Remembering Coventry’s Carol

Lisa Brunetti, an artist and friend who blogs from her home in Ecuador, stopped by The Task at Hand recently to share some Christmas memories. While visiting friends who live next to the Catholic church in her town, she noticed many people on their way to Christmas Eve Mass who were carrying the Christ-child from their families’ nativity scenes. The babies were placed on the altar and then, at midnight, each was carried back home and returned to its manger. Her friends’ manger, in front of their shop, was surrounded by chairs. Through the course of the evening, people took turns stopping by, sitting and singing songs until the Baby Jesus was safely home.

It’s a lovely tradition, echoed here in the United States by families and congregations who leave the manger empty until Christmas Day.  Still, it’s worth considering that different contexts can help to transform one culture’s sincere expression of faith into something quite different.  In the United States, we’re clearly tempted toward sentimentality. With Baby Jesus tucked away in his manger, we sigh over the loveliness of his mother, admire the steadfastness of his father, give a nod to his humble surroundings and go our way. What comes next isn’t our concern. Continue reading

Lying Fallow

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I prefer to exclude violence, mayhem and murder from my personal holiday traditions. Granted, there was that memorable exchange over a lavender cashmere sweater at Von Maur’s department store in Kansas City, and a sudden, stubborn insistence on my first and only trip to Bloomingdale’s that I did so have it first, but nothing in my life compares to the headlines emerging from the beginning of this holiday season.

“Woman Pepper Sprays Shoppers to Gain Advantage” in her quest for a discounted Xbox, reads one report.  “North Carolina Police Use Pepper Spray to Calm Black Friday Crowd”, reads another.  There was looting reported in New York, and a beating near Phoenix. Shootings in San Leandro, California and Fayetteville, North Carolina competed for ink with a stabbing in Sacramento. Instances of opportunistic petty thievery among midnight shoppers walking to their cars were too widespread and frequent even to detail.

“The difference this year is that instead of a nice sweater you need a bullet-proof vest and goggles,” said Betty Thomas, 52, shopping with her sisters and a niece at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. She did go on to suggest that the sale prices on merchandise had been over-hyped, and the shopping wasn’t as good as she’d hoped. “If I’m going to get shot,” said Thomas, “at least let me get a good deal.” Continue reading