Thoughts on welcoming 2016
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
If we are anything like the rest of the people living in this country, we may have felt an overdose on festivities since October. As we well know, beginning with Halloween, it has been one festivity after another. The Halloween revelry gave way to Thanksgiving. After we took that one day to give thanks, it is almost certain that every one of us had at least two Christmas celebrations to attend not including that of our own families. Lastly, of course, we must not forget the merriment that accompanied the arrival of the New Year. With all of these parties and celebrations, it is doubtful that any of them took place without a certain amount of eating. As we begin the new year, it can be certain that many of us have now recommitted ourselves to “working off” the extra weight we gained from the holidays.
With all of eating involved in celebrations, sometimes we may wonder if any of it goes too far. Why does there have to be feasting connected with partying? Why is it an expectation to feed people whenever we invite them for a gathering? For many of us, all of the feasting may seem to contribute to the loss of meaning with the holiday.
For example, the candies and the sweets have virtually erased the religious aspect of Halloween as the night before the celebration of All Saints Day. Thanksgiving oftentimes seems to be associated only with “overstuffing” ourselves. All of the Christmas parties before the actual date of Christmas have at times taken attention away from the spiritual nature of the day Christians celebrate as the Incarnation of God. New Year’s has received the reputation of a night of indulgence before we make new resolutions. At times, we may wonder what these celebrations may look like if we erased the feasting element. Some of us may agree that it would not only make our lives easier but may also refocus attention where it ought to be regarding the true significance of the holidays. Yet, personally, I am not sure this would be the case nor do I think we should separate feasting from celebrating.
For one, on a social level, sharing a meal with other people has always been a way to interact with one another as human beings. It is one of the strongest ways to connect with people on a very intimate level in the best sense of what it means. In virtually every culture throughout the world, the act of sharing a meal with another person breaks down barriers and brings people into a personal relationship with one another. In other words, feasting together is an act of human bonding that actually builds community and fosters unity. If people can eat together, they can live with one another in harmony. In this feasting is an essential part to human interaction.
In a Christian understanding, feasting and celebrating also go hand in hand because the two express the way God Himself interacts with His People. I take as an example the Catholic understanding of the Eucharistic celebration that is celebrated every Sunday and even on a daily basis. The Eucharist is seen as a meal in which God Himself feeds His People with the bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of His own Son. The Eucharist is also seen as a celebration in which both heaven and earth delight in the fact that God’s sons and daughters have been brought together. The feasting comes from the gift of God’s goodness and the celebrating is rooted in the truth that God wants to be that much involved in the lives of the people He has redeemed.
From the Christian perspective, feasting and celebrating again strengthen our relationship not only with one another but with God Himself. If God celebrates His love for His People by providing them with food to share, then it follows that the two actions are inseparable.
Of course, from the Christian perspective once again, the feasting and celebrating would also lose their true significance if there was no connection to the individual and communal responsibility to do what it takes to allow others the opportunity to join in the feast and the celebration. Without a clear concern for those who go without the basic nourishment and a commitment to provide them with the chance to feast on a regular basis, all the feasting and celebrating truly loses their meaning. Without a promise to find ways in which others can take part in the feasting and celebrating, the sense of unity and fraternal bonding is lost.
As we enter a new year, let us continue to feast and celebrate.