“Origen contended that the naming of specific holy days was done only for the sake of the ‘unitiated’ and ‘beginners’ who were not yet capable of celebrating the ‘eternal festival’.”
Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity
I always find re-entry a bit difficult. It’s not that the days of Christmas are stress-free, or necessarily just as we wanted them to be.
But in any case we were together. We set aside, with reasonable success, the cares of day to day life. We focused on one another, and on truths that give anchor and direction to our lives. And we sat around a beautiful tree, and sang beautiful songs together. Just because.
Now I’m behind in most everything. The same problems and cares are still pressing at the door. The children have a lot of homework. And it’s been cold. In fact, frigid. Then, of course, there’s taking the down the tree—to make it really sink in.
But Pieper reminds us of a remarkable reality. True feast days are particular times set aside to make explicit what is always implicit. The reasons to make merry are always in place. We ‘beginners’ have to practice, year after year, taking particular times to focus on those reasons, to try to see them and feel them all the more.
A truly Merry Christmas is one in which we take a couple more steps toward being capable of celebrating a festival without end. And the ordinary travails of day to day life are themselves like festive trimmings. They too can prepare us, if we have eyes to see, to take part in unending festivity. So in a sense Christmas isn’t over, and it never need be.
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Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German philosopher in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. Many of his works have been translated into English and are still in print, including Leisure the Basis of Culture, Happiness and Contemplation, A Theory of Festivity, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, to name a few.