Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holidays vs. Holy Days

The phrase "Merry Christmas" seemed to make a comeback of sorts this season. That was good to see. Something that I think is important for religious folks to understand, as well as secular folks, is that "Happy Holidays" does not address what religious people observe during this time of year. For those for whom Christmas is Santa and nostalgic images, then Christmas is indeed a holiday, on par with President's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. However, for those for whom Christmas is the birth of the Savior of the World, or for those for whom Hanukkah is the remembrance of the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after the desecration of the Temple by the Seleucid Empire, then these are not "holidays" but "holy days." While semantically the words are related, the ideas they represent could not be more different. Holy Days represent opportunities to connect with the sacred, to grow closer to God, while holidays are a day off from work and an opportunity for stores to sell more products. People who are "cultural" or "nominal" Catholics treat Holy Days like holidays and are already almost completely secularized. But even for those who are very observant Catholics, there is still the danger that we will make Christmas too much like the secular, eviscerated version. That is why observance of the Advent and Christmas seasons are so important. The four weeks of spiritual preparation (rather than focusing primarily on the shopping, the decorating, and the card-writing) for Advent, and the two-plus weeks of celebration of the Christmas season (from Christmas Eve to the Baptism of the Lord on January 10) are liturgical antidotes to the binge-and-purge mentality of the secular approach to this time of year. So let us celebrate and contemplate the great joy of the coming of Christ, and share that joy with all we meet.

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