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Padre Steve Gets into the Christmas Spirit in Spite of Himself


“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Charlie Brown

Well, it it still Advent but despite all my heartfelt leanings of liturgical calendar correctness I have caught the Christmas spirit early this year. I don’t know why, especially because I can be such a Grinch this time of year.

It began last week when I had to make 8 dozen cookies for our annual “cookie exchange” at the hospital where I serve. We had the exchange on Friday and it was combined with our Christmas Tree (Holiday Tree for those more politically correct than this moderate liberal) lighting.

Let’s face it without Martin Luther we wouldn’t do the Christmas tree thing anyway, the Calvinists that first settled this country were such party-poopers that that they thought the whole concept of celebrating Christmas was sinful. (See my article Christian Grinch’s: How the Puritans nearly stole Christmas  http://wp.me/prGqV-1tg  ) So I guess if we want to play the whole politically correct thing the Calvinists forefathers and mothers of our current Evangelical Christian defenders of “Christmas” actually had more in common with the current critics of the holiday than its defenders? But I digress…


Martin Luther with his family at Christmas

So in the spirit of Martin Luther, that beer drinking foul mouthed German instigator of the Protestant Reformation, I have gotten into the Christmas spirit. For the first time since I was in Iraq I feel an eager anticipation of the coming of Christmas.

Puritan Christmas Ban

The Puritan’s Idea of a Very Calvin Christmas

Like I said it began last week. First there was my cookie baking adventure The Easy Baking Bachelor of Christmastide which was a success. In fact I plan on repeating it to some extent tonight, gifts for my minions at work and friends at the bar tomorrow. The cookie exchange took place Friday. I brought in the cookies and when I got to work one of the fellow members of the board of directors asked me if I was going to change into my dress blues as I was wearing my khakis. It was at that point that I thought to myself “Oh shit.” I had forgotten that those of us on the board of directors who are on active duty actually dress up when we do this. You see my dress blue uniform was hanging in my apartment, 25 miles away. Since I had to attend one of those good occasions where we were promoting a couple of dozen young sailors I could not leave immediately to change into the uniform.

I was happy to see the Sailors get promoted but I was not happy about having to make the trip home and back. Yes I could have weaseled my way out of the dress blue uniform but as much of a weasel as I can be I hate to look obvious. So when the ceremony ended at 0900 I dashed to my office, grabbed my cover, which is what we in the Navy call a hat and ran out to my car. I made it home in good time and then things started going to hell.

Molly, my little dog Molly decided that she needed to go out and since I was home early she assumed that I had all day to indulge her. It was a power fight, the little Papillon-Dachshund mix decided that she would fart around. Eventually I got her inside and went to get in my uniform, which to my surprise still had the large medals which I had on it for a change of command ceremony I had been participated in, and which I had to switch out for mere ribbons. I hurriedly changed the ribbons, gave Molly her “cookie” (not one of the chocolate chuck cookies but a dog treat) changed into my uniform and dashed to the car.

At that point something happened in me. It was as if I was having a Grinch moment, but in a good way: As the story goes: “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!”


It was a damn close run adventure getting back to the base on time. It seemed that if there was a red light that I caught it and to make matters worse, if there was a minnie-van driven by a doddering retiree or soccer mom who decided to do 5 miles an hour under the speed limit in the left hand lane I got behind them. In between praying and cussing and dodging in and out of impossible traffic situations I realized that I really wanted to make it on time. It was as if the Force was with me as I wove in and out of the insidiously poor drivers who could not drive nails and should not be behind the controls of modern automobiles.

Now this was strange because such ceremonial events are usually, no matter what the occasion are painful for me to attend, being that I am mildly introverted and anti-social. It was like when the Grinch’s grew and he had to dash to Whoville to save Christmas. It was almost a conversion experience, a Christmas miracle if you will. I was possessed with the need to make it on time despite the obstacles.

