Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash
Christmas is a great time for traditions. Of course, we Catholics are big on all sorts of traditions (not to mention Tradition) all the time, but this time of year the rest of the world seems to remember the beauty and goodness of traditions as well.
One important tradition in my family is the annual watching of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Or, to be more precise, the annual watchings—because we need to get in all our favorite adaptions, starting with the 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol (usually the kids’ favorite, not surprisingly) and culminating in the unanimous winner for the adults: the 1984 version starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge.
While something new strikes me every year, one line that I have pondered for a while now comes at the climax of Scrooge’s conversion. As he pleads with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come for some reassurance that he has yet a chance to change his ways, Scrooge vows:
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
Now, I generally feel that the Christmas season is too short, but “For everything there is a season, and time for ever matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)—even a time for packing up the Christmas decorations and music. However, there is certainly something within Scrooge’s conversion that begs for imitation, especially in this climactic moment. While A Christmas Carol is by no means an explicitly religious story, the truth, goodness, and beauty within it resonate deeply. How, then, ought we to keep Christmas all the year?
For Scrooge, of course, the evidence of his conversion is largely in his generosity. But it is just that—the evidence, and not the root of it. He keeps Christmas so well not because he freely gives gifts, but he gives those gifts now because he honors Christmas in his heart.
I would propose that what is at the core of Scrooge’s conversion is wonder. Wonder—not curiosity or mere admiration, but absolute awe—at the goodness of life and love, which he had previously failed to perceive, and wonder at the gift of a second chance to “sponge away the writing on this stone.” For Scrooge’s great joy at waking in his own bed on Christmas morning is not simply that he is not dead, but rather that he has time to change, to make amends, to love.
This spirit of wonder and awe is how we keep Christmas all the year as well. The great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord is not meant to be something for us to celebrate and then leave behind as we move on to the next thing. Rather, it is meant to renew in us each year the joy and peace and comfort of Emmanuel, God with us. It is meant to rekindle our wonder that God actually became man.
We find this sense of wonder in all the readings at each of the Christmas liturgies. It is quite clear in the Gospel readings from Luke for Mass during the Night and Mass at Dawn—how can we miss the sense of awe in the angels bringing their tidings of great joy to the shepherds outside Bethlehem? It is perhaps somewhat easier to miss couched in the beautiful but more theologically elevated language of John’s prologue, which we hear at Mass during the Day on the 25th, but if we have ears to hear, there is no more awe-inspiring line in all of Scripture than “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And even in Matthew’s genealogy, read at the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, the long list of names communicates the same wonder that, “This day He Who Is, is born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not,” as St. John Chrysostom puts it.
The Christmas season is full of wonder—delight in beauty, joy in the presence of loved ones, the fun of gifts. But are we full of wonder at the Mystery re-presented to us at this feast? Or has it perhaps become a little too familiar, a little too comfortable, a little too commonplace? If so, then let us vow anew with Scrooge to honor Christmas in our hearts and keep it all the year. With outward generosity, yes, but also with inward awe and wonder at the gift of our salvation wrought through the Incarnation. May we also live in the Past, the Present, and the Future, that we may be transformed by what we celebrate in this feast and bear its fruits in our lives throughout the New Year. And may God bless us, every one!