Twas the Twelfth Night of Christmas, and when it’s over…

January 5, 2012

…the message of Christmas must live on.

This probably seems foreign to us — laughable, even — because nowadays it appears that the Christmas celebration ends once December 25 is over, let alone the Twelve Days of Christmas after.  As early as the 26th, radio stations stop playing Christmas songs, malls begin their “After-Christmas” sales, and friends start planning their New Year’s parties.

Of course, one could say that in America, the Twelve Days of Christmas have been moved to before December 25, as opposed to after.  (No one seems to care much for Advent wreaths anymore, after all.)  But the stress that we impose upon ourselves on those days — what with shopping sprees, constant cooking, and endless gatherings — often means we don’t get much chance to contemplate the Christmas season.  And the premature secular celebrations often mean we fail to celebrate the true reason for Christmas — the mystery of the birth of Christ.

Before we go any further, however, I think it’s worthwhile to ask why, exactly, there are the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The reason for it is the Epiphany, a feast that celebrates the child Jesus being revealed as Lord and King of the world to the Magi, who followed a star to Bethlehem and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn boy.  (This is probably the scriptural basis for the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas, in addition to the story of St. Nicholas and pagan winter customs like Roman Saturnalia and German Yuletide.)  The Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6 (or, in US dioceses, on a Sunday between January 2 and 8).  The Twelve Days of Christmas, then, bridge two essential feasts of the Church: the Nativity on December 25, and the Epiphany on January 6.

(Incidentally, the Eastern Churches also celebrate the Epiphany, or the Theophany, though it focuses more on the Baptism of Jesus.  ALSO incidentally and much less relevant, the three Magi — Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior — offer their names to the three sages in arguably one of the greatest RPG video games of all time, Chrono Trigger.  Geek fact of the day.)

What, then, is the message of Christmas, and why is it so essential for us to live it out?

One might say that the message of Christmas is the family, or being home, or giving to others.  These are all important and true.  But even more so, the message of Christmas is finding Christ — true God and true Man, born miraculously of the Virgin Mary, so that He could die and redeem mankind– and proclaiming Him to world.

Follow the example of the Magi.  Quite often, we will find Christ where and when we least expect Him.  The Magi, after all, found Him in a shoddy, out-of-the-way stable.  They found him while pursuing their everyday activities, i.e. stargazing (wise men in the east at that time were expected to be able to interpret the movements of the stars).  But when the Magi did find Him, they were ready.  They humbly put aside the pretensions of their wealth and rank, offered gifts and adored, and proclaimed Jesus as Son of God and King of the World.

That is what Christmas is about.  That is the spirit we are meant to renew.  And that is why the message of Christmas needs to live on.  Find Christ in the unlikeliest of places, and give thanks for that little boy, the son of God, miraculously born to die, so that we might truly live.

The Twelfth Night of Christmas is coming, and soon the Christmas season will be over.  But continue to live out the message of Christmas in your hearts.

Suggested further reading:  on the Epiphany  |  on the Twelve Days of Christmas  |  on Advent


Movies Catholics Should Watch: Tokyo Godfathers

January 2, 2012

Tokyo Godfathers, directed by Satoshi Kon

Now this isn’t your typical Christmas movie.  (At least, insofar as the “typical” Christmas movie takes you into the lives of the homeless in Japan.)  Three Tokyo “bums” — Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic; Hana, a born-again Christian and a former drag queen; and Miyuki, a teenage runaway — find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and set out to find the baby’s parents.  As they witness kidnappings, double-crossings, and attempted suicides, each of the protagonists’ histories is revealed.

There is a realistic roughness to each one of the protagonists; it seems as if there is always something for which we can condemn them.  Indeed, the film soon makes clear that no one is blameless (except perhaps the abandoned baby).  Yet Gin, Hana, and Miyuki each have their moment to redeem themselves, and it is at these moments that they become most beloved to the audience.

Three essential themes emerge to the discriminating Catholic viewer.  First, each one of us is a person with a story;  no one can ever be considered “trash” or less than human.  Even though the protagonists are homeless and “useless” to society, they all have a back-story to why they are in their current state of life.

Second, everyone has a family, and family is essential to who we are.  Though Gin, Hana, Miyuki abandoned their families, some seemingly supernatural force brought them back together.  Moreover, the three protagonists form a sort of surrogate family of their own, and despite the fact they despise each other at times, they care deeply for each other.  The bonds of family — whether biological or not — are near-impossible to sever.

The third and final theme of Tokyo Godfathers is the little miracles in our lives that we call coincidences.  Coincidence follows coincidence after Gin, Hana, and Miyuki discover the baby — they are led back to their families, gain flashes of insight about themselves, and even have their lives saved.  Indeed, one might say that “coincidences” are proof that a higher plan is guiding us; nothing ever happens without reason.

This isn’t your typical Christmas movie, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.  Add it to your to-watch list for next Christmas season…or as early as now, for that matter.

In short…

Content:  Narrative that relies heavily on flashbacks.  There are plenty of twists that keep you on your toes, and the flashbacks progressively humanize the protagonists throughout the film.
Style:  True to form, Satoshi Kon (director of the anime films
Millennium Actress and Paprika) makes you scratch your head as you wonder if you’ve missed something.  However, Tokyo Godfathers wraps up much more cleanly than Millennium Actress and Paprika.
Catholic:  A subtle analysis of the human condition that places emphasis on the dignity of every person and on the family.  Very Catholic indeed, if not outwardly so.

Overall:  3 out of 4 stars

The Christmas Candle: A Story of Heroism, a Story of Love

November 30, 2011

With the arrival of December, my dorm’s begun putting up Christmas decorations, including Christmas candles in the front windows.  Countless of our cherished Christmas traditions, upheld even in today’s secular world, are rooted in Christianity.  But the story behind the Christmas Candle is particularly special:  For it is a story of heroism and love that can inspire a world deeply in need of more heroic and loving Catholics.

The Christmas Candle originated in Ireland in the late 17th – early 18th centuries, when British rulers attempted to suppress Catholicism in Ireland.  Their “Penal Laws” forbade Catholics from practicing their faith and even expelled all Catholic clergy.

However, a faith so full of hope is not easily abandoned, and it kept the Irish together.  Bishops and priests traveled in circuits to minister to their people in secret.  During Christmastime in particular, a Catholic family — hoping to be ministered the sacraments by a priest — would place a lit candle in their front window and leave their door unlocked.  It was in this way that priests knew which homes to visit.  When the British authorities became suspicious, the Irish explained that it was a superstition of theirs:  They lit candles and left their doors unlocked because they hoped to be visited by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

It’s a beautiful story that demonstrates the heroic, sacrificial nature of the priesthood and the courageous commitment to the Catholic faith of the Irish.  And it’s because of that story that the Christmas Candle is a cherished tradition.

Today, Christmas Candles are recognized as a beautiful Christmas decoration, yes.  But next time you see it, remember for what it stands: the heroism of the priesthood, and the hope and love only the Catholic faith can offer.

Happy Advent!