Despite construction zones, slow drivers hogging the fast lane, and traffic lights I was able to get to the hospital parking lot at 1028 with the ceremony scheduled to begin at 1030. I had no time to waste. Our employee parking lots are not convenient to getting into the building fast. We reserve that right for patients and visitors. This is probably a good business and PR practice but not helpful at this particular moment. So I found an empty spot in the outfield got out of my car and started to run. It was like the good old days before O.J. Simpson allegedly killed his wife Nicole, when he ran through airports in a suit for Hertz Rent-A-Car in TV commercials. I was flying. This is the great thing about being in shape and not straining to get into the uniform. I ran up the hill by our ER and down the hill, jumped curbs, ditches, and barriers as I wove between pedestrians and cars in the parking lot.  Marines, Sailors and civilians looked at crazy Navy officer dashing through the lot with amazement. Surely they though it must be an emergency, and in a sense it was. I was running out of time and I had to give the invocation.


I made it on time and then the ceremony was delayed for 15 minutes. I breathed a sigh of relief and found that my heart had indeed grown three sizes that day because I was not cussing and swearing and acting like a complete idiot. It was a Christmas miracle. The ceremony went well and the two hours of conversations and chit-chatting that followed was enjoyable despite the uncomfortableness of my patent leather military issue shoes. I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that all was well in my world. When the day was done I went home and hung out with Molly before doing usual grilled chicken salad dinner at the neighborhood bar.

One would think that the story would end there but then one would be wrong. I carried the duty pager over the weekend and at about 0100 Saturday morning it went off. It was a call from the Emergency Room. A man was in cardiac arrest and I was needed. I rolled out of bed, waking up Molly who looked offended and I put on my uniform to head to the hospital. When I got there the patient had died, but I spent time and prayed with his wife, then other members of the family who arrived over the next hour. When all was done I drove back home where I woke up Molly, who by the way does not think kindly to being woken up at 0415.

The rest of the weekend was relatively uneventful. I went to our hospital Christmas party  Saturday night which was nice and on Sunday celebrated a Eucharist at home after sleeping late for the Second Sunday of Advent. I was tired but I felt great.

So this morning, despite not sleeping well due to holding the duty pager I got up and prepared for work. I had made one mistake however. I assumed that the North Carolina DOT had made appropriate traffic arrangements for traffic control since the bridge that connects us with the mainland is down to one lane due to the resurfacing of the road on it. I anticipated a 10-15 minute delay at the most, however the contractor did not use flagmen but used a timed traffic signal. The result was a traffic nightmare. It took an hour and a half to cover two miles. However instead of ranting and raving as might be my custom I decided instead of listening to news, political commentary, ESPN or even the 70’s channel to tune in to the Sirius radio station that played Christmas songs. It was great and I didn’t stress out. It took nearly 2 and a half hours to get to work today, normally it is about 35-45 minutes. But in that time I realized that I didn’t need to be a Christmas Grinch after all and that my dash to hospital on Friday was not a mistake.

So tonight, I made more cookies to distribute to my minions and friends tomorrow and watched my favorite television Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch that Stole Christmas. 

I am enjoying the lead up to Christmas for the first time in a long time and it feels good. I do hope that in spite of the Fiscal Cliff and all the problems of the world that maybe more people will have a Grinch conversion moment this year and perhaps like Charlie Brown discover the meaning of Christmas, not only now but all year round…

Christmas time is here

We’ll be drawing near

Oh, that we could always see

Such spirit through the year

Oh, that we could always see

Such spirit through the year…


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith

The Advent of Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome 2011

I hate to sound like a Grinch or Scrooge type of killjoy but here on November 20th I am bothered by an attack of Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome (EOHCS). EOHCS is not yet recognized as a Disorder in the DSM IV I have to wing it here but I think that the average person probably realizes that this condition is epidemic in our society.  Since I tend to avoid malls and the big retail outlets in general I can usually avoid attacks of EOHCS mostly by ignoring the incessant “Christmas” or holiday commercials of which car commercials seem to be the most offensive this year.  However I do  have to go out in public sometimes and on those occasions must do all that I can to stay sane as EOHCS seems to come earlier than it ever did.

