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December 22, 2004


Peter Nixon

I have to be honest and say that my heart really isn't in the fight to "keep Christ in Christmas." Maybe it's because my dominant feeling about Christmas tends to be wanting it to be over. This is actually an improvement from previous years where I tended to enter a catatonic state around Thanksgiving that didn't lift until after New Year's. My children have helped in that regard, and I enjoy their enjoyment of the season even if I have a hard time sharing it myself.

We've done our best to keep commercialism at bay and keep the focus on Jesus where it belongs. We enjoy the time with family even if the sheer number of "family events" can begin to overwhelm. But in the end, the struggle to preserve the "real meaning" of the season becomes so exhausting that I'm tempted not to bother.

I know, I know. Hardly the spirit of the season. But that's where I'm at. Sorry.


I like Easter better really. The Easter Bunny never really caught on, merchants' best efforts notwithstanding, and I usually manage to totally ignore the people who show up at Mass on Easter who are never seen there at any other time.

The "Christmas" stuff, especially when one has greedy little ones at home, just overwhelms. I can REALLY relate to the catatonic state!!!! It's a bit better this year because we did ALL our shopping online, but I confess to a feeling of relief every year when it's over finally.

Patrick O'Hannigan

Lileks intimidates me, too. He writes stream-of-conscious prose better than anyone else. But as a fan of a largely unknown SoCal bluegrass band called "Phantom Hollow" a few years ago, I realized I enjoyed hearing them play in little coffee shops and used clothing stores. Their playing complemented my enjoyment of Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and other big-time musicians. And so it is with my writing, and your own.

BTW, Lileks' nickname for his daughter is "Gnat." That's not just a writer's device, but a short form of "Natalie."


Even better is this bit from the referenced Bleat:

"And if the term [Merry Christmas] has faded from the common language of advertising, then it reflects something in the culture. Or rather the overculture--that twitchy, cheery idiot blare produced by a stratum of coastal types who think the rest of America truly gives a shite whether Lindsay Lohan lost her Blackbird at a party last week, and who actually know who Anna Wintour looks like."

NOBODY writes like Lileks!


I guess it is just a coincidence that Lent was consumed with vicious attacks on the Gospels, on Christians and on Christianity itself and now Advent is consumed with an avoidance of Christ. Question: now that everything else is over, just what "holiday" is being noticed in the ubiquitous "Happy Holidays" greetings on local and national television? Doesn't it strike you as odd that during Hanukkah, we saw "Happy Hannukah" but now that it is over, we see "Happy Holidays"? They can't even acknowledge that there is only one "holiday" going on now.
As for us, we read Amy's How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic pamphlet, followed the suggestions and have had a prayerful sense of expectation throughout.


I guess I was very fortunate to have parents who measured Christmas by the liturgical year, not by what was going on in the outside world.

We always emphasized Advent, which has its own beauty and peace. Both my sister and I to this day love lighting the candles on our Advent wreaths, the light of which for us testified to the coming Light of the World. Trees, gifts, none of that entered the picture until the week before Christmas (old traditions of Europe that my parents followed) (I actually heard a priest once mention in his homily that decorations aren't really supposed to go up until Gaudete Sunday of Advent). On Christmas Eve we brought out the Nativity.

I also think Eastern Christians have done a better job than Western Christians on emphasizing that the Christmas season does not end with Christmas day but flows on into Epiphany, etc.

Meanwhile, secular friends and the commercial world are busy taking all the Christmas trappings nearly the day after the event.

Christmas can be a marvelously spiritual time, once one learns to drown out all the surrounding noise. And I recognize how much more difficult all this is when one is dealing with children, family, and many other factors sometimes beyond one's control in our hectic world.


It's really too bad that Malkin trashed her own credibility with that book about the Japanese Internment. She's usually sensible or even better (like today), but occasionally she's despicable and mendacious (like in the book).


