Lingering Holiday

The Hallmark Christmas channel has endless stories featuring a girl named Holly or Noel and a boy named Nick or Chris who, after one of them achieves great success in the big city, returns to their hometown of Winterland or Candyville where they get reunited during the holiday season.  The reunion usually involves a jolly old stranger with a white beard who creates a scene, such as her twin cats, Dasher and Dancer, getting chased by his dog, Rudy, until they are all tangled up in a leash and rolling around in the snow, leaving imprints of angels.  After numerous scenes of snowmen, hot cocoa, lighting ceremonies, and gingerbread contests, they save each other from marrying a rich or famous fiancé who is self-centered and power-hungry.  Meanwhile the old guys’ wife, who continuously bakes cookies, invites them over to experience Christmas Eve traditions and, in the magic of the season, they realize what they had been searching for was always there in the other.  They kiss at midnight as the snow begins to fall and they begin the road to live happily ever after.

It’s a far cry from The Pogues’ “Fairytale” Christmas Eve where an old, dying stumblebum croons between swallows while a young, jilted lover contemplates his rollercoaster romance.  While weaving and bobbing between hope-filled dreams and nightmarish regrets, holiday choirs sing, church bells ring, dancers swing into the night, and they, from the proverbial drunk tank, feel the sting of paradise-lost.  Lamenting in the noisy silence of the radiant darkness, they touch peace within their souls.

These vastly different scenarios of believing in magic or existing in mystery remind me of how Catholics find God in ritualized prayer that has been handed down nearly 2,000 years—far more, if we include our Jewish root prayers.  Some are drawn to the orchestrated pomp and procedure as though they are participating in a mystical dream that reflects heaven’s glory.  Others are turned off by it, like being turned off by the romance Christmas movies.  Instead, they identify with God’s manifestation in the final Christmas story, the Epiphany, where the Wise Ones didn’t search for Jesus in palaces looking among the royalty or in temples seeking amidst the clerics or at universities searching amid scholars; instead, they sought Him among the poor and lowly.  Often, I talk with lifelong Catholics who could not find the Lord in their church but eventually discovered God elsewhere: at an A. A. meeting, through a twelve-step program, in yoga or other spiritual exercise that unites body and soul, by communing with nature in the cathedral of creation, through a daily examen or another devotional habit, or even in a soulmate.  But the biblical stories don’t match up well with the magical Hallmark stories any more than the simplicity of faith coincides with the clericalism in some churches or elitism of some universities.

Perhaps Dan Fogelberg’s Another Auld Lang Syne captures the romance of the season better than others when he, also, returns to his hometown after notable success and happens upon his ole girlfriend in a grocery store.  For a moment, they go back in time: the innocence of youth and carefree happiness of growing up.  Their eyes reveal gratitude, yet also some doubt over choices they made and paths they trod.  They try to reach beyond the empty chasm of what separated them but neither one knew how, so they drank a toast to what connected them.  In lifting a cup of kindness, they were grateful for the encounter with each other, both in life and at their brief reunion, while warmth descended as the snow turned into rain.  Like them, we find blessed moments, sacred encounters, and happy memories, amidst ole acquaintances, times long past, and prayerful ruminations.

Whether reflecting on the year that was or upon an entire life (in case we won’t get to see another Christmas) we, like Blessed Mother Mary, treasure all these things in our heart—even a heart pierced by a sword of sorrow—because we know that we’ve been given an incredible privilege to live.  Maybe not a magical fairytale that we can find in romance movies or church, but God is real.  The divine manifestation cannot be contained.  So, let’s lift a cup of kindness or drink a toast to innocence especially in honor of those who rejoice in these blessings.