I had to go get groceries this afternoon and went to a “Wal-Mart Super Center” in Morehead City because they carry a particular brand of pita bread that I cannot get at any of the grocery stores in my local area.  Now I expect that when I go to any retailer after Labor Day to find Christmas specials and an encroachment of Christmas paraphernalia and gifts with each passing week.  That is a given in our consumer driven society and whether I like it or not it is a fact of life and I am not going to change it.  However I just wanted groceries and not the full on Christmas press.  Now to be sure I only go to Wal-Mart when necessary because frankly the place sets off almost every alarm in my post PTSD mind and body.  When I go my goal is to get in and out as soon as possible and avoid any crowds, congested areas and noise.  Thus I will usually go late at night as if I were a stealth commando, but today I needed to go early to get it done.

Of course the store was littered with pre-Black Friday specials and had aisles of candies, cakes, toys, and trimmings. I felt like the Grinch walking through Whoville without the sweet ambiance of that cartoon town.  As I went made my foray into the store, knowing exactly what I needed and where to find it I was assaulted by and overwhelmed with the sound of Christmas music which was louder and more obnoxious than usual. I think the most annoying of the songs I heard today was “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” sung by Brenda Lee which seems to repeated about every 15 minutes during the holiday season.  I find her voice particularly grating and about as soothing as Pee Wee Herman scratching his nails scratching on a chalkboard when I am out shopping.  Now this song is simply annoying but when I hear songs that are meant for worship of the Lord being used as a means to condition us to buy things I get offended.  Thus when I hear “Silent Night” sandwiched between advertisements on November 20th in a store I want to scream, not that there is anything wrong with that; the screaming that is.

Now I like Christmas music, so long as it is actually somewhat close to Christmas even even the non-religious songs of which Grandma Got Run over By a Reindeer is my all time favorite, but I digress.  Since liturgically speaking it isn’t even Advent yet I find such a bombardment of secular and sacred Christmas songs while grocery shopping to be offensive to my somewhat liturgically correct sensibilities.  That may seem harsh but the musical assault at Wal-Mart only increased my desire to finish shopping and get the hell out of the store as fast as my cart would carry my food.  It did not induce me to hang around to see if I wanted to spend extra money on stuff that I probably don’t need.

And we wonder while there is little sense of the Holy in our society.  The fact is that somehow we have allowed our culture to devolve to the point that we utilize actions and holidays meant to point us in the direction of the Holy and use them to satisfy our most base desires. The Holy is subordinated to the profit margins of retailers who make their money satiating our desires for the newest and greatest stuff that we can get our hands on.

I am not against people getting nice things at all or giving gifts in abundance to their loved ones or even for themselves.  I like nice stuff too and I love the celebration of Christmas in its spiritual as well as cultural derivatives.  I like Christmas trees and decorations and the festiveness of Christmas especially with friends enjoying each other and a good glass of hot Gluhwein.

I guess I think that when we turn Christmas into a months long pursuit of profits and stuff that it really cheapens and degrades the holiday, even for people that are not Christians. Really, Black Friday is the real holy day in our consumer society and what gets more push back, a store being open briefly on Christmas or Black Friday sales encroaching on Thanksgiving?

Even allegedly “Christian” retailers take advantage of the holiday even selling trinkets that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or “What Would Jesus Do?” at a healthy profit.  Again I am not against people making a profit from their labors people should be compensated well for work well done. But the fact that most Jesus junk like almost everything else is now made in China or Third World countries by workers that are all but slaves doesn’t seem to enter into the equation for jesus is the reason for the season“Christian” retailers and even ministries; just as it doesn’t for everyone else seeking to make a profit off the baby born in the manger.

How sad that as a culture we have reduced the celebration of God humbly entering into the human experience to a celebration of crass economic Darwinism much more in tune with Ayn Rand than Jesus.  Paul writes in Philippians though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness….” Somehow that concept seems lost in our culture.

Oh well, what can I say?  Maybe I am a Grinch after all or maybe I can get counseling for Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome.


Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, economics and financial policy, faith