to celebrate. We’d have the rehearsal dinner the night before. But what I wouldn’t do is throw a reception or two a couple of weeks before the wedding and eat the cake and the wedding bell cookies and drink all the champagne before the happy couple is even married, before they’re in town even. That would be crazy.”

This article on the effect of “contemplative architecture” on our brains is inspiring. I think there will be a movement towards an architecture that lifts our minds to God. It just may be a while before we see it.
On grief:
Is this negative or positive? I do not know. It looks like difficulty reading it tied more to factual knowledge than expected. We should work on teaching our children about things in those early stages when memorization comes easily. It means Wikipedia has an important place alongside a novel.
I was grateful to read this piece called “When the Holidays are Hard” on the holidays today. It has good recommendations for those who are grieving and those who know someone who is grieving.
“I will joyfully welcome Jesus on Christmas, but my joy will likely be a tearful joy, a joy that still hurts and wonders at what’s happened, a joy that moves in and out of peace, but ultimately, a joy that trusts.” From Nancy.
Love this shopping advice! I particularly like the idea of “Choose one or two brick and mortar stores and get inspired.” Our shopping trip is planned Thursday for downtown Turlock, though my kids’ gifts were purchased elsewhere.
And one last one on grief. This article on miscarriage highlights the intriguing phenomenon of cellular memory. I appreciate articles that explain how things work, like our minds.

Saying “No” in Order to Say a Better “Yes”

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle_Denair Dispatch.

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Photo by Mira on Unsplash

What are the ingredients for the good life at this early stage of Christmas time?

I dare say an important factor is learning to say “no.”

I want to say “no” to visiting when my family and I are exhausted and the kids have been too busy.

I want to say “no” when I feel the tug of endless advertisements promising more and more deals.

I want to say “no” when I feel tempted to be less than satisfied with the things we already own, with my many boxes of Christmas decorations.

I want to say “no” after I am full even though the sweets look so, so good.

With every no, there comes a yes.

I say “yes” to meeting the needs of my immediate family, the most important people in my life and the people who look to me as a stabilizing force.

I say “yes” to staying in control of my spending, of my money management and to shopping intentionally.

I say “yes” to continuing the gratitude celebrated during Thanksgiving, and let that gratitude for what we have, prompt me to be more generous.

I say “yes” to mindfully savoring the meal before me. If there is a great variety, I can choose to eat small portions.

I want to fully engage in the Advent season. Advent calendars are a way to count down the days. Advent candles are lit each Sunday, one after another until Christmas day arrives. This means saying no to some Christmas celebrating prior to the day of Christmas. Holding back a little now makes the twelve days of Christmas (which begin on Christmas day) a richer and fuller celebration.

Purple candles signify anticipation and penance (making sacrifices as a way of preparing our hearts or making up for wrongdoing). One rose-colored candle stands in place for the third week symbolizing Christmas joy, because it is a joyful, not a somber, anticipation.

I want to use this time to pause and reflect more than before, engage in some meditative reading and think about the big questions.

To get the freedom to do that, will require some effort.

It takes planning. I have anticipated our plans for December. The days will be busy, but not busier than fall was for our family of six.

To savor the season, I will unroll Christmas cheer week by week. The Advent wreath is on the table waiting to be lit. Then come lights, then outdoor décor and indoor greenery, then crafts and indoor decor, then during the last week, the Christmas tree, as a sort of crowning joy for a holiday that means so much to us. The gradual element communicates the preparation and importance of the day to my children.

I have made our gift lists and checked them twice. I hope to craft some small gift when we need a hostess gift or simple gift exchange. I hope to make our Christmas cards.

In all this doing, I want to hold fast to the idea of being: being in the moment, being with others. I will have to say “no” to feeling like the success or failure of our festivities depends on me. Christmas existed before me and will exist after me. It is something bigger than us that we choose to take part in.

I will say “yes” to the belief that being together as a family is a priceless gift. There are fewer of us around this year than last year. I want to find a way to cherish the memory of those who have passed. I want to put the technology away more often in order to be more present to those who are here.

And so, now that I have shared our Christmas plans, I want to invite you to take a moment to reflect for yourself. What does this time of year mean for you? How do you want to experience it? What matters most? What will you say “no” to in order to deepen your “yes”?

Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but just as the long nights and chilly air cause us spend more time inside, so also the season, with or without a manger scene or Santa hat, provide us an opportunity to consider the things inside our hearts.

2015 Christmas House Tour

I’m so torn on a theme for Christmas decorating this year. Wintry theme with silver, blue and white…

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or vintage reds…

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or focus on neutrals and naturals…

IMG_8118IMG_8147 The outcome has been a decision to decorate more than one room, of course! So now, let me take you on a tour. This is a whole house tour, but the text is light, so hopefully I won’t lose you somewhere down the hallway.

Come on up the walk.

IMG_8152Come a few days later and see poinsettias in place of Old Saint Nick (the younger toddler enjoyed his presence a little too much).

IMG_8219Large red Nutcracker with poinsettia garnish. He belonged to my grandmother who downsized her Christmas collection at her last move. He sits a top a fruit crate and a rotting, but still beautiful red packing crate.

IMG_8218Please don’t ring the doorbell. Knock before entering. Our boxwood wreath is from Trader Joe’s. We recently purchased an cast iron owl door knocker and I added sleigh bells found at my husband’s grandmother’s house. You may ring those to enter.

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But first stop and look up and to your right, over our patio.

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When you enter, directly above you, you’ll see one of my favorites in the house, very simply embellished with a golden German glitter star from Pottery Barn. In the distance is a picture print by Currier and Ives. “These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives…”

IMG_8142When your enter, to the left is the living area of this open concept room, centered on the fireplace.

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I gave the Nativity scene pride of place, and added a diy pine garland, and ivory wool garland made by finger weaving on both the mantle and our fireplace “screen” (a Victorian window).

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I added a few white seeds from the tree outside and natural pinecones.

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Our stocking holders are from Pottery Barn, heavy duty and engraved with the words: faith, hope, charity, and peace. This way they can be passed down to future generations, something not possible, or less likely, if we put the children’s names on them.

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To the side of the fireplace is an antique radio, painted white (the veneer was ruined) decorated with a Nutcracker, antique transfer ware tea pot (not usable) and reindeer from a local shop.

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Keep it neutral I have homemade blankets in plaid and window pane print plus one fuzzy blanket from Pier 1.

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You’re at our house so we must be friends. Have a stop at the bar. Pinecones from our old home in the country and from our adventure tree cutting two years ago, spray painted with silver paint.

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Come for a snack at our dining table while we light the advent wreath. I melted crayons with parafin wax in a crock pot and dipped plain old white pillar candles to create an Advent wreath with pillar candles on a budget. Nestled inside a basket with white felt and rosemary, it looked a bit cuter when the rosemary was not so dry. Twill be enhanced with some clipped pine soon. Miss Mustard Seed’s Advent wreath from last year.

IMG_8124Enjoy the local Nativity scene on the table. I painted the plain wood figures after we found we could not tell Mary from a Wise Man.IMG_8138My children love visitors, and it’s impossible to visit without being offered a tour of the kids’ room by my 5-year old. I set up something special for them, out of reach from toddler hands.

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Red, wood bead garland, little craft store stockings, disco ball ornaments and some hallmark figurines because we love the classics.

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Across from the kids room is the guest bath, with a simple display of ribbon, mittens and holly hand towels give it is Christmas cheer.

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I love the smell of Williams-Sonoma soap. In the guest bath is the scent, winter forest.

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And since we’ve been drinking I’ll even show you the master bedroom during this tour. I added red yarn garland made through finger weaving. I think this idea was promoted through the blog, The Nester. Finger weaving is now my favorite activity since I’m resting and busy all at once.

IMG_8225I’ll explain to you that things are in the process of moving around with the baby coming this January. But here you can see my ornate blue pillow from Pier 1 and new antique frame (courtesy of Craigslist) with our wedding photos.

IMG_8227Faux fur stole from The Limited.

IMG_8228 I added another finger woven garland to the bathroom.

IMG_8231And with more inspiration from Miss Mustard Seed, I dove into the joy of wrapping gifts as creatively as possible for each gift. They are currently piled in the bedroom.

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IMG_8232IMG_8229 IMG_8233 IMG_8234The theme is a mashup since I used what I have on hand. Next year the colors will be more unified.IMG_8235

IMG_8201Returning to the living room. We spent so much time looking at decorations that the sun has set and the tree is lit.

IMG_8248 My children decorated this little one. Next to it sits a basket of Christmas books.

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IMG_8254As you leave, take one last long look at this happy home.

IMG_8244And another, long last look.  IMG_8239 Well, shoot, okay, one more.

IMG_8238 To affix the Christmas lights to the stucco we used a hot glue gun. It was a genius trick. I’m grateful all the information available on the internet.

Thank you for visiting! Come again soon!

 

Christmas time has come and gone

Yesterday, in the Catholic Church, we celebrated the Baptism of Christ, which marks the closing of the Christmas season. For all of you who find yourselves saying, “I just hate Christmas to end” I think the answer is the Catholic way. We spent Advent in preparation and anticipation. Following Christmas we have the octave of Christmas. In this case “octave” means it is basically Christmas every day for eight days. The octave is held within the traditional twelve days of Christmas which lead up to Epiphany, when the Wise Men from the East found the Christ child, and another week of revelry we call the Christmas season. There are beautiful feasts and beautiful traditions, all rich in meaning, symbolism and ripe for reflection. This was our first year successfully incorporating traditions we’ve dreamed of into our family. We didn’t achieve everything. I over did it with the crafts. But we are finding our way and every step forward is a beautiful step, especially considering we both come from families whose Christmas traditions have more to do with December 25th than the entire season.

Here are some photos of how the decorating adapted throughout the season:

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Our tree was beautiful, a beautiful temptation for our two year old so we brought out our “corral” which is a sort of octagonal baby fence. We did this past the two years. Each year I like the look less and less. This year I supplemented it with a couple white tablecloths. It helped, if you can believe it.

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For Christmas my mother gave me an exquisite silky, indigo, beaded pillow from Pier 1.

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A little before Christmas I received spousal permission to purchase this print “A New England Winter” by Currier & Ives. The perfect frame was purchased from Michael’s. You can’t see it is here but it has a sort of rustic wood textural finish to the frame, which complements the rustic setting of the print. The print is doubly special to me: it represents the vision of winter I have in my head and connects to our dishes, purchased during our time in Virginia, also Currier & Ives.

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The Nutcracker had a comfortable home atop some vintage red wood boxes.

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With the arrival of the Currier & Ives print, the vintage ornaments moved from the mirror to the chandelier.

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On a shopping trip in Walnut Creek I found this star at Pottery Barn on clearance for $6. I don’t remember ever seeing it in the catalogs. It is not technically a tree topper, but I used some florist wire and viola!

 

I began this post sharing the development of our family traditions. Let me return to that.

Hot chocolate! Our favorite is the peppermint hot chocolate from Trader Joe’s made with real dark chocolate and a subtle peppermint taste, perfect for enjoying but not overdoing it. Do we give it to the children? Not yet. This year we used chocolate flavored “shakeables” from Melaleuca, a nutrition shake for children. See the delight?

 

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Then what is a festive season without a party in household? This year, acclimating to life with many children, we hosted a Nutcracker Christmas party. I made a purple tutu for my daughter, and dressed myself in a lavender skirt made from a bridesmaid dress. My daughters eyes widened with joy when she saw me dressed up, hair styled in a bun ready for the party. Naturally dressing her happened with great excitement immediately.

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We borrowed a television from a friend and moved the furniture for movie viewing.

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Set out treats and made room for guests to bring potluck, cultural dishes that have meaning to them, highlighting the different cultures presented in the ballet. We moved the tree to the bay window behind in the dining table. This will be the tree’s home next year.

 

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See how the Christmas lights reflect off the windows? I was so pleased with the change.

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Hot apple cider plus a sparkling rye punch, courtesy of a Real Simple recipe.

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And children!

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The party was so delightful. I’ve learned to let go of a lot. It can’t be fancy with every detailed planned and transformed. Keep it simple. Keep the work light. Keep the kids in mind. Keep the desserts up high. It was a great success. We were also so pleased to introduce our friends to the Nutcracker ballet. We want to host these movie nights every couple months or so, as a way to bring the culture of our heritage to our little town. Ballets, operas, classic movies. There is so much to choose from. It’s a sort of artistic evangelization we have long discussed but not quiet been ready to embark upon. I think the time is now.