Christine, I agree that an advent wreath can slow things down and focus attention on the meaning of it all.
Speaking of the Epiphany, did anyone see the show on the Magi last night? I hadn't known that St. Helena found what is believed to be their bones and that they are now in Cologne. An ancient wrapping shroud has been tested and authenticates their age and their imperial status. The 3 Kings are a part of Christmas I've always loved and which shouldn't be lost.


The good part of all this is that when someone says "Merry Christmas" now, they likely understand they are referencing a person called the Christ whose birth some people take quite seriously.

As for Lileks' verbal fecundity, there's something inspiring about his output, and how it thickly documents (vaguely, as to how aware he is of it) a growing faith commitment as he raises his daughter.

Amy, you have nothing to be discouraged about; quality, quantity, apples, oranges, artichokes, etc.

Oh, and a Blessed Christmas, all!π

Zhou De-Ming

Christmas really is very different things to different people. I can live with that.

From Contra Costa Times, Dec 20, 2004:
"Santa may be king this time of year in shop windows and on TV screens, but not in the classroom. Teachers in many schools are making sure that kids take a broader view of the holidays, even in schools that are less diverse and more suburban, such as Lafayette's Springhill Elementary.
Every year, Springhill second-graders rotate one day through three classrooms, each featuring a different December holiday. This year, they created Kwanzaa mats, tried latkes in honor of Hanukkah and made card holders shaped like Santa Claus; in previous years, they have studied the Mexican festival of Las Posadas, re-enacting Joseph and Mary's search for shelter, and the Swiss feast of Santa Lucia.
"We try to give it all equal billing, because Christmas kind of takes over this time of year," Churchill said. In her class, the students were bent studiously over their Kwanzaa mats, woven with red (which, Churchill explained, represents the ongoing struggle of African-Americans), green (symbolizing the land they came from) and black (for unity).
"I like learning about Kwanzaa, because I like other countries," said second-grader Lauren Hunt as she plaits a green strip next to a red one.
On a nearby table, Churchill showed the students a few other symbols of Kwanzaa: a unity cup, an ear of corn and a kinara, which holds seven candles to represent the seven nights and seven principles of Kwanzaa."

For businesses, of course, Christmas is the time to get into the black, with enough sales to offset the rest of the year. The real color of the season is green (as in dollars).

For families with children, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, it is a time of family and home-based religious traditions. Many Christians really emphasis the Nativity as a time all about parents and children and home.

And there are the religous culture warriors fighting the endless Christmas wars. I know evangelicals that say it so much of it (date in late December, Christmas trees, etc.) is all pagan syncretism; I know Catholics and Protestants concerned about keeping "Christ" in "Christmas," I know Episcopaleans that just want a good drink by a cozy fire and some decent music in the background.

I'm happy with all that.
What about little old me? Well, these days I walk the earth without parents, without children, with little interest in more "stuff" (I'm not much of a consumer).

For me it is really about the mystery of Incarnation. Something both terrifying and full of joyful potential. Not so much about "Baby Jesus," but about Emmanu-el, Nobiscum-Deus, God-with-us. That still small voice of God's first sounds made as the God-man in time. The beginning of a life doing the Father's will.

Sorry, for me it's not about the stuff or the parties or the marketplace or the public displays or the advertising or how religious or not or "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays," or kids opening presents or trees or Hannukah or Kwanzaa.

No, for me, chanting Psalms in my cell, following the Church's liturgy for Advent and Christmas, it really is about Incarnation. From "Regem venturum Dominum, venite, adoremus" to "Prope est iam Dominus, venite, adoremus" to "Christus natus est nobis: venite, adoremus." Most profound. Silence of the deep, cold night is a good time to contemplate this mystery.

He is coming (Advent). He is near (Late Advent). He is born (Christmas). Followed, of course, by Epiphany, to the feast of His Baptism. For me, Christmas is really just one stop in this season of contemplation of Christ.

All the stuff in the marketplace is really just background noise to me (and I don't have television), but I do appreciate the happiness and family/household-centered joys it can bring to many others, and I sympathize with those engaged in battles for various religious expressions in cultural settings.

Eutychus Fell

Thanks for this post, Amy, it's a fine rant.

