The Season to be Jolly

I might be cynical, but as I drive around and notice flickering Christmas lights in this most magical of seasons, “jolly” is not exactly the feeling that seems to permeate the air. As a child, I remember Maltese streets decorated shabbily, if at all. In contrast, the windows and balconies of ordinary houses more than made up for the lack of cheer, revealing the festive spirit of Maltese homes from all walks of life.  Today, it appears that the opposite is true. Streets and roundabouts are elaborately dressed up, but judging by the many dark windows and balconies, many ordinary homes barely make the effort to put up a Christmas tree. What has happened to our Christmas spirit?

Maybe it’s just that life is busier, more fast-paced and hectic—at least, that’s how the story goes. There is little or no time for setting up elaborate decorations. Maybe it’s that our Christmas priorities have changed. Shopping for that perfect gift for a handful of significant others has replaced communal rituals like exchanging hundreds of cards and spreading wonder through extravagant seasonal décor. But maybe it’s something subtler still. Maybe Christmas has become just another holiday, just another distraction in the yearly calendar brimful with Valentine candle-lit dinners, insipid carnival floats, Halloween trick-or-treating and village festivities of all kinds. Maybe we’re so caught up in a never-ending orgy of festivities, that we forget what is worth celebrating in the first place.

My cynical self wonders whether, like many other things in this island of ours, our being caught up between extremes might be symptomatic of something deeper. Rituals shape us as much as we create them, so more solitary fêtes and holiday traveling belie a more introverted, individualist attitude, the desire to unplug from the seeming craziness of our Maltese collective. At the same time, those of us perfectly at home in crowds and tribes, who seek packaged merriment in commercial establishments for the ultimate experience of holiday cheer, hardly seem strangers to “self” indulgence.

Which begs the question: what exactly do we celebrate in this month of December? The beginning of new life? Of a cultural era? More simply, of another year? Why do we flock to innumerable parties and make ourselves sick with booze? Why do we get away from it all and fly to a distant land for a holiday break? What is it that we’re doing in this “season to be jolly”? Does it, in any way, reveal the why we’re doing it?

Good old-fashioned Christmas delight, however, is about connecting, being with, generously exchanging and sharing stories and our very presence, as we touch base with family and friends along this journey of life. The “season to be jolly” is a time for remembering, re-tasting, re-experiencing, what is truly worthwhile in life: rejoicing with those with whom we exchange love; extending kindness, compassion and concern to strangers and those in greater need; thus nurturing human and humane communities for a richer, fuller life for all.

Yet, as we alter our Christmas rituals, we might be revealing not only how our priorities have shifted, but perhaps how we are being impoverished in turn. After all, a world where all that’s worth celebrating is my pleasure and me, is pretty cheerless indeed.

Seasonal jolliness to all!

Nadia Delicata received her theological formation at the Toronto School of Theology, an ecumenical consortium affiliated with the University of Toronto. Her research has deepened progressively on the question of human flourishing: first, on how the desire for flourishing is a natural law grounded in our being created in the image of God, through the dissertation, “A Christology for Christians in the World: The Challenge of Inter-Religious Dialogue as Ethical Praxis”; later, a study of the holistic vision of Christian moral and spiritual formation in the early church, titled, “Scriptural Exegesis in Early Christian Formation: Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John as a Case Study”; and most recently through her doctoral work, “On Becoming a Christian: Towards a Renewal of Contemporary Christian Formation.” Through two Research Fellowships at the University of Toronto, she has explored two pertinent themes on the role of the Christian life in the global village: a hermeneutics of digital culture through the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, and the role of religion in the public sphere through the Centre for the Study of Religion. Through the years, Nadia has presented several papers at conferences and public lectures, in particular on her primary research interest, the challenges to a Christian moral and spiritual formation in the digital age.

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