Thank you for letting me share with you! Soon I’ll post some photos of the little changes coming soon to our home!

Reflections on Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch 4

Below are my final reflections from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch 4. As before, the quotes are indented, my thoughts are in italics.

Again and again, Pope Benedict comes to these questions: who are the magi and why did they travel?

 [They] were wise. They represent the inner dynamic of religion toward self-transcendence, which involves a search for truth, a search for the true God and hence “philosophy” in the original sense of the word. Wisdom, then, serves to purify the message of “science”: the rationality of that message does not remain at the level of intellectual knowledge, but seeks understanding in its fullness, and so raises reason to its loftiest possibilities.

The wise men from the east are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ…they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religious and human reason toward him.

He writes that the star represented hope. Today I spoke with a woman whose heart was breaking because of crises in her family and a crisis with a student at the school where she works. “Do you have anything,” I asked, “that can renew or refresh you’re heart?” After some thinking she said: time with her grandchild. It took her a while before she thought of that. How hopeless the world can look when we carry it all on our shoulders, how small the world can look, how frustrating. We know in our hearts there is something more.

The life force pulls us back from the thing that will kill us. But where is the hope? Where is the star in my life? I’m looking for happiness but the sky is full of clouds. There are areas in my life where I feel competent, whole, and I can forget my troubles. But then the troubles come as a storm to stop me. Obstacle after obstacle, I believe I will fail.

How many of us have experienced those thoughts in our life? Where was the star? Where was my hope? The wise men went searching. Why did they go? They were wise. We have to search. We have to find that hidden ingredient and fight, tooth and nail, to restore hope in our lives.

At the end we can only find Christ and each scrap of happiness ultimately points us to him. We can’t make the rules ourselves. We can’t forget the rules because the rules are there to guide us to our proper star. I can’t look at the stars and guide myself. I need the wisdom of ages past to help me understand what it means, to make my way through the wilderness.

 

What from the lofty perspective of faith is a star of hope, from perspective of daily life is merely a disturbance, a cause for concern and fear. It is true: God disturbs our comfortable day-to-day existence. Jesus’ kingship goes hand in hand with his Passion.

And if we aren’t searching? If we aren’t searching, perhaps we are all the more lost. Am I so satisfied with all I have achieved? The danger of wealth is the beginning of believing that in wealth lies my security. To put our trust in anything but God is to make an idol of it. But this makes me happy, we might argue. I have never felt such joy before and now I feel so much more complete. The thing will fail, because it is a false god and the true God is “that that which nothing greater can be thought.” Stock markets will fail, recessions occur, housing opportunities drop, physical ability decrease or slowly disappear, mental ability weaken, nature cause calamity, spouses disappoint. The only thing in our life in which we can truly trust is the one that can never fail. If other things make us happy, wonderful, but they cannot be the end.

The search is a terrible one, painful, stripping bit by bit of our security away from things we have worshiped unknowingly, exterior idols or painted idols of a god made in our image, not the image of the true Triune God revealed to us. Are we willing to be uncomfortable? Are we willing to give up the creature comforts we’ve trusted so much to see how little we are?

There are those for whom this desert comes without choice: illness, death, depression. A star can pull us out, keep us going.

Let us look for the star. Allow ourselves to be uncomfortable and trust the Lord that he can show us the way, the way through the desert. The wisdom of the Church and her moral teaching provides the understanding of how to navigate the stars. It is a long journey to come from the east, full of danger. But when you arrive to that crib, lay down your gifts, and lay down your head to worship him, you have found your star, unrecognizable as it may be in the beginning. But it will grow. First we find him in helplessness, bound by swaddling clothes. As we see the promise in miracles, the path transforms to one that tries us more than we ever imagined, the cross. But then comes glory. Then comes the kingdom. Then comes our God, risen from the dead.

The Capitalist Culture

Where does your culture come from? Definitions of culture from the dictionary include “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group” and “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” The United States is made up of many diverse cultures and ethnic groups which results in a fusion of cultures. Some groups remain separate from the larger culture, but typically their children developed a mixed-heritage way of life, balancing between their parent’s culture and the American culture at large.

Traditionally the ingredients of culture might include a unique style of music, unique-historical clothes, religion and its included practices, parenting styles, expected familial and gender roles, and a community to practice all these things in.

