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My Christmas 'earworm' this year

It's time to think about separating the two festivals of Yule and Christmas so Christian message isn't overwhelmed

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My Christmas 'earworm' this year
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An "earworm" is a tune that takes up residence in people’s heads then refuses to leave.

I am presently the victim of an earworm that wriggled into my brain at, of all places, a Bangkok shopping mall.

Background Christmas music for shoppers somehow morphed into internal foreground music.

So, the current theme music of my life is a Yuletide infection of Jingle Bell Rock acquired in a largely Buddhist city.

I am a devotee of Advent.

I know the theological, spiritual, liturgical and psychological importance of not anticipating Christmas festivities, but instead patiently focusing upon the coming of Jesus.

And I know the emphasis should be not just on the birth of Jesus, but also on Him as a symbol of neighborly compassion as well as the future fulfiller of the Reign of God.

But earworms keep interfering.

Music, decorations and commercial "come-ons" all compete with and overwhelm the Christian message.

It happens every year, even though in some years the tune is more to my taste than Jingle Bell Rock and has greater relevance to the feast of the Nativity.

Many others and myself feel that the Advent and Christmas are being overshadowed by rituals arising from the ancient celebration of the northern hemisphere winter solstice.

People were relieved that the days would start getting longer as the sun rose higher in the sky, bringing light and warmth.

The eventual choice of that time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ was likely related to that.

What better time to mark the birth of the Light of the World than the season when the light of the world — in the northern part of the globe at least — begins its return?

A recent study sponsored by the Pew Foundation found that in the United States the number of people who observe Christmas as a religious holiday continues to decline.

While 90 percent of respondents said they celebrate Christmas in some way or other, only 55 percent said they do so as a religious holiday.

I have non-Christian relatives and friends for whom the celebration of Christmas is a major part of their year.

Throughout Asia, where Christians are generally scarce, Christmas music and decorations (including even Nativity scenes and hymns!) dominate in December.

Personally, I think it would make sense for Christians to find some way to separate the celebration of Advent and Christmas from the pagan festival by moving it to some other time of the year.

Let those who enjoy the Yule celebrations (myself among them) do so without interfering in, or interference from, the Christian celebration.

Since we are celebrating the fact of the birth of Jesus, which we know, rather than his birthday, which we do not know, when we do so does not really matter.

I know that shift, desirable though it may be, is not going to happen.

The world’s habits are not going to change because I want them to.

Two festivals, Yule and Christmas, will continue to coexist on the calendar and in our lives.

But, I still think it is a worthwhile practice to think about the possibility of totally separating the festivals. I can at least do that in my own head and heart.

This intellectual and emotional exercise helps me keep in mind that we are, in fact, celebrating two very different festivals that happen to occur at the same time.

Once I split them mentally, it becomes easier to focus on the Nativity without distractions.

I can meditate upon the mystery of God’s coming, as one of us, and that one like us is the Light of the World.

I can reflect upon that mystery which is not tied to a particular date, a mystery that is celebrated, not with trees and tinsel, but with loving service of God’s children throughout the year.

By distinguishing Yule celebrations from the Advent and Christmas, I can decorate a tree and exchange gifts with neighbors for whom the season is more about vague feelings of peace and goodwill than Jesus.

After all, part of the mystery of the Incarnation that Christians celebrate all our lives is that in Jesus, God is now part of humanity’s celebrations, pains, joys and woes.

And, one of those celebrations happens at this time of year.

Oh, and I apologize if naming my own earworm is causing an earworm infestation of Jingle Bell Rock in you.

Maryknoll Father Bill Grimm is the publisher of UCAN (Union of Catholic Asian News).

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