A joyful feast, still

It was 15 days after Halloween. There were still rolls of baled hay in the fields and pumpkins on a lot of porches.

It was also 15 days until Thanksgiving. There was a big inflated turkey in a neighbor’s yard.

And it was evening, Midwest dark with a cold snap heading our way. I was out for a drive. Then I saw them.

The first Christmas lights. They hung on a house near where I live. In a 30-minute drive I saw four — yes, four — more homes decked out for Yuletide. One had a big inflated Santa Claus.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Christmas in America is a sight to behold — mainly because you can’t avoid beholding it. The stores — and it doesn’t matter if they sell sofas, automotive parts or booze — are awash with it. Radio stations are playing Christmas music 24-7. Holiday commercials crowd out everything on television.

The season grows more hectic, more overwhelming, more everything each year. There is an inverse ratio going on: The more secular America appears to be, the harder everyone holds tight to Christmas.

One of the really good books that came out this year is “The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics” (Image Books, $23). Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Mike Aquilina, best-selling author and a good friend, offer a lively, joyous celebration of the Faith as lived — and taught — through the feasts of the Church year.

They stress the critical point that every feast calls us to witness to our faith and, by that witness, evangelize our faith to the modern world. And defend it to the new generation of secular zealots.

“They would rather drain the cheer out of days than permit any public reference to Jesus Christ. They advocate legislation to have his name and symbols removed from every postage stamp, courthouse square and even window sills that can be seen from the street. We should charitably resist their efforts.”

The authors bemoan the loss of a cultural sense of feast once the Faith was stripped from the calendar. But Christmas is the resistance. Despite all the commercialism — and municipal, civic and public school censorship — the reason for the celebration cannot be ignored.

In Pittsburgh, there is a Nativity scene downtown. It is big. Pittsburgh big. It is a replica of the Nativity crèche that stood for many years outside St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Visit the Pittsburgh diocesan website (diopitt.org) and click on the carousel banner for the Pittsburgh Crèche to see pictures and find out more (and learn how to contribute).

The Pittsburgh Crèche was first exhibited in 1999 and has become a seasonal tradition ever since. At least a quarter of a million stop to visit the crèche during Christmas every year.

Father Ronald Lengwin, diocesan spokesperson, mission director and radio host, has been involved with the Pittsburgh Crèche from the start.

“Visitors remember erecting a Nativity set under the Christmas tree when they were children or with their own children. Those memories renew their faith. They view the crèche as a living sermon,” he told me.

“Homeless men and women have come in the wee hours of the morning to sit and listen to the Christmas carols,” he noted with a touch of hope, a touch of sadness.

He has been deeply affected by what he has seen over the years. It’s the generations — parents and grandparents catechizing their children and grandchildren as they point at the crèche figures. 

You know what? Secular culture doesn’t stand a chance against Christmas.

Have a joyous, peaceful and faith-filled Christmas feast.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.