Thursday, October 31, 2013

Saint Angels

Warp speed . . . That is life around Casa Dolin these days. All will slow down soon . . . in about nine days to be precise.

But the next thirty-six hours are devoted to All Saints celebrations of various sorts. Tonight, our backyard celebration, parade of saints, and oodles and oodles of candy. Tomorrow night, All Saints Day Mass.

Ainsley just overheard me tell John to get dressed for school.

"Isn't John going to Saint Angels," she wondered.

Saint Angels. That's what she calls All Saints Day.

I remember Danielle Bean writing about homeschooling. I'm sure I'm taking horrible liberties with her thoughts, but a typical exchange went something like this:
What she would say: We home-school.
What the other party invariably would hear: Because we're obviously superior parents, and I can't believe we associate with riff-raff like you.
Saying that we celebrate All Saints Day can elicit similar responses. This time of year the Internet is rife with emotional diatribes on All Saints Day versus Halloween. In a few weeks bloggers will take on the commercialization of Christmas, Santa Claus and Saint Nick, Christmas carols during Advent. These are predictable, seasonal, annual events, kind of like the World Series and Black Friday.

I'm not dissing bloggers for offering their thoughts on weighty subjects. Hey, I'm offering my thoughts here, am I not? Early in this journey we call parenting, I had plenty of opinions, most of them vehement, on all manner of controversial subjects: Do you celebrate Halloween or All Saints? Do you take the kids to see Santa? How do you keep Christmas out of Advent?

Sixteen years into motherhood, here are my brilliant conclusions:
1. Use the grace and wisdom God gives every parent to discern what is right for your family.
2. Know that what you do today will not be precisely what you do tomorrow or next month or in ten years.
3. Relax.
As a younger parent, I, mentally if not verbally, took a hard, hard line on Santa. I'm not lying to my kids, thought the much more orthodox Kelly. Let's not mingle the holy -- the birth of Christ -- with the secular -- reindeer and chimneys, cookies and milk, shiny noses and sleigh bells.

My Jewish brother-in-law would be interested to hear that he very much influenced my line of thinking. I remember having breakfast with him one Christmas morning. He was mystified -- perhaps disappointed would be a better word for it -- by the feel of the Christmas experience we had just shared. Orgy was the term he used, if I recall. And an orgy it was -- kids over-the-top excited, paper flying, noise, mess. Yep. I celebrated Hanukkah and Passover many times with his family, and I'll say this for our Jewish brothers and sisters: Their religious holidays are religious. Oh, I think some Christmas commercialism has found its way into Hanukkah, but for the most part, their religious observances are free of ornamentation.

I like that.

My desire to celebrate the birth of Christ in a less frenzied, materialistic manner translated into one specific practice: I wanted every ornament on my tree and all my wrapping paper to be religious in nature. Santa was ousted. No reindeer, no elves. Angels and trumpets made the list. Ornaments that spelled out Peace and Joy were great. I collected dozens of nativities to hang on my tree and received a gorgeous ornament of the three wisemen. Seasonal baubles like snowmen and snowflakes barely made the cut. But no Santa.

Some time after this, I began my training with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I learned about the beauty of liturgical seasons. Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation for the Feast; they are not intended to be the Feast. I read beautiful reflections on the waiting and preparing. They stirred my heart to focus on the wait. I had visions of decorating our tree on Christmas Eve and celebrating all through Epiphany. (And I eyed with disdain those slackers who put their tree up on Black Friday and had it out on the curb by noon on December 26th.)

But something happened on the way to liturgical purity.

I became first an aunt and then a mother. In short, kids happened. Kids bring several things to bear. Mainly, they bring joy. Unbridled, over-the-top excitement. And it permeates the whole house. The idea of a sterile, minimal Christmas? Just not much fun. I still want to wait, and I don't want the orgy, but I want some of the chaos, some of the mess, some of the noise.

I remember the Christmas my niece came up to me and said, "Mommy bought you a really nice gift, and it's a BIG secret, and I'm not supposed to tell you what it is, but it's a sweater."

As I saw the room get quiet and one of my sisters move toward me with the camera, I thought to myself, "This must be a really, really nice sweater."

I opened up the box and found a Mrs. Beasley doll to replace the one our dog had eaten around 1978.

A happy, crazy Christmas memory.

I remember the year my brother dressed up as Santa. You'd have to meet my brother to appreciate just how wild that was. Eeyore meets Saint Nick. Ho, ho, ho, you'll shoot your eye out! 

I remember how much we laugh watching Elf -- truly a liturgically bankrupt offering, but so funny, so very funny. No singing at the North Pole! Yes, there is! No, there isn't!

I keep in mind the advice a priest gave to a friend of mine who was worried that her kids weren't "getting Advent": Relax and enjoy your family.

Relax and enjoy your family. On Christmas, on Halloween, on All Saints.

To return to those questions I, the young mom, pondered:

1. Do you celebrate All Saints or Halloween? We celebrate All Saints. It's a great opportunity to talk about heroic virtue, of deep love for God and fellow man. I do not think people who celebrate Halloween are worshipping the devil. I don't like the ultra-skimpy nurse/waitress/lady pirate costumes on the cover of every store circular. I don't like the child/zombie on the front page of the Chronicle this morning. John about jumped out of his skin when he saw it.

2. Santa or Saint Nicholas? We don't take the kids to see Santa. We don't dis Santa, either. We have a simple and sweet Saint Nicholas traditions of filling shoes with chocolate coins and a small gift.

3. How do you keep Christmas out of Advent? Short answer: We don't. Long answer: We have Advent traditions that include an Advent wreath and various calendars, small sacrifices, a few Advent songs. But we listen to Christmas carols before Christmas. We put up the tree on a night that works for us, not one dictated by a calendar.

I know there's a way we can get deeper into the trenches of parenting and sort of throw up our hands and cynically conclude that all positions we once held dear now seem ridiculous. Certainly that's not what I'm attempting to communicate. Parenting has proved to be far more challenging and, therefore, more humbling than I would have expected. We have not reversed course on most of what we held important back when Tim was tiny. But we have -- I have -- reconsidered ideas I once viewed as carved in stone.

So All Saints begins tonight.

All of us are pulling out Bibles and Lives of the Saints, pointing out Blessed So and So and the Venerable Such in Such. My friend Colleen asked her five-year-old who she wanted to be for All Saints. Casey cut to the chase: Who's the prettiest one in the Bible? See, most girls don't want to be the Saint who purposefully made herself plain so that she wouldn't attract men and be distracted from her vocation as a nun. No, no, they want to be Queen Esther who spent a year getting one serious makeover.

Meanwhile the boys are solely focused on blood and gore. Kolbe will be Saint Ignatius Loyola because, well, he's a soldier. John will be Saint George because, well, he slayed the dragon. Saint Lawrence is always a hit because who wouldn't want to be shot full of arrows?

Relax and enjoy your family.

And when you return home, go to You Tube and search for Matt Maher's litany of the saints. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and a perfect reminder that beyond the candy and costumes lies a vast cloud of witnesses ready and willing to intercede for us.


Kris said...

Aaaaand......this is why I love you! "Use the grace and wisdom God gave every parent to discern what is right for your family.... and Relax"! Exactly.

Kelly Dolin said...

Kris - You made my morning

Kris said...

Back at you!

christinelaennec said...

Excellent post, Kelly! We really give God so little credit for a sense of humour, or for understanding our feeble human quandaries...