And if I don't get a chance in a later post, Merry Christmas and God's blessings on your family.


"I usually manage to totally ignore the people who show up at Mass on Easter who are never seen there at any other time."

That is shameful. And that you seem to consider it an achievement makes it disgraceful. They bother to come once a year and you give them all the motivation they need to NEVER come back.

Kevin Miller

In addition to the groups mentioned above, also check out: http://www.freedomhouse.org/religion/.


Chris-2-4, I hope you aren't coming to Mass to be noticed by the regulars. I'm sure that isn't your motivation. Everyone notices you and is happy to see you; we just are a bit flummoxed because we see so little of you and you might be in our usual spot! We do have our favorite pews and get to know our benchmates. I think that is what Leo might have meant.
Anyway, let's give a thought to our brothers and sisters in Christ, Palestinian Christians, who have suffered so much in the last several years. Let's pray for the brothers and other religious who live at our Holy Places there and who have also suffered. And let's pray that Israel will live up to the promises it made to the Holy Father ten years ago and will stop threatening to tax our religious hospitals and institutions. And let's pray for peace with justice so that we can visit those sites again soon.


Chris 2-4,

I can relate to Leo and his comment about ignoring the folks who just show up at Easter and Christmas. I actually don't ignore them, but many of them end up making me very angry.

Last Easter I helped our assembly ministers/ushers at the 11:00 a.m. mass on Easter morning. We had a record crowd, which was great. We had to bring up chairs and set them in the vestibule which, fortunately, can be opened up to the main part of the church. Most people sitting back there could see fairly well and could hear very well. But there were several people who came in at least 10 to 15 minutes late; complained because they couldn't see or complained because we told them they couldn't stand in the aisle or complained because we told them they couldn't sit on the baptismal font/pool. Many of those same complainers and stragglers spent the entire mass not paying attention. Instead they were talking to other family members; looking through their purses; looking at cell phones; looking at their watches...

Let me assure you that I was nice to all of these people. I welcomed them and asked them to come back. But, I most certainly understand the desire to ignore them.


I like that Lileks' ends his rant with pointing out that he has a "real" child!

--What the heck is an "ocicat"? I assume some variation of cat...I'll just google and presto the answer will come.

Indeed, a very Merry and Blessed Christmas to you and yours! We're goining to have a wonderful day with our real children too!

Zhou De-Ming

Not wanting to throw too much seed in front of the chickens, resulting in gleeful pandemonium, but:

What about all those people, many not even Catholics, who show up for baptisms and turn the Mass, between the readings and the Eucharist, into a giant photo-op and video fest. The nerve of them, overperfumed, with large hats, bright lights, and funny accents, jumping from their pews into the aisles, walking all around snapping pictures and taking video, talking and calling out to the little child to "Look this way!" I've even seen some carry the naked baby from the font and lay them on the altar to dress them in their white robes as if we were about to celebrate Eucharist at a changing table! Oh, the indignity of it all! How dare they! Who are these people, and why do they insist on taking over our church for their family events?

Therese Z

It is So Totally Not My Business, but when you read Lileks every day, you realize that he needs more children. You know they're keeping themselves from having a brother or sister for Gnat, and if anyone ever needed a bigger family, it's them.


You know I originally got indignant about Merry Christmas being subsumed under the generic Happy Holidays while Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice were accorded their own special salutation. This feeling of resentment was stoked by the actions of the pitiful New York Public School System's suppression of Christian symbols while permitting/encouraging the display of Jewish and Muslim symbols; and the benighted Florida town that would not display a creche next to a Menorah until ordered to do so by a Federal court. And then something changed in my thinking and I asked myself how this had anything to do with the anniversary of the birth of Christ and how my wife and I were going to celebrate and worship. It seemed to put things in perspective. Resentment doesn't seem to fit well with the Birth of Christ.


Lileks has a "tall, multi-level POPE HAT"?

I don't have a tall, multi-level pope hat.