Modern secular society comes in stark contrast with these ingredients. One by one:

Music is no longer a product of culture in the United States, it is a product, largely technological, sold to make money.

Clothing is an ongoing development of styles, taking from many traditions, but focused on profit and the effort to get you to keep spending, out with the old, nothing stays on the shelves so buy now.

Religion is old-fashioned and man-made. Science is truth. Tolerance is the new religion and as such traditional religion should not be publicly practiced because it might offend others and offense is the greatest sin against the religion of tolerance.

Out with the traditional family. Most children are born and raised in family structures other than two-parent intact households.

Gender roles are socially constructed. Gender is socially constructed and fluid. Therefore any roles typically attributed to one gender is a limitation of that gender’s potential and should be negotiated.

What community? From rural to city to suburban, by and large we no longer know our neighbors. Since religion is out, community won’t be found there. Don’t trust your neighbors. Most likely someone you know will be the one to harm your children in lasting and traumatic ways.

The definition includes a note of transmitting culture. If culture is derived from religion, the motivation to transmit comes from a motivation to evangelize. If culture is derived from ethnic heritage, the motivation to transmit, while here in the United States comes from a desire not to lose one’s history in the melting pot that is middle America. But families begin to intermarry, as is good and the American way, and when a child’s ethnic heritage consists of ten different regions, the family begins to pick and choose which culture they identify with most. In the Greatest Generation, those who were young during the Depression and fought of World War II, there was a spirit of American conformism. Men and women changed their more ethnically sounding names to fit in. It must be a white, Protestant culture, so the sentiment went. If you didn’t conform, you were out of luck and so you were excluded.

Now we have a different movement at place. Cultural guilt is a real thing. In the US, in general, there is such an amount of guilt over the treatment of minorities, that now the sentiment is less “who has less color/who is native born (go to the front of the class)” and now more, “who can be more diverse,” or “who has more color?” So it seems to me the heritage that might have been passed down through white European decent is thrown into a box labeled “white” and nothing more.

Many elements of our modern society wipe out traditional ingredients and sources of culture. We are left with a vacuum. What takes place then?

As Archbishop Chaput indicated in his recent Erasmus lecture, “democracy isn’t just ‘allied’ with modern technology; it depends on it.” In practical terms, this means that the entertainment industry is the most powerful manufacturer of public opinion. Politicians themselves acknowledge this fact by spending vast amounts of money to buy space in the media and in the craven pursuit of celebrity endorsements at election time (Carl R. Trueman).

If we do not make an effort to build up the culture, to preserve our cultural heritage, to seek a way to transmit cultural practices to future generations, then something must take its place. What else is there?

Since the strongest community for the young is an internet community, and much of what the young spend their time doing (social media) is driven (behind the scenes) by profit seeking, the young are, knowingly and unknowingly exposed to advertising. What is not a product of advertising? Thanksgiving becomes a holiday meant for shopping. The Christmas season, now the generic holiday season is about Santa and shopping (in school it is about Santa, elves, Elsa, and presents). People sigh helplessly and how stores push holidays earlier and earlier, but where else do we gather with people for leisure if not in the marketplace when the churches are out of the modern equation?

We should not give up hope. We can take a conscientious stance on culture, holding onto and transmitting traditions from our past, adopting new traditions that incorporate the sentiment we hope to pass on.  There is a fascinating movement attempting to retake culture through the green movement, organic products, home farming, diy projects. It is anti-corporate. It practices subsidiarity, operating the most local level possible.

Some will fight for culture, those in religion, but then even those not in religion who see something being lost in the bland marketing playground of American society. I am eager to see what happens. I think that the transcendent aspect of religion acts as the glue to bind it all together. What is the core value of the secular millennial movement? It is not the rebellion that captivated the 60’s and 70’s. It is something more. I await the revelation with bated breath.

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all are having an amazing holiday. I’m taking these moments before nap time to reflect on what has taken place today and yesterday. We decided early on we would attend Christmas Eve mass. I desired a concrete beginning of Christmas for the children. Following Catholic traditions which follow Jewish tradition, feasts days begin at sundown the evening before. My husband and I, in our eagerness to celebrate have ever followed this tradition as a couple. A concrete beginning. We did not plan to attend mass at our regular parish, as it was a bilingual mass, which I assume is only pleasant for those who speak both English and Spanish. Or perhaps it is less pleasant for them since it is so very repetitive.

