“White flowers sing at the gate of the heart. Whoever has lived divine love will understand me and will be happy for my happiness. (…) Man is not saved in the monastery only. (…) The helplessness of human nature pains me, but love makes me happy” (Valeriu Gafencu)
These words were written 71 years ago by Valeriu Gafencu, on the new year’s night, in a communist prison in Romania, where starvation and terror were daily ingredients of life.
Alice Herz Sommer, Holocaust survivor: “Every day in life is beautiful. Every day.” “I knew that even in these very difficult situations there are beautiful moments. […] Even the bad is beautiful, I would say. Even the bad is beautiful… It has to be.”
I am taken aback by the multitude of people who want to tell you “what Christmas is all about.” Here’s my experience: person after person is asking you whether you are ready for Christmas, assuming, then, that we have a mutual understanding of what Christmas is all about, and, at the same time, person after person is trying to convince you that you have somehow forgotten what Christmas is all about.
“Family,” of course.
“Don’t you dare take Christ out of Christmas!”
“It’s just a holiday, and you should treat it as such!”
“It’s all about giving!”
The amount of certainty that surrounds us is absolutely fascinating. Everyone “knows” what Christmas is all about and everyone wants you to know it too. Everyone seems to be ready to harm you in the name of Christ, in the name of no-Christ, or in the name of whatever idea they may have about Christmas.
I don’t know whether the problem is that “we have forgotten what Christmas is all about.” To me, the problem is that we all “know” what Christmas is all about (which also means that we have forgotten it), and anyone who does not agree with us has “forgotten” the meaning. And, good people as we are, we feel obligated to “remind” them.
I read once something like this (I think it was Fr. Stephen Freeman, see his blog here: Glory to God for all things): “God help us from anyone who wants to fix our lives.”
I have heard this question numerous times now for the past three weeks or so : when I go to the bank, when an acquaintance wants to make small talk, or when there is really nothing else to say. Regardless of when I hear it, it startles me every time. What do you mean, being ready for Christmas? Yes, I am ready: I’m in a state of expectation every day… And still… no, I’m not… my manger is not ready… The expectation is only a thirst, but experienced as if there is no water anyway. How can He then be born?…
I respond by returning the question: are you ready for Christmas?
“Well, since it’s coming anyway, I guess let it be.”
“Oh, yes, this time I started early. Everything is prepared. I got everything online.”
“No, I’m not. I have so many things to do, gifts to buy… Maybe next year!”
Run, Forrest, Run!
Am I ready for Christmas?
Socrates, in Plato’s Apology: “You too must be of good hope as regards death, gentlemen of the jury, and keep this one truth in mind, that a good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death…”
Even Plato says that you must first get ready; only then are you not harmed either in life or in death. So run, Forrest, run! Towards yourself.
P.S. Today: four years since I started this blog. Thank you!
The eve of St. Nicholas. For Romanian children and probably for children coming from other traditions as well, this means that they have to prepare their boots and place them at the window. St. Nicholas, the one who brings gifts in secret, will pass by and leave something there: perhaps a coin of chocolate, perhaps an orange, or maybe just a piece of bread.
In my childhood, St. Nicholas’ night was filled with magic. We used to get oranges, which were unseen throughout the year in communist Romania (I have heard many people from those parts of the world saying that Christmas smells like oranges), so we were sure that St. Nicholas really brought them from some place far away. But we also used to get a little wooden stick, a “joarda,” so that our parents could use them if we were not good. Of course, they never did. In…