Saturday, December 22, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> You really can enjoy season’s merriment

Leader sports editor

Have a Merry Christmas. That’s a common salutation that comes around about this time of year. In this rare case of a not-so sports related piece, it’s also a suggestion to actually do so. To the modern western man or woman, Christmas time is the annual propagation of some nebulous of good will that somehow permeates our souls. It can, for a short time, warm our hearts to consider such an idea. It doesn’t last because we know it’s not true.

Christmas is, among many other things, the fusing together of the two great big ideas of mankind, Paganism and Christianity. Christmas is the one holiday steeped in both Christian truths and a pagan ritual that is still plying a roaring trade in our streets today.

G.K. Chesterton made the brilliant observation that, “Pag-anism was the biggest thing in the world. Christianity was bigger, and everything since has been comparatively small.”

One thing those two great big ideas had in common was their affinity for ritual. So when this essay begins with “have a merry Christmas”, it means to take part in some of these rituals. It probably seems like a silly idea to one who’s never considered it, but the rest of this piece hopes to make a strong case for doing so.

Christianity replaced paganism in the western hemisphere, but not all at once. It infused some of the happier pieces of pagan rituals with the new rituals of a then brand-new Christendom. The very date of the celebration of Jesus’ birth was chosen to coincide with established pagan rituals surrounding the winter solstice and the Yule festival. There Pagans held some fascinating ideas that couldn’t have been more Christian apart from the incarnation.

The harvest festival is the best example. The early church created All Saints Day on Nov. 1 to coincide with this annual pagan spectacle. The day before that became known as All Hallows Eve, which we now call Halloween.

The delightful truth of the pagan festival that touched the nature of things was this. They recognized that there was something meaningful and mysterious about the death of living things (the harvest, i.e. grain, vegetable or animal) giving nourishment to other living things throughout the harshest season of the year.

Christ came and gave that beautiful mystery an eternal verification.

Ritual in our radically auto-nomous society is a foreign concept, though it’s design is to bring joy, which is sorely missed. Ritual, by its very nature means coming together with others for a common purpose. Pagans and early Christians were much better at it than modern man. That’s why they really enjoyed the merriment that we sometimes, if we can find the time, will make a feeble attempt to force.

Even the ritual of the daily offices of the early church (still practiced by liturgical churches), though a solitary activity, is steeped in community by the fixed time of day. Worshipers can be sure, though they are alone; they are a small part of a grand spiritual event at that moment.

Coming together has sadly become unnecessary. Combine our desire, nay, our force of culture, to be our own masters, with our self-sufficiency enhancing technology, then isolation reigns and community wanes.

This phenomenon is just as pervasive within the Church as outside of it. Every one of the schisms in church history has involved the jettisoning of some dogma or ritual. What’s left is a bunch of churches just as autonomous and separated as the secular society they claim to reject. It all adds up to a loss of joy and merriment.

What’s needed is an em-brace of the old meaning of Christmas and the old practices of enjoying it, not just for the survival of the Church in the future, but also for the merriment of man in the present. Take away the virgin birth and you do some strange wrong to sellers of spiked eggnog, not to mention the buyers.

So hang some mistletoe and kiss people for walking underneath it. Make some plum pudding then raise your spoons and shout when it’s set aflame. Sing to strangers.

Also, light a solitary candle to symbolize the star of Bethlehem. Light many candles to symbolize the light of the Logos whose birth we recognize. Go to a midnight Christmas Eve service or at the very least, go to your knees in your home. You not only will feel a mysterious and satisfying connection to your fellow man, you’ll feel one to your ancestors, pagan and Christian alike. You may feel one to Him who fulfilled the partial truths ritualized by the pagans, and is the source of true good will.

And you will experience a Merry Christmas.