Making Sense of Christmas

Fr. Guillermo M. García-Tuñón, S.J. | President
Ask any kid to sing a Christmas song and he or she can probably belt out several carols about the baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Santa Claus, and reindeer without batting an eye. Now ask them to sing an Easter song and they struggle. Maybe they will sing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” but I doubt it, considering you don’t hear it played much on the radio during Easter. On Christmas day, any station on the radio will loop holiday songs forever without repeating any of them because they have access to an awesome arsenal of ballads from which to choose. There are even new ones being written almost every year. But Easter gets the short end of the baton. I don’t even think Peter Cottontail gets much recognition these days.

There are no popular Easter carols. That’s right, Easter carols! We often associate carols with Christmas, but the baby Jesus doesn’t have the exclusive rights to them. The word is derived from the word “chorale” and refers to any music sung by a choir. So yes, the celebration of the empty tomb also has carols. Filled with alleluias and great amens, trumpets and bells, the songs of Easter are designed to lift the spirit and ring in a glorious triumph mightier and more joyous than “Hark the Herald”, and yet we don’t know them. The widespread popularity of Christmas has muscled its way into so much of the festivities that it has ostracized Easter. The fact is, we have it all wrong, because without Easter, there would be no Christmas.

It’s not the fact that Jesus was born to the virgin of Nazareth in the “little town of Bethlehem,” on a “holy night” when the “stars are brightly shining,” only to be visited by “three kings from [the] orient,” and then serenaded by the “little drummer boy” that assures our salvation and the cause of immeasurable joy. It’s the fact that on the third day after Jesus was crucified, he rose from the dead. It is the empty tomb and not the occupied manger that gives meaning to our faith.

It is only because Jesus rose from the dead that celebrating every other aspect of his life makes sense. It was only after Mary Magdalene found the tomb of Christ empty and witnessed the experience to the disciples, that Christmas made any sense at all. It was only after the resurrection that the early Christian community understood the importance of interviewing Mary of Nazareth about details of the birth of her Son. As a matter of fact, the disciples really didn’t understand much of what was going on until after they themselves experienced the risen Lord. It was only then that the healing of the man born blind made sense. It was only then that the multiplication of loaves made sense. It was only then that the beatitudes, the raising of Lazarus, the last supper, and the crucifixion made sense.

Think about it. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, if his tomb had not been empty, then he would have passed as simply a wise and prolific prophet in word and deed, like so many that came before him. The dejection of Celopas and the other disciple on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) would have been justified and sustained. We don’t celebrate the birth of Moses or the Prophet Isaiah or King David. You know why? Because for as important as these people may be, no matter how wise or prolific, none of them rose from the dead. Only Jesus did that.

The liturgy of the Church puts it in better context. The season of Lent is made up of forty days with practices of fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. Advent doesn’t have that. The celebration of Easter begins on Palm Sunday and is crowned with a triduum packed with rich symbols, music, baptisms, and confirmations. Christmas doesn’t have that. Easter celebrations last for 50 days, culminating with the celebration of Pentecost. Christmas doesn’t have that either.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is very important. However, we can never forget that its importance relies squarely on Easter. If you eliminate or even downplay the significance of the resurrection, then every other season we look forward to, every other song that we sing, every other mass that we celebrate falls by the wayside. In my opinion, if the Grinch really wanted to put a dent in Christmas, he would have been wiser to steal Easter.

So, wave high your palm fronds, break out your Easter bonnets, hide your eggs, and relish your chocolate bunnies, because if we skip these joyous festivities that profess that Jesus Christ is risen, then all we can expect is coal in our stockings.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.