Very frankly, I am not exactly an interior decorator, but two Christmas decorations at my house are very important to me, and they are indispensable to my observance of Christmas.
The first actually is on the outside of the house, on the front door. It is a Christmas wreath, and I place it on the door on the First Sunday of Advent. I bought it years ago. (It is silk.) The foliage is holly, nothing but holly — no fir, no pine, no other evergreen, only holly. Among the many leaves is a generous sprinkling of bright red holly berries.
I suspect few bystanders realize the message conveyed by holly at Christmas. (We long ago forgot why brides wear white dresses with veils and carry flowers. Who knows why soldiers acknowledge authority by touching their outstretched hands to their foreheads?)
Holly’s message, straight and simple, is that Christ, who was born in Bethlehem all those centuries ago, died for our sins, and thereby forever opened for us the way to life, indeed eternal life, with God.
Holly symbolizes not the Lord’s birth but the sacrificial death of Jesus. He wore a crown of thorns, so say the Gospels, and the sharp thorny edges of the holly leaf recall the crown. The bright red berries represent the Savior’s blood, as it dripped from the many wounds to his scalp, painful wounds, all endured that you and I and every person, past, present or future, might live and hope.
Festooning the wreath is a gleaming satin red bow. We see so much red at Christmas. Why red? Why not blue or green? The Christmas color is red, and it must be red, no maroons, no faint pinks, because it stands for the precious blood of Christ, spent for us on Calvary. It cannot be dull or dark, so satin is a perfect fabric. The blood of Christ was human, but it shined with divinity. Bows are many, often with streamers. Jesus shed his blood profusely.
The wreath is perfectly round, symbolizing God’s eternity, no beginning, no end, no interruption.
My other favorite Christmas decoration is in the living room. It is a French crèche. French representations of the birth of Jesus make a very, very special point.
Most Americans are accustomed to Nativity scenes that include the Holy Family, shepherds, the Magi, maybe a few farm animals and an angel or two. French nativities have these figures, reported in the Gospels, but also in the scene are many, maybe dozens, even a hundred other figures in contemporary, modern dress. Among them will be the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. My set has a police officer, a physician, a firefighter, a seamstress, a boy with his dog, a school teacher with her chalkboard, the mayor, a priest, a Franciscan friar and a fisherman with his net filled with fish — just what you would see any midday in a town square in rural France.
This is its lesson. Christ was born 2,000 years ago, human because Mary literally was his mother, and she was a human being, who conceived by the power of God. Shepherds and Magi came, but the story did not end with them or after the few decades that the Lord walked the byways of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem.
Jesus came to everyone, because God loves everyone with an unbounded love. He came for the shepherds and the Magi and comes here, now, to the waiter and the nurse, the barber and the carpenter. He comes to us all, into our lives, into our livelihoods.
Each time as I approach my front door, I thank the Lord for his gift of everything for us, given even at the cost of crucifixion. When I see my French crèche, I remember that Jesus loves me — and us all — today, every day.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.