Little Christmas

Dear Islanders;

I’m still recovering from Christmas. I love the holidays. But weeks of cookies, parties, and just general binging on fun has left me feeling bloated and disoriented. I even had to dig into a box of old suits that I bought when I was a little plumper. If I smell a tad like moth balls for the next few weeks, please forgive me.

It definitely feels good to be back in more of a regular routine. If you know me, I like to go to bed early and get up earlier. I enjoy my little indulgences when I get up, like a short study session after a nice run and some push-ups. And I like to work just about as much as I like to play. Work—especially meaningful work done with joy—is one of the greatest things life has to offer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total Grinch. I love Christmas and New Year’s parties. This year, I had a blast bowling at the Island Lanes on New Year’s Eve. Hitting a strike just before midnight as Journey cranked and disco lights flashed was just about ethereal. And watching my boys open gifts on Christmas morning gets better every year. But there comes a time when the lights must come down, the carols must end, and television Christmas specials don’t really seem so special. I can’t stand watching even a second of any version of the Christmas Carol (whether its starring Alastair Sim or Bill Murray) after January 1st, no matter how inspired, fun, and nostalgic almost every version seemed on December 1st.

But a little post-Christmas Christmas is a good thing too

Now please let me try and revive my shrunken and dry heart. Even though I do feel like the merriment of the holiday season eventually feels like drudgery, I don’t exactly want it to end either. And my family celebrates a tradition that makes the end of family get-togethers and well wishes a little more tolerable each year. We called it “Little Christmas.”

Little Christmas (or as you may call it the Epiphany or Woman’s Christmas—in Ireland men do all of the cooking) traditionally takes place on the 6th of January. For most, it symbolizes the day the Magi—the wise men from the East—arrived after following the star to give gifts to the new born Christ child. I always liked the idea of the Magi, three mysterious wise men. They always seem to be the most interestingly designed part of nativity scenes. After all, how many ways can you design a cow or a sheep? But a wise king from the East? Even writing the words triggers my imagination.

In our home, little Christmas is like Christmas-lite. Instead of garish parties and lavish meals, we instead put forth a relatively humble buffet of finger foods and share hopes for a good year to come. My mother used to prepare snacks to represent the gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh left by the kings, but the symbolism was mostly lost on us. Being together, one more time, was the point. And it will feel nice to meet with them all again tonight.

The meaning of Christmas  

Little Christmas also allows me, personally, to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Again, January 6 is post Santa, post cartoons, and post animated puppets. The only story left is the story of three great kings kneeling at the crib of an infant born in a barn. The Christian God is unlike any other. Jesus, the King of Kings, was not a beautiful golden youth like Apollo, a mighty Thunder titan like Oden, or even a celestial apparition appearing from a lotus flower like some iteration of the Buddha. The Christian God is the child of displaced and humble voyagers in a foreign land. Lying in the hay. And still the kings came, and bowed, and worshipped.

There is something very powerful about that story. In our day, it’s almost our instinct to judge and condemn those we feel are not like us or below us. I think it makes us easier to accept the dramatic inequalities among us. We say to ourselves, “that homeless man must should work for a living. That young, struggling mother was always a light-headed fool.”  Some take it a step farther and find it hard to believe anything good can come from those less fortunate among us.

I’ve been reading a lot about William Shakespeare in my rare free time. The breadth and scope of his impact on our culture—and even in the English language, including words we use every day—cannot be overstated. Because this is the case, some scholars refuse to believe that William Shakespeare really wrote all those plays. They claim he was not educated enough, not from a noble enough background. “How could a man like that,” they say, “understand the lives of aristocrats, let alone produce such beautiful prose.   

We should not pass off mediocrity for greatness. Nor should we equate poverty to sin. Moreover, success and strength are not necessarily signs of virtuousness. I saw recently a sign in a very wealthy friend’s house that said, “I’m not lucky. I’m blessed.” Well, maybe so. But that does not mean the opposite, namely “I’m not unlucky, I’m cursed.” For it was Christ who said quite the opposite. In his words, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Little Christmas for all this Friday

If you’re not a Christian or don’t celebrate little Christmas, you might be reading this and saying, “This is relevant to me how?” Sorry if that’s the case. I personally really like learning about other customs and religions that are different than mine, even the Christian customs that are outside of what I am familiar with—like the hairy, long, red tongued, horned demon “Krampus” who appears to whip and torment naughty children in Austria and Germany. My brother brought back a Krampus doll from a recent business trip that terrified me. If you are on the naughty list here, you get off easy with just a clump of coal.

If you are unfamiliar with Little Christmas or the Epiphany, or can’t break away from the holidays cold turkey, or want to learn more, there is an event for people of all faiths— even non-believers— this Friday at Trinity United Methodist Church at 2100 Whitehaven.  From 5 pm – 7 pm ALL Islanders are invited to the Three Kings Dinner!  A FREE lasagna dinner will be served until the food runs out.  I am very much looking forward to this event.  I’ll be there before I run to Mom’s. I hope to see you there!

Wishing you all a very healthy and happy 2017!

With warmest regards,

Nate