Would someone give me one for Christmas? ;)


My feelings are closest to those of Peter. As a liturgist, I observe Advent, and the placement of a public creche or lack of it really bothers me not at all. On one hand, I feel glad that public displays of "polite, generic" Christmas are on the way out; religious Christians do them better and draw more meaning from them. On the other hand, I smile when the discussion permits a tree (from paganism) or Santa.

While I have a low opinion of Ms Malkin's writing and opinions, she is right to suggest that real persecution of Christians happens elsewhere, and that the retirement of Baby Jesus from the public square is not authentic persecution.

Susan Peterson

Why do we have to allow cameras in church at all? I think it should be an absolute rule; no photographs during mass, baptism, weddings. Pictures can be afterwards, on the church steps, at the reception. No one needs the actual ceremony videotaped or even still photographed. What is really happening doesn't show up on the camera anyway.
Susan F. Peterson

R. Rood

Zhou-de-Ming! You are priceless!


Leo, There just might be a valid reason why you only see certain people at Christmas and Easter. I'm sure that the people, assuming that I am noticed, probably think that I'm a Christmas only Catholic. I'm not, I'm just visiting family, and am the only Catholic of the bunch. (only religiously active one too).

r o

Someone else wrote:
You know they're keeping themselves from having a brother or sister for Gnat, and if anyone ever needed a bigger family, it's them.

I'm sure this was meant well, but do we know? If he hasn't said so publicly, it doesn't seem to me like a matter for speculation. I don't think Lileks is all that young, for one, and even younger people can have fertility problems they don't feel the need to share with the world, for example.

Jeff Sharlet

My one and only comment on the christmas wars: I just finished shopping in the small, funky, shops of the East Village. "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas." Everywhere I went, that's what I heard. This in a neighborhood considerably to the left of the upper west side. I don't think anyone even knew there are such a thing as Christmas wars. That's for the media elite -- i.e., people who read too many blogs.

Also, what's with the jerks who think that because one lives near a coast one is less American? You know what's un-American? Calling other people less American. (Yes, that's a paradox.)

As for the pop culture -- huh. I never noticed a dearth of it anywhere else in the country. Matter of fact, there's a lot less Lindsay Lohan crap in the East Village then there is in any Wal Mart in Iowa.

Mark Shea

Personally, my bumper sticker slogan is "Keep Mass in Christmas!"


Anna brings up an interesting point.

During the summer, on three-day weekends, all that, our parish church (which is in a much-visited area, by the way) is emptier. The traditional explanation is that people are somewhere else on holiday. But if YOU go on holiday and visit the local church there, chances are it's largely empty too, same excuse. Where ARE all these merry vacationers on the Sunday before Labor Day?

Anna, glad you're here (or, wherever) for the holidays. In our parish, because it IS much visited, the priest always asks before Mass for visitors to identify themselves, and say where they come from. (All over the world, usually.)

Sorry about the comment about the once-a-year Catholics. I guess it's good that they do show up once a year, but I'm wondering how important Christ is to them. Maybe a good Easter service could wake a few of them up?

Oh, one more. Someone mentioned cell phones. I sat through a homily during which cell phones rang five times. The preacher, an old man who's seen it all I guess, merely ignored them. (They were quite high-pitched - maybe, mercifully, he couldn't hear them.) It's fortunate for everybody that I am not a priest and was not preaching that day, because if I had been someone would have gotten stranged.

Cell phones never ring at the opera. Because everyone who ever had a cell phone ring at the opera is dead now, by the hand of the person next to them.

James Kabala

About the Maureen Dowd/Herculaneum remark, which is a bit incomprehensible but seems to be a reference to her childlessness:
I hope that the culture war doesn't turn into a war by the married on the unmarried. Maureen Dowd's problem is that she wants to be unmarried while still getting sexual pleasure (or at least, so I assume; I neither have nor want to have any precise information about what she does behind closed doors), but that can't be said of all married people. Before the sexual revolution, there were plenty of bachelors and spinsters who never married, never had sex, and were perfectly decent and happy people. The few people who fall into that category today shouldn't be made to feel as if they've done anything wrong.

