The late autumn and early winter has always been one of my favorite times of year. Although I do miss the dwindling daylight and dread the frigid winds of the deep winter as an undiagnosed sufferer of “S.A.D.” (“Seasonal Affective Disorder” for those non-psychologists among us), the warm glow of the sparkling lights which pop up just about everywhere this time of year always serve to lift up my spirit and bring on some much needed cheer! In fact – just about the only thing I don’t like about this time of year is the proverbial “Christmas rush”. It always seems that no matter who you are talking to, people have about twice as many things to do – from shopping for presents, to visiting friends and family, to planning celebrations – then there are hours in the day. This hustle and bustle, of course, is just about the exact opposite of what the Church is encouraging us to do liturgically at this time of year: rather then the bright colors of red, white and green, the colors of Advent are a somber purple, in place of a myriad of bright lights, the Advent Wreath’s glow emanates from only four candles. Instead of mad rushes and impending deadlines, the words that Scripture speak of at this time are ones of longing and anticipation. When compared with the frenetic pace of today’s “holiday season”, in its liturgies, the Church’s wisely reminds us that these weeks before Christmas should not be “rushed” but instead should serve as a time of preparation for the coming of – not Santa Claus – but instead of the Prince of Peace.
Reminders like these are increasingly important for all of us – especially since it is so easy to get caught up in all of the seductive hoopla that surrounds the holiday; even when you work for a religious organization like Catholic Charities. In fact, when I initially sat down to write the first draft of this post, it was the Monday of the First week of Advent, but with all of the business that comes prior to Christmas Day I am only now getting around to posting it. Sadly, these days many people would not identify with the term “First Monday of Advent” as quickly as they would with another: “Cyber Monday” – a marketing term first created by the National Retail Federation to denote the Monday immediately following the more famous “Black Friday” – itself the name for the Friday that follows Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and which officially starts the Christmas “Shopping Season” when retailers see their balance sheets go from ”red” to “black”. Both of these days have little or nothing to do with spiritually preparing one’s self for the birthday of the Prince of Peace (which ironically is the reason that these two days exist in the first place); instead, they are about “helping Santa” materially fill the space under the tree with more and bigger gifts. That what was originally the season of Advent has been transmogrified into an over-marketed, commercialized, $450 billion orgy of consumption needs no further demonstration – I think – then the fact that an actual death of 34 year old at a Wal-Mart on Long Island last year was blamed directly on the fact that it was “Black Friday”: the man – Jdimytai Damour, a temporary employee of Wal-Mart – was trampled to death helping a pregnant co-worker to safety after frenzied shoppers smashed through the store’s front doors in order to buy a 50-inch flat screen television on sale for $800!
You know, it really doesn’t have to be this way, and saying no to the over-consumption that today marks the run-up to Christmas does not require a Grinch-like renunciation of any gift giving at all. That same First Week of Advent that I was preparing my first draft of posting, we in the Department of Social and Community Development here at Catholic Charities also held our Seventh Annual Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Christmas Sale, where employees here at the Catholic Center in New York had the opportunity to come and shop responsibly and thoughtfully, using their dollars to provide the benefits of “fair trade” to producers overseas while at the same time giving their loved ones unique crafts and delicious foods! The sale is always quite popular, and every year as we approach Christmas I am continually approached by people in the hallway and on the elevator to ask me when the sale is. I’m not really surprised about that – after all, by purchasing your gifts through fair trade, you not only get to do a good thing for others by buying them great coffee, delicious chocolate and unique items, you also get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done the right thing in really supporting the producers of those goods at the source. In place of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we here at the Catholic Center have “Solidarity Thursday” and a “Fair Trade Friday”, where our purchases respect human dignity, promote economic justice, and foster global solidarity! You know, you don’t actually have to attend an actual fair trade sale to purchase fair trade goods, through the miracle of technology you can actually obtain fairly traded coffee, teas, chocolate and great “Work of Human Hands” gift items through the Catholic Relief Services website at: http://www.crsfairtrade.org/products.
So, as Advent draws to a close, won’t you too help Santa do the right thing? Take the time to check out the fairly traded items and foodstuff at the Catholic Relief Services website, and consider helping Saint Nicholas stuff your loved one’s stockings with gifts that really make a difference! Then, slow down a little, experience Advent and prepare yourself spiritually for the coming of the Prince of Peace – after all, let’s not forget that His birthday really is the “reason for the season.”