I wonder how many of you remember the Christmas present that was under the tree when you were 7yrs old or even at 11yrs? Probably not so much. Now if you got coal in your stocking, that probably left an impression. The things that we remember are the traditions and rituals that accompanied the season that our families observed. This is especially true if you grew up in an ethnic neighborhood that held on to traditions from other countries. Unfortunately, today so much of our Christmas “traditions” have become homogenized by commercial and corporate marketing.
For instance, you can even obtain store-bought tamales. While they may do in a pinch, they are no substitute for the tamales that your tita made every Christmas. There was something special not just about the taste but about the entire process that culminated in those Christmas tamales. It was not just a recipe that was being passed on but a family tradition that bound generations, instilled strong memories that you can recall year to year and pass on to the next generation. How often was it that four generations got together assembling those tamales, being supervised by the matriarch, who made sure you did it just the right way!
The same is true with many other family traditions as well: the handmade Christmas ravioli’s, baking Christmas cookies or pies, decorating the Christmas tree on a certain day, setting up the family Nativity Creche, and countless others. It is easy in our cyber-world where you can get everything on-line to forgo the many Christmas traditions handed on from generation to generation and in doing so lose something of great value, of heart-warming significance. I still remember with great fondness my paternal grandmother taking us every year on the bus uptown to see the wonderful Christmas displays in the big Department stores. I can still taste the bean soup my maternal grandmother made each New Year’s Day so we, as she would say, “could fart in the New Year” (she was a bit of an earthy type).
One of the best parts of being a Catholic is that we are good at preserving traditions and making them available to new generations. Unlike many Christians, Catholics attend Christmas Mass (after all the word Christmas comes from Christ-Mass). And we are not shy about making it a triumphant celebration, singing the timeless hymns that Christians have sung down through the centuries. Even those Catholics who aren’t so regular at attending Mass, show up on Christmas and I am always glad to see them! It’s not Christmas without you!
As Advent speeds by, don’t let it pass without engaging in those Christmas traditions that were handed on to you through your family. And if you don't really have any to speak of, well then start some that you can begin passing on to your children. While they may forget the Christmas present under the tree, they will remember the time spent making those special cookies only made at Christmas or delivering presents to a family in need, lighting the Advent candles at home, or sending out Christmas cards and gifts. And of course, the most important tradition to continue on, from year to year: attend Christmas Mass together as a family.
The traditions that we hold and pass on are not just nostalgia. They are memories that come to bear on the present and make the past accessible to us again and guide our present as we create our future. The same is so with Christmas, it is not just a remembrance of the one-time birth of Christ into our world but a bringing to bear the effects of the Incarnation on our time and place and lives. So then, how will the Birth of our Savior change us this year?
And whatever you do, for goodness sake, don't buy those store-made tamales!
Fr. John B.
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