Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 1999
Getting a grip on the season
Catholics discuss how they avoid going crazy at Christmas
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
It's Christmas time. You can't walk through the city without noticing it.
You go get gas and the little wreath hanging on the window near the cash register reminds you of it.
You drive down the block and those twinkling icicle lights are lighting the night in anticipation of Dec. 25.
Perhaps if you stay at home and catch the news, you won't be reminded of the holiday season. Oh, too late, you've already turned on the TV, there's no escaping the Gap commercial with its winter wonderland theme to remind you that you still haven't bought presents for the kids yet.
This of course is followed by many more Noel jingles reminding you of all the Christmas stuff there is out there - chocolates, toys, clothing and more chocolates.
Unless you're living in a bubble, you can't escape the holiday season. Even in the bubble, the sounds of carolers would seep in and wish you a Merry Christmas.
This is a time for Santa and decking the halls with boughs of holly. Or is it a time to reflect on Christ's birth and decking the halls with Advent candles? Do we fill our homes with sounds of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Silent Night? Is it one or the other? Or both?
As Christians, Christmas is first and foremost the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Santa, Frosty and the yellow Pokemon video game are secondary.
"Sometimes we go from one extreme to the other," said Cathy Harvey. "You either go totally crazy at Christmas time or you don't even bother with it.
"People get stressed out with the shopping and they don't enjoy it."
Harvey is one who rejoices at the coming of Christmas. She tries to finish her shopping early not because she's so much more organized than the average Joe, but she does it so that it's out of the way and she can truly enjoy the holiday season.
The Harvey family - Cathy, her husband David and their four children - has a unique Christmas tradition. During Advent they gather as a family and pray nightly. The tree doesn't go up until the week before Christmas or as Harvey calls it "we put the tree up at the pink candle."
The family also refrains from singing Christmas songs and turning on the Christmas lights until Dec. 24.
"It helps us to be clear of the meaning of Christmas," said Harvey, coordinator of the archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.
The family attends an Anglican and a Catholic Mass on Christmas Eve. Before entering the house they all wait outside while lighting one candle. They proceed into the house singing Silent Night and begin to light the candles that have been scattered throughout.
"Then we stay in candlelight until we go to bed," Harvey said. "Christmas Eve is a time just for the family."
Christmas day is spent with the L'Arche Community starting with dinner and then the singing of Happy Birthday Jesus.
"Christmas is a very joyous time for us," Harvey said. "It's very spiritually significant for us. We really focus on (the birth of Christ). That's at the heart of it."
Harvey admits that like many shoppers at this time, she tends to go overboard with presents and celebration during the holiday season. The family not only celebrates Noel, but two family birthdays fall within a week of Christmas.
"I just pace myself," she said. "We don't buy presents because we have to do it, we do it because we're celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ."
Harvey finds the art of avoidance helpful in preventing the stress that seems to accompany every Christmas shopper.
"We don't put ourselves in the malls when everyone else is there, we avoid those kinds of situations."
There's not a lot of cheer in the malls during Christmas, what should be one of the happiest times of the year. People pushing and shoving to get the best deals. People dreary and tired after standing half an hour to pay for their purchases and then standing another half an hour so the kids can get a chance to sit on Santa's lap.
Christmas is often synonymous with frenzy, which is more reason to make an extra effort to slow down, said Glenda Carline. As the program coordinator for the Providence Renewal Centre, a mother and wife, Carline has a hard time finding that quiet time for her own personal reflection.
"I try to ensure a time to ponder during Christmas," she said.
Carline tries to avoid the malls at the peak hours and sets out creative time for herself.
"Everywhere we go (during Christmas) we get bombarded, that's the danger with the pace we have. We're so bombarded with everything we don't slow down and savour it.
"We then become so sick of it. . . . We need to remember Christmas as a spiritual digestion time."
Reflection is key in Carline's lifestyle. She takes the time to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. And when the time comes, she takes the time to reflect on what presents to buy.
She prefers to sit back and think about what friends and family members might like as presents before venturing to the shops. That way she can go to a store and head straight for the item she needs to buy and leave. This is not only less time consuming than spending hours browsing the shops, but it also gives her a chance to stay away from the Christmas shopping crowd.
"If I were to browse and shop, I would be letting commercialism influence what I buy for someone instead of buying something I think they would really like," Carline said.
To fully appreciate the meaning of Christmas, Dr. Randy Yatscoff, a district deputy with the Knights of Columbus, instills the value of giving in his children during the Christmas season.
"Part of it is trying to focus on what Christmas is really about," Yatscoff said.
It has a become a tradition for Yatscoff and his son to deliver Christmas hampers to the needy. The family also follows the tradition of having a meatless Christmas Eve.
Yatscoff said each year is a reminder to his children that Christmas goes beyond gift giving. If his children get too focused on what gifts they want, Yatscoff tries to refocus their thoughts on Christmas as the birth of Jesus.
And when it comes to shopping and gift giving, "we've never really gone overboard." That means the Yatscoffs don't start their Christmas shopping the day after Halloween.
"For some people the whole world revolves around Christmas," Yatscoff said. "They start this big planning for it. . . . But it's really more of a quiet time. It's a time to prioritize, to take some time off, spend time with the family."
The weeks leading up to Christmas are a time of preparing and the weeks after should remain a time for continual celebration, said Harvey. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season tends to bring on rashes of amnesia for people who go through December and forget to celebrate Christmas.
"I firmly believe that people start celebrating Christmas too early," Harvey said. "They get tired of it by Dec. 25.
"Christmas is a special kind of waiting - you don't do it prematurely. You hear all the Christmas songs on the radio in November. The day after Christmas, they stop playing it. I think 'What's going on?' Dec. 25 should be the first day of Christmas not the last."