And all through the neighborhood, the Christo-seculars are ready to put up Christmas decorations.
That's right, I just made up a word: Christo-seculars. Who are they? They are Christians, well-meaning no doubt, who love Christmas so much they can't wait to celebrate it. Yet they have, like so many, traded in the Christian calendar for the secular retail calendar. And in the retail calendar, Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving.
Sure, some retail "modernists" try to foist Christmas on us just after Halloween-- but this is St. Louis, and we are traditionalist-Christo-seculars. Old school.
So now it begins... it doesn't matter whether it's Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This is The Weekend of Christmas Decorations.
And it is also the Weekend that my family begins its annual exercise in self-flagellation and reasserts its status as Neighborhood Pariahs.
How? Because we still attempt to follow the Christian calendar, which, with regard to Christmas anyway, used to be known as "the calendar". And the more traditional we have become in our practice of the Catholic faith, the more assiduously we have striven to really follow the seasons--Advent first, Christmas after. That means we don't have our Christmas tree lit up like a beacon in our bay window until Christmas Eve, and we don't have any outdoor decorations. Moreover, the advent wreath on our dining room table is not visible to the outside, unless you get so close to the house that I will be forced to procure a restraining order.
I don't know, of course, which neighborhood you live in, but my neighborhood thinks VERY highly of itself. If the name weren't taken, or perhaps if the local schools provided anything like a classical education, it might go by the name of Narcissus Peaks. I mean, it is a lovely little neighborhood, but its denizens think it is simply the cat's meow. Or at least the dog's bark.
In our neighborhood, nearly everyone has fallen in love with the idea that quality outdoor Christmas decorations involve the most garish lights, multiple--I mean multiple-- inflatable snowmen, snow globes (complete with blowing snow), Santas, penguins, polar bears and other such items. All of these are crammed onto front yards the size of an NBA free throw lane. Every cornice, roof line, window pane, lamppost and tree are jammed, JAMMED with lights. I could almost attest in open court that for the next forty days, at dusk, I will notice a discernible dimming of my indoor lights as the greenest of Obama voters turn on the juice.
The neighborhood sturmtroopen hand out awards every year for the best "holiday" lighting and decorations. There are individual awards and block awards. Obviously, I don't mind being overlooked for the individual honors (sniff), but the much-coveted block award is the single most culpable vehicle that dooms my family to outcast status. You see, my block has never won the award. It never will win the award. It is handed out before Christmas day, and so my house is a total dud. Oh, and the Jehovah's Witnesses down the street don't help, either.
This is OK by me, too, and I get a little guilty pleasure seeing the angst on certain faces. We have one Particularly. Well. Respected. Neighbor. who always wins an individual award. In our home, he is affectionately known as uber-neighbor. He tells you how fast (slow) to drive. He signals his minions on the exact times to begin raking, or mowing, or shoveling, as the seasons demand.
He rarely returns my wave this time of year.
But the absolute best Christo-secular neighbor has no pet name in our house. This is because we hold him in absolute awe-- because his ability to assault the beautiful and tasteful in his Christmas decorations goes so far beyond tacky as to be truly sublime. It goes without saying that if you look directly at the holiday lights on his property for more than two seconds you will be left permanently blind. Welders can't handle the optics of it. And inflatable gadgets? You bet. He has an inflatable, scantily-clad in Santa's little-seen underwear Barbie that would make a streetwalker blush. Inflatable NASCAR. Inflatable hula dancer. Inflatable EVERYTHING. Plus tacky, over-stylized Christmas music blaring from speakers.
And yes, he is usually the big award winner of the entire neighborhood. Perfect, if you ask me.
Now we have approximately 37 children living in our three bedroom house. They have eyes (having been warned about the house above, mind you) and can see that everyone else has the decorations up. They ask legitimate questions. We try to give them answers that explain the faith and that satisfy their natural excitement for the season. And on some level it works, but of course every night my wife and I go to bed wondering if it is another day in which we have wrecked their lives.
We take solace, of course, in the fact that they get to look out the windows and see all the festive lights, whereas our neighbors must look out and see our home as festive as a penitentiary the night of an execution.
So, we look forward to Christmas Eve, when we festoon the tree, put up decorations, go to Midnight Mass, and enjoy the solace and beauty of that Wonderful Night so long ago when our beloved Savior saw fit to be born into the world of men. The night of humble glory. We thank Him, and pray for the grace to be His faithful children.
And this year I will make a special effort to pray for our neighbors. After all, the day after Christmas begins the second Christo-secular season in which my family are neighborhood pariahs.
That is because on December 26, when all of the lights are down, the trees stuffed in the yard waste bins, and the neighborhood reels about in post-holiday hangover, we are just getting started. We celebrate Christmas. And Epiphany. And our Lord's Baptism. And the tree in our bay window will be up until February 2.
I can already see uber-neighbor's head shaking ruefully as he drives by.
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