Christmas symbols are in the eye of the beholder | National Catholic Reporter

Christmas symbols are in the eye of the beholder | National Catholic Reporter.

When is a candy cane not just a candy cane?

For some people, its red and white stripes might signify the sacrifice and purity of Jesus, or maybe just a 19th-century candy-maker’s twist intended to dazzle his grandchildren. Both stories are alive and well on the Internet.

The above article in the National Catholic Reporter is a good follow-up to yesterday`s blog post on the christmas wars. It discusses how Christian meanings have been given to many of our Christmas symbols. I`ve read these descriptions before. On the one hand, it`s rather nice to give a religious interpretation to seemingly secular symbols. On the other hand, when does it just become a stretch of the imagination? Is it necessary to Christianize symbols before we can enjoy them? Perhaps sharing `secular` traditions and symbols can be seen as promoting a common ground with friends who don`t celebrate a religious Christmas; unifying us rather than dividing.

I confess to chuckling over the deeper meaning of gingerbread men (people!).

The Confraternity of Penitents, a private Roman Catholic group centered in Middletown, R.I., might disagree. Their website offers “the Christian meaning” behind 44 common Christmas symbols. Gingerbread men, according to the site, are like human beings; they do not create themselves but are created.

“Spices, reminiscent of those mentioned in the Old Testament, make the gingerbread man the color of earth (Adam was created from the dust of the earth),” the site continues. “Like us, gingerbread people are not immortal. They are destined to be eaten and thus to unite with their creators.”

REALLY??? (add the voices of SNL`s Amy Poehler and Seth Myers!)  This is reminiscent of a first year English student`s clumsy attempts at poetry interpretation. How can I enjoy my favorite cookies with images of my mortality dancing in my head? Okay, the movie Shrek offers a similar message and fate for our poor gingerbread man. But, at least it`s funny!

Sharon Sherman, a professor of folklore at the University of Oregon, sums it up nicely,

“What’s important in most people’s minds is how a given symbol or tradition is explained within his or her own family,” whether it’s their biological family or a more intentional grouping. It’s family that pulls us all “home” for Christmas, she added, across the miles or in our hearts. And Christmas, whether one assigns it religious significance or not, is, after all, all about traditions, she said.

“Whether we’re spiritual or not,” she said, “traditions hold us together.”

advent with wee ones

provided by Microsoft

Yesterday I wrote about Advent in a monastery. I had one of those. But, hubby and I have had many more advents with a houseful of wee ones. The memories make us smile now. At the time we questioned our efforts at being a model, Catholic family. It was a struggle, as it is today, to compete with the early onslaught of Christmas.

But, all our friends have their Christmas trees up! Why do we have to wait? Moan, groan. Being a Catholic sucks!

We usually tried to hold out until the 4th Sunday of Advent; or the third, depending on the calendar.

Our evening meals began with an Advent prayer and lighting the Advent candles. Catholics love the earthiness of hands-on signs and symbols, and the Advent wreath is one of my favorites. The rich greenness. The circle of eternity. The three purple candles with a pink one for Gaudete Sunday,signifying joy. The white candle in the center for Christmas. It was a perfect teachable moment for family prayer time.

The children were eager to participate. Everyone wanted to light the candles. And, everyone wanted to blow them out. And that`s where the fun began…

Our peacefully watching and waiting dinner table turned into a chaotic struggle. Our mini pyromaniacs reached for matches and leaned over the lit wreath. Wax flew as candles were blown out by a helpful sib as soon as they were lit. Of course we had a schedule, but it did not guarantee a smooth process.

But, why does he get to light two candles when I only got to light one? It`s not fairrrrrr!!! 

But, I WANT to light the pink one now! 

Shush and sit down. We`re trying to pray!

Ah, those were the days. Hubby and I still have wishful moments of going back to the chaos of raising five children. Happily, this year we are blessed with the first of many (we hope!) grand-children to join us at our table. Here`s to keeping traditions alive!

roman style

There`s no denying that Romans have style. Women, men, young and old have an air of confidence in their appearance. Their clothing choices lean towards black; a fashion tip that I embraced many years ago. Black is easy to mix and match. It moves gracefully from casual to dress-up. And, it is impervious to the ever-present street grime of this ancient city. (Travel tip – leave your white pants at home!)

I am in awe of Italian women. They navigate cobble-stone streets in stiletto heels and maneuver motor-cycles and scooters through the crazy maze of narrow streets that is Rome. And, they are gorgeous. Not in the American, blonde Barbie kind of way. Few have perky little button noses. Having been blessed rather generously in the proboscis department, I`m heartened to see women who are not only comfortable in their natural looks, but who allow their beauty to glow. Three cheers for the Roman nose!

Style is apparently important in ecclesiastical circles, also. Window shopping in the vicinity of St. Peter`s provides an interesting diversity of wares. Souvenir shops filled with plastic Pietàs and glow in the dark rosaries share street space with high-end clerical fashion stores. There seems to be a market for these duds. Young priests and seminarians decked out in cassocks and impeccably tailored black suits abound. Hollywood casting directors wouldn`t have to look far for Bing Crosby or Spencer Tracey look-a-likes.

Also spotted were young women in full religious habits. These were no shrinking violets of humility. They, too, had an air of confidence. Their veiled heads held high and long skirts swooshed with their brisk steps. It made me wonder about the upcoming generation of religious sisters and priests. I also wondered where the high-end nun shops were. 😉