We went to mass and since our children have early bedtimes and are accustomed to morning mass, mass was a wild blend of gymnastics and scolding. It was difficult but a couple I remembered from 15 years ago sat behind us and they enjoyed the children and affirmed us after mass for how well we’re doing with them. If you ever sit next to a wild family, these words are a special blessing to a tired parent’s ears.

After mass we went for dinner at my parent’s house. A small gathering, it consisted of our family of five, my parents and my grandmother. She is a Chinese woman, raised in a British boarding school, married to an American of Greek-German heritage, who we call Yia Yia, which is Greek for grandmother. The gatherings are simple. I’ve stopped planning menus for my mother, as we have our own menus and events to plan. I observe her patiently waiting to see what will take place each holiday while we settle our plans. What we can and cannot do continues to evolve. Our life is growing fuller and the life of my parents’ grows quieter. They are grateful for our children, for the new life and new energy. My dad shows a special affection for time spent with the kiddos.

My husband intoned the Christmas Proclamation at the midnight mass. We saw this as a great honor. He laid down for an hour. I fell asleep. He sneaked out at 10:30 as I nursed the baby, intoned successfully and came back by 11:30 in time to sooth his crying boy, inconsolable without his father.

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This morning my 4-year old woke up, stood in her doorway and said sadly, “Santa didn’t come.” I imagine she thought he would come to her room or that she would hear him or see him. She went with great rejoicing as she saw the cookies eaten, milk drunk and stockings filled. The morning was one delight after another for this child as she filled her “fancy bun” with bows and wore her Christmas dress all morning.

Upon rising I saw what a mess our house was and developed anxiety about the approaching brunch with my family. I thought it would be easier to host a brunch since we would not have to pack up the children. But when you neglect cleaning, forget to buy groceries and have three small children, nothing is as you plan. It all came together with a delicious meal of Toad in the Hole (recipe by Williams-Sonoma), sliced apple, and my husband’s version of saved-after-proofing-too-much brioche.

Now he assembles a toy work bench from IKEA, the children will sleep soon and in the afternoon we’ll attend my husband’s family gathering. I’ve learned to appreciate his family, their authenticity, relaxed expectations, and nonjudgmental love.

Last night I wished for a moment of reflection. The trite um-pah-pah music hurt my head. We turned up the volume on Silent Night sung by the Benedictines of Mary and sat silently taking it in. No more complaining, no stress. Now in the quiet moment of my husband assembling a toy and Christmas music in the background, my heart is quieted, my soul opens up in gratitude for the gifts we have, the gifts we are able to give each other, and the gift of Christ himself, who gave himself without reserve, and calls us to do the same.

So a Merry Christmas to all! I pray you have more than one moment of reflection today. God bless you.

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Christmas Decorating, Phase Two: Gaudete Sunday

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It’s time for phase two decorating. Winter decorations have been enjoyed, very much enjoyed as I felt I successfully captured the model motif.

IMG_5865With the coming of Gaudete Sunday, (Gaudete means Rejoice!) it’s time to focus more directly on the Nativity of our Lord. So out comes the Nativity scene, or Creche, along with the Christmas tree and anything and everything that is left. My daughter did her own decorating as she colored.

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I thought her spacing and selection were excellent. However, I did have to remove the crayons because I was concerned they might melt on the tree. Still, she was praised for a lovely job. Now it’s my turn.

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After our first year of marriage my husband shared with me his desire to have a blue and silver themed Christmas tree. He just loves it and quite mysteriously because he is not one to have strong opinions other than “I like it” or “it’s a little too much” when it comes to decorating. Since decor preferences don’t come often from him, my ears perk up and I’m happy to find a way to make it reality. We finished purchasing the ornaments last year, but the garland department was in sad shape and I pieced together what I could to try to make it look complete.

photo 2Last year’s tree consisted of a beautiful glitter olive branch garland, clear beaded garland and some torn fabric from an event I went to seven years ago. Waste not, right?

This year, I bought three inch white brown ribbon for 70% off on Black Friday. The kids strung small strips of black suede cord through silver jingle bells, which I then tied to knots in the ribbon, spaced approximately one foot apart.

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We did this for fifty feet.

