Cathedral Square Park & Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist decorated for Christmas
When I saw Christmas decorations and trees begin to populate Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park as early as November 1st, I thought, Is it that time of year already? Unbelievable. With this weekend’s snowfall, the Cathedral Square Park’s decorated Christmas trees looks particularly Decemberish.
Screen shot of internet search
Earlier this month I searched online for some Christmas card ideas. Imagine my surprise when the search displayed a block print I created five years ago.
It seems so long ago and so far away. So much has happened in those few short years that it is difficult to catalog. Curiously, I clicked in the Pinterest link. Then I read the original blog post. It is the most visited post on the blog.
For the last few years, I have received modest feedback on a post I published titled “Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry).” The most intriguing comment regarded a poem by W. S. Beattie. I could not locate the poem online. And the mystery of it excited me. Are there really poems people read that are not on the internet? I thought to myself. A lovely thought.
This year, a digital trail lead me to a PDF file posted by the Brentwood United Reformed Church. Here is the poem recommended by a reader with the preface that the poem’s topic regards the misuse of Advent.
by W.S. Beattie
These are the greedy days.
It used to be
That Advent was a longing fast,
A time to feel our need
in faith and tingling hope
And keen-eyed looking forward.
Now we cannot wait
But day by day and week by week
We celebrate obsessively
Clutching at Christmas.
When at last it comes,
The day itself,
Our glass is empty.
We have held the feast
Already, and the news is stale
Before it ever reaches us.
We cheat ourselves.
Yet – somehow – still we hope
In these spoiled days
That there may be a child.
It is a humble poem with a good reminder.
Another reader suggested the inclusion of T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.”
CCCA’s The Advent Project
And yet another reader pointed me in the direction of Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts (CCCA) The Advent Project. I truly enjoy CCCA’s Advent project as it includes art, literature, music and video.
I need to revisit my “12 Days of Christmas” poetry list. Maybe next year it will expand to a “24 Days of Advent” poetry list. For now, please enjoy reading 12 days of Christmas poems.
There was a short story I wrote when I lived in my adopted hometown. I posted it last year. An edited version of it was published in an indie newspaper ten years ago this month. Hope you enjoy the story. Merry Christmas!
A Christmas story: Our home is waiting for us
by Matthew Mulder
Westville Pub was busier than I thought for a Christmas Eve. It looked like we were not the only ones escaping the chilly, damp Appalachian December night. My small family arrived a little after eight in the evening to enjoy an energetic performance by Gypsy Bandwagon. There was only one booth available near the back that we quickly populated. The bar maid took my order for a pint of ale, chips and salsa and ginger ale.
Gypsy Bandwagon, self-described as genre-challenged, played lively Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, a bit of Bluegrass, classical piano solos and traditional gypsy pieces. Lead guitarist and vocalist shared singing chores with his wife, an accomplished violinist and keyboardist. The drummer,Uncle Biscuit, complemented his wife, a multi-instrumentalist, who played everything from the violin to the bass guitar. The band put on a free concert for the holiday crowd and brought gifts to give away to people in the Pub. With festive flare they gave away wrapped gifts if you owned a dog or claimed to be a Chicago Cubs fan or if you liked the last number they performed you got a free Gypsy Bandwagon CD.
Many traditional Christmas favorites filled their set list that pleased the crowd. A 16th century carol haunted me. I don’t even remember the name of it, but I imagined a New England tavern must have sounded much like that over two hundred years ago. I wondered about the first Christmas celebration.
Rome. December 25, 336 was the first recorded celebration of Christmas. Was there egg nog? Probably not. St. Francis of Assisi assembled one of the first Nativity scenes in Greccio, Italy on December 25, 1223. Nearly a thousand years between those two dates—and a lot of history. Leap forward nearly 600 hundred years, the well-known Christmas carol “Silent Night” was performed for the first time at the Church of Saint Nikolaus in Oberndorff, Austria on Christmas day in 1818. What will Christmas celebrations will be like in 100 years?
Thinking back to how I was raised by my parents, I suspect the notion of attending a gig in a pub with kids on Christmas Eve must seem odd—if not a bit disturbing. My oldest loved the whole experience. I am not sure if it was the ginger ale or the nachos or the bouncing on the booth seat to the music or the fact that he was up past his bed time. He seemed glad to be there. His baby brother fell asleep.
Uncle Biscuit came back and said hello during a quick intermission. He and his wife are good friends. It was getting late. After wishing him and his wife a Merry Christmas, we left.
It had begun to rain outside as the family gathered into the car. We drove home with the windshield lightly swishing away the rain droplets. When we arrived home my son said, “Our home is waiting for us.” I like that expression—home is waiting for us. The smell of fresh-cut poplar was sweet in the damp night air as we entered our waiting home.
Christmas morning. My family attended church. Coena Domini, or Eucharist, was celebrated. In low church fellowships it is called “the Lord’s Supper” or “communion.” Supper seems so common for a sacred “feast” on Sunday morning. Well, it was twelve ordinary guys that witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
As the elements of Eucharist were distributed, I thought of Jesus — the babe born in Bethlehem. He reportedly fulfilled more than 300 prophesies. During the morning homily I read of ten of those prophesies. I found the fulfilled prophesies amazing. Ann Rice admitted to discovering similar facts while she researched her book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
What I did not find fascinating was the small plastic cup filled with grape juice and a crumb of broken Saltines. Is this not a Blessed Sacrament—as some Christians call it. I had a challenge finding anything sacred about a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker. But these are simple reminders of a greater narrative.
Jeremy Huggins, author of literary nonfiction, posed the question, is there “any reason why I couldn’t go through the Communion line more than once?” Initially I responded: “When was the last time anyone ate a suggestion of bread and a swallow of wine and called it supper?”
For some reason I thought of the pale ale and nachos I had consumed the previous night at Westville Pub. Why is it that ale and nachos are not sacred reminders of the holy truth? Maybe that is a bit sacrilegious to be considered on Christmas—a holiday. Holiday means “a religious feast day.” A day like any other day recognized as sacred, hallowed, sanctified seems out-of-place in American culture.
As I held a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker in my hands that Christmas morning, I remembered the night the Christ was betrayed. He shared his last meal of wine and bread with twelve ordinary, mostly nondescript guys who were being prepared to turn the world upside down. I identified with Jesus the Christ by taking the Eucharist. Am I more holy now than I was before? Does a day change its nature simply because it is recognized as sacred? I will leave those questions to the philosophers and theologians. “Our home is waiting for us,” my eldest child said on Christmas Eve. In more ways than the child realizes, that statement just might explain the reality of Christmas.
Listen to an abridged audio version of this story:
“Christmas Night,” a limited edition woodblock print/greeting card
It is so difficult for me to locate well-written Advent poems. A couple years ago I began collecting and posting some of my favorites. The list includes some well known poets as well as some lesser known individuals. As a way to celebrate the season, I offer the 12 days of Christmas poetry: