For many years, and I can remember it well, there was a great tradition in Ireland of the pre-Christmas shopping season beginning on the Holy Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. People from all over the country would descend on Dublin and there was a real sense that the Festive Celebrations had begun. In recent times the link between the 8th of December and the start of the lead-in to Christmas has been lost.
The reasons for this are twofold: as society has become more secular the emphasis on Christmas as a religious feast (which is what it is) has been diminished, and sadly this erosion gets more apparent every year.
Secondly, the huge advances in technology and a wide variety of gadgets available have increased our desire for goods we cannot live without. The shopper has become greedier, and Advent has become the time in which we prepare not for the arrival of Christ in the lowly stable, but for the further feathering of our own and others’ nests.
The secular advent begins on Black Friday and has been described by Fr Martin Delaney in an article in The Irish Catholic (6 December 1918) as, ‘the new Holy Day of Shopping Obligation’, a phrase that carries a wealth of meaning.
Black Friday originated in the United States and has spread across the world. First introduced to the United Kingdom a few years ago by Amazon, Black Friday transferred easily to our shores and is now well-established as Ireland’s first Christmas Shopping Day.
This widely publicized event usually heralds the beginning of the Christmas rush for shops as a wide range of offers are put on to entice customers. Since the restrictions imposed by the Pandemic shopping online has become the preferred choice of many consumers.
One of the nice aspects of online shopping is the ‘looking forward ‘to the arrival of the item which has been purchased. However, this can sometimes result in disappointment as some sites do not deliver as quickly as others. There are times when what arrives does not turn out to be quite as desirable as when first seen as an image on the screen. An item of clothing may look lovely on the video catwalk model and still not really suit the purchaser.
During the season of Advent, Christians are looking forward also to the coming of Christ. The word itself comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning arrival. Though the Jewish people obviously didn’t have a Feast of Christmas, they did have periods of preparation before each of their important feast days. The Church took the weeks of preparation of Advent from the Jewish tradition.
The gift of Jesus, the little baby in the Stable at Bethlehem is one that never disappoints. Advent provides us with an opportunity to pray and meditate on the profound and timeless evocation: “O Come, Emmanuel”.
Although scholars are not exactly sure when Christians began observing Advent, we do know that monks in the fifth century AD began fasting thrice weekly in November either to prepare for Christmas or Epiphany, during which new Christians were baptized each year.
Similar to Lent, in which Catholics fast and pray for forty days before Easter, Advent encourages Christians to fast so they can focus on repentance and prayer. Integral to the expectation is the preparation within, so the little child born in the manager will also be born in our hearts.
Secular vs Religious
As I mentioned earlier on the religious aspect of the days leading up to Christmas is becoming more obliterated as each year passes. One example of this is the tradition of the Advent Calendar which has been hijacked by commercial interests. They used to be a fun way for children to count down to the 25th with illustrations of Nativity scenes as a reminder of the real meaning of the Festive Season
However, Advent Calendars have moved away from this interpretation and have become focused on a variety of ‘goodies’, including chocolates, nail varnishes, cosmetic items, and even miniature juniper-based samples of gin. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things and they are certainly ‘fun’ ideas. However, they bear no relation to the Christmas story; the focus is on rewarding yourself on a daily basis with a worldly item which has no connection to anything of a spiritual nature.
This year for the first time the An Post Christmas issue stamps do not depict a nativity scene. Many people expressed their disappointment with’ this in a phone-in to The Joe Duffy Show. One caller said he felt ‘betrayed’ that the stamps did not bear any relation to Christmas.
The secular world with its money-making agenda may have left Christ and the real message of Christmas far behind; true Christians remain focused on Jesus, secure in the knowledge that the things of this world are passing, while the Kingdom which is coming will remain.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan