Is it just me or did Christmas begin even earlier than usual this year? By that of course I mean the run up to it, when a choice of goods go on sale in the shops. For a long time now, it seems that Christmas gifts and cards have positively swamped the display stands in most retail outlets in the centre of the city. I feel I have been a victim of Gruen’s transfer, that psychological phenomenon which involves the intentional befuddlement of consumers, with the aim of extracting more money from them! As a result of all the advances in technology there is an even greater variety of items to choose from… well for those who can afford them!
Sadly it is a well-known fact that a lot of people get seriously into debt trying to pay for all the things which the celebration of the seasons has become associated with over the years. For many Christmas is a nightmare to be dreaded, rather than an event to be enjoyed. This is because Christmas seems to have been completely hijacked by commercial elements, which move us more and more away from what the event itself is inherently about.
When I was young in the 60s and 70s I do not remember any displays in people’s gardens; now one house is brighter than the next. Santa can be seen climbing up every second chimney and reindeers glow more brightly than Rudolph’s nose. All of these are indeed lovely to look at, and it is good to see people taking the trouble to make the exteriors of their houses look well. However I do sometimes wonder, if there is an element of competitiveness running through it all. Of course Santa and his reindeer are a big part of what we associate with Christmas, but like much else that comes to mind, they are not what we mean when we talk about the ‘real meaning’ of Christmas.
The event itself, the birth of Christ, was neither glamorous nor comfortable. It took place on a dark night in a cold stable in the presence of animals, with neither fanfare nor widespread celebration. But for Christians it is the Celebration to end all Celebrations because it marks that unforgettable moment in time when God intervened in human history and became Man, in order to overcome Sin and Death.
At this time of Advent, we are preparing to welcome the Christ Child on his birthday. Birthdays are special events and we associate them with the giving of gifts. The best gift we can give him is to pray and to help others. Sadly people waste more time (and money) buying presents for people who have too much already. I have heard people say that they are surrounded by a clutter of stuff, which makes them feel more depressed than anything else.
Perhaps instead of giving gifts to those we always give gifts to, we could agree among ourselves to buy goods for the homeless and other charities instead. We often focus only on those close to us, who are not in need of material things to the exclusion of everyone else. In some ways this has fostered a certain greedy dimension to the Season when the focus is on what I ‘got’ this year, not on what I gave to those in need which is something , as Christians, we are called to do.
That greed dimension can also be seen in the concentration there is upon food and drink. Packets of crisps and sweets, you see every day of the week are made to look more desirable, by the inclusion of Christmas symbols on their packaging. No party can be complete without boxes and boxes of this stuff and that stuff. The excess can at times be more suggestive of a Roman orgy than preparations for a special family meal! Such self-indulgence, along with the surfeit of entertainment on offer, and the plethora of material goods, all convey a promise that such things will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. This of course is not so. Silence and prayer are the basis of a real relationship with the Lord Jesus. Only by means of prayer do we have the strength to resist the trials and temptations of life and to remain faithful to the Lord.
There are many Charities who need our help and Saint Martin Apostolate is happy to be able to help support these charities. Some of those include The Homeless Street Café, the Simon Community, Merchants Quay Ireland, Focus Ireland and the Irish Red Cross to name just a few. A colleague of mine told me that he found the Shoebox Appeal a great way to get his children to focus on other children, who have very little, and to get involved in a practical task, which involved learning about the needs of others, while at the same time doing something constructive to alleviate that situation.
This week the Simon Community reminded us that there are 81,000 people who have no secure place to call home come December 25th. During this Christmas season when many go ’home’ let us be grateful for our blessings. The baby born in Bethlehem, whose parents had no proper shelter, came to bring a message of hope to the poor and a challenge to those who have plenty.
Written by Marie-Therese Cryan