We hear people complaining about the excessive commercialism that surrounds Christmas nowadays. We get tired of the endless repetition of the same carols at the mall. The ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ slogan reminds us that sometimes the commercial side of the season could leave Jesus ‘no room at the inn’ of our lives. Caring for others during this joyful season could be a very good way to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas.’
As a child in Cuba, I experienced Dec. 25 in a rather different fashion than here in the States. Mine was one of the few families in my little town that celebrated Christ’s birth. The Communist government of Fidel Castro had abolished the holy day as a national holiday in 1970. For decades, the government created an atmosphere of fear around Christmas. You couldn’t see a Christmas tree – or any symbol or song associated with the birth of Jesus Christ – in any public space and in very few homes.
I remember those Christmas Eve dinners at home back then, with the Nativity scene in the living room and the carols sung at church during Midnight Mass. (Midnight Mass, by the way, was at 9 p.m. Our pastor had to celebrate the Mass in three different towns that night due to the scarcity of priests in the country.) We knew celebrating Christmas – really, being Catholic – also meant being a second-class citizen. But those memories of our ‘underground’ Christmas in Cuba are among the happiest of my life.
Christmas became a holiday again with the visit of St. John Paul II to the island in 1998. But still today you can go through the streets of Havana at the end of December – as I did a year ago – without seeing any public display of Christmas trees or Nativity scene. This is the direct result of decades of harassment.
I was thinking about my childhood Christmas while reading the letters of donors to the Bright Christmas campaign. Celebrating Christmas in a country where that simple act could be reason for harassment was a fearful, but joyous experience. It has to be sadder for any family not having a little extra money to celebrate Christmas in Brooklyn or Queens, when their children know that neighbors and school friends are celebrating.
That is why the Bright Christmas campaign has such a personal meaning for me. It is our way to help less fortunate children and families participate in the festivities and rituals of this season. Poverty could ‘ban’ Christmas for many families. With your help, we can ‘lift’ that ban.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the historical fact that changed history. And Christmas is, for many children, their first personal experience of the Catholic faith. The birth of Jesus is also the birth of their faith.
By donating to the Bright Christmas Campaign, you will help children in need celebrate this wonderful season. And you will also be helping to build the foundations of their Catholic faith.
The Bright Christmas Campaign does not accept requests from individuals. We make grants to parish groups and other leaders in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens who ask us for help. If you need assistance to help kids in your area, email me at email@example.com.
If you haven’t sent your donation yet, send it today. Simply make out your check to The Tablet’s Bright Christmas and mail it to me at The Tablet, 1712 Tenth Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215.