James Kabala

Also, some of the most evil pro-aborts are married with children (e.g., Anna Quindlen).
On an unrelated note, Mean Girls was actually a good movie, and despite the presence of the now-obligatory saintly homosexual a la Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets, had something of a moral streak. (One of the funniest/saddest movie moments of the year was when a little girl, abandoned by her absent father and clueless mother to the care of the TV, pulls up her shirt in imitation of idiots on spring break. It was very subtly done, too; it was only a background scene.) No doubt Freaky Friday, which I have never seen, is indeed awful.

Michelle K.

Actually James, I liked Freaky Friday very much and I'm pretty critical of most "chilren's movies". Other than one scene where Jamie Lee Curtis is seen in a thong, there was nothing objectionable it it. On the contrary, it was one of the few children's movies that actually treated parents as intelligent, responsible people. Jamie Lee and her leading man Mark Harmon were engaged but did not live together, there was no premarital sex shown or hinted at, and Jamie Lee's previous husband had died, they were not divorced.

Tim F.

Simplicity dress patterns?

I can visualize the box full of those ragged envelopes stuffed with patterns my mother kept in the basement.

Now I need to read the rest of the comments.

Tim F.

For my sisters of course. She did make me a pair of jeans once though. They didn't fade. I was crushed.


I'm saddened by the fact that the public square doesn't mirror what I hold dear...not because of any pain it causes me--nothing and no one can interfere with how we celebrate Advent and Christmas in our hearts-- but because there are so many whose pride/ignorance/whatever keeps them from the true joy that the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ brings.

As I walk the mall (which I avoid doing, but with seven children a certain amount is unavoidable), there is something almost obscene about all the "stuff" and noise, but again, I find myself saddened, but not really angry. Young girls who look like tramps (MUST they all wear tight shirts with their bellies and cleavage exposed?!), young men whose foul language would make a sailor blush ...every time I look at them, I think of what a lovely nun once said about her classroom full of badly behaved adolescents ..."they're like sheep without a shepherd." That so many choose to ignore our shepherd, or have never heard of him at all, is truly sad, indeed. I pray for them all.


FWIW, unless someone's getting dunked as an adult at the Easter Vigil, I insist our family Baptisms occur outside of Mass. The Eucharist and Baptism have their own integrity. If we're going to combine them, it should be done individually, just as individual weddings are combined with Masses.

First, having a child Baptized at a Sunday Mass takes away from the homily.

Second, it places far too much emphasis on efficiency, often resulting in an assembly-line environment, which is contrary to the spirit of both the Mass and Baptism.

Third, those present at a Baptism should be agreeing to help the parents raise the child being Baptized in the Church. I know I've been present at many, far too many Baptisms, where that intention was at best hypothetical and vague. (If I knew these people...., etc.) Not everyone has the same intense relationship as a godparent, but everyone is agreeing to take on a much lighter but similar responsibility.

My thoughts, FWTW


I know I'm straying from the topic, but Baptism should not be a "familiy event;" it is a Church event. I think it's very unfortunate that we've turned weddings and Baptisms into family events rather than Church events.

The parents and godparents swear tob rbing the child up as a Catholic in front of the community, and the community swears its support. If we're not doing enough to support the parents in that, I don't think the answer is to not make the pledge at all, but to stress the importance of that pledge.

As Catholics, as sacramental people, this is much more central to who we are than the homily.

Perhaps if we viewed the child being baptized as a human person we have the opportunity to share a graced moment with rather than an impediment to us catching the first quarter of the game, we might react better when we see a well-dressed couple with a baby sitting in the front row of Church.

It is really depressing for me to see other Catholics regard the Baptism of a new Catholic Christian, having her Orginal Sin washed away, and having the opportunity to support her in her Christian life as anything other than a cause to rejoice.


As for Lileks, what turned me off him was his "This is war, damnit!" treatment of anybody who might have thought the invasion of Iraq might not have been the best idea, and his picking of easy targets to engage in argument with.

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