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It worked and was wonderful to have the kids involved. 50 feet for a four foot tree.

My four year and I decorated the tree together. It was a neat experience doing it with her.

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Our Creche took the place of my random objects on the mantle.

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IMG_5933We waited to purchase our Nativity set. I wanted a beautiful one from Italy but we were too late, the lire changed to the Euro and everything became expensive (when you’re in the country, it was always expensive otherwise). I was very surprised to find this set, in “Antique style” from Costco.

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We’ve been very happy with it, although it is lacking one ox and one ass.

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We did “complete” our Jesse tree. It only had six ornaments and I couldn’t remember what specific story to tell for the lamb (I know this references Christ). I should have checked the scriptures first. Last year, I looked up how to do a Jesse tree last year and never made any action steps, so this was definitely a success. You can see the tree through the window.

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I also strung some ornaments and hung them on our mirror.

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IMG_5938 I had the opportunity to arrange some flowers.

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All I have energy for now is making the wreath with clippings from the Christmas tree lot and wrapping presents. I’m crafted out (so I have to push myself to finish a tutu for my daughter for the Nutcracker Christmas party). Below is one craft that will go unfinished till next year.

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There is lots of singing in our home. I didn’t realize how much until I was watching White Christmas with some other ladies and they thought it ridiculous for the actors to break into song. It’s quite common over here and the kids love it.

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Peppermint Hot Chocolate from Trader Joe’s in a mug from Williams-Sonoma completes it. Sounds ritsy, right? Does it help if the rocking chair was $15 at a thrift store? I like to imagine it’s worth thousands after an online search for others like it.

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Happy Advent and (very soon) a Merry Christmas to you!

Reflections on Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.2 (Part 2)

Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, the reflection has been published in two parts. This is the second.

Now for the second aspect, the presence of hope and joy. Pope Benedict wrote that the permanence promised to the Davidic kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, “is the great force of hope in the midst of a world that so often seems abandoned by God” (p.32). It’s true. What more can I say? The only time I have experienced despair or hopelessness, the steadiness of God’s kingdom preserved my hope. God would not abandon us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). It is who God is. God is love (1 Jn 4:8). This became the lens through which I interpreted the events of my life.

Pope Benedict writes later:  One could say that the figures of the virgin and the divine child belong in some sense to the archetypal images of human hope, which emerge at times of crisis and expectation, even without there being any concrete figures in view (p.57). Though he states the Virgin birth is a historical reality, the concept of archetypes stands out to me. Jungian archetypes, taken as he put it, could be quite controversial, but as a general concept, are fascinating. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote, “Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What seems to be ‘love at first sight’ is actually the fulfillment of desire, the realization of a dream.” Contained within the concepts of the theology of the body, the man-woman relationship is a type pointing us to the supernatural reality of Trinitarian unity. Because we are made in the image of God, we have, as it were, spiritual DNA pointing us to our potential. We sense when we are on the right or wrong path, fulfilling or denigrating our potential. That is because of the archetype within us. God wrote these into us. Therefore, if, as he says, the virgin and divine son have been archetypes for hope, I believe God put this in us because the Virgin birth would be the fulfillment of that archetype. We would know it when we see it.

Not that that is always the case. We also need the gift of faith, and I grant that, but it would not be a universal church if this story did not resonate with us, and it resonates because it is written in our hearts.

 

Lastly, the portrait of our Lady: interior, asking in faith how it shall be, seeking to discern it (two qualities Pope Benedict identifies as shared with St. Joseph). She is called fearless. She is full of grace, in tune with the word, the law, bold enough to trust the Lord with her life. The drama described here quiets the reflection, “Mary, did you know?” because heaven would not have held its breath waiting for her response if she were some naive waif. No, she is a woman! She is strong, I repeat, fearless, capable of saying and willing yes to what the Lord has commanded. In possession of herself enough to give God the permission he seeks, “be it done to me according to Thy word.”

Here is a model for womanhood! Here is the blueprint. The archetype. The guideposts for what makes a woman great. Great women do not trample on the men in their life, pushing ahead to achieve, silencing those parts of them that make them women. No, she has the power to choose. She chooses to trust. This is the greatest gift a wife can give her husband, to choose to trust him, put herself in his hands and allow him to protect her, even though she may be fully capable of protecting herself.