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Monday, December 13, 2021

THE INVERSION OF CHRISTMAS: The Diabolical Undertones of its Modern Counterfeit

Written by  John Joyce
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THE INVERSION OF CHRISTMAS: The Diabolical Undertones of its Modern Counterfeit

As we approach the anniversary of Our Blessed Lord’s Nativity this year, I am sure many readers have recently found themselves taking up one side of the age-old argument over whether or not it is appropriate to listen to Christmas music outside of the Christmas season. Taken on its own, I think that whether one answers aye or nay to this question is of little consequence (I for one may be found listening to Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium at any time of the year), but I do think that often, this argument is related to a question of much greater importance: How appropriate is it to begin celebrating Christmas, before Christmas? That is, during the season of Advent?

In the first talk of the 2020 Catholic Identity Conference this October, Fr. John Eckert referred to what he dubbed the inversion of Christmas: the common practice in the modern West of beginning “the Holiday Season” sometime during late November-early December (where I live in America at least, I start to see Christmas decorations even before Thanksgiving) and practically ending it when the clock strikes midnight on December 26th. 

 

If we aren’t guilty ourselves, we’ve all experienced it. Throughout all of Advent,  Christmas trees, lights, wreaths, and Nativity scenes line the streets and sidewalks. We hear Christmas carols on the radio, in shops, and in stores. In short, we see everything we would expect to see at a Christmas party for almost all of December, and in the week following the 25th, everything disappears.

The traditional relationship between Advent and Christmas bears an important symbolic significance, and the inversion of traditional symbolism often has sinister undertones.

To traditional Catholics, who understand Advent as the second most penitential period on the liturgical calendar after the time spanning from Septuagesima to Easter, and that the Christmas season (spanning from Christmas Eve all the way to Candlemas on February 2nd) is the second most festive season after Paschaltide, this should seem strange if not altogether backwards. And indeed, it is backwards, and Fr. Eckert hit the nail on the head in calling this dynamic an inversion.

In as much as this is the case, that the modern secular celebration of Christmas in the West has come to be an inversion of the way in which the Church has traditionally celebrated it, and prepared for that celebration, I think that there is cause for great concern, not merely because this represents the loss of a longstanding practice of our religious patrimony, which is tragic in its own right, but because the traditional relationship between Advent and Christmas bears an important symbolic significance, and the inversion of traditional symbolism often has sinister undertones.

I think it would be helpful here for me to give a brief explanation of what I mean both by the word symbol as well as what it means for a symbol to be inverted, because as intellectual products of the modern secular West, the realm of symbolism for us is normally relegated to the sphere of a kind of sentimental metaphor or allegory, and while this kind of allegorical speech in a certain sense might truly be called symbolic, in traditional societies, the concept of symbolism means a lot more than that.

Advent, rather than being one of the most penitential and sorrowful seasons of the liturgical year, is celebrated as if Christmas has come early, and Christmastide is forgotten completely, tearing us from a premature party and plunging us into the dark, quiet, desolation of winter.

To make a sacramental analogy, I think that the classical Augustinian definition of a sacrament, which many readers probably encountered in catechism, as “a sign which makes present the reality signified,” does well as a loose or perhaps preliminary definition of the traditional concept attached to the term symbol. In fact, the concept bears very strong sacramental (and therefore already liturgical) connotations. One of my favorite writers on this topic, Jean Hani, says the role of a symbol is “through the visible to express the invisible and lead man to it,” and he describes what he calls essential symbolism, (ie. that symbolism which transcends the category of simple allegory) as connecting a material object to its spiritual meaning.[1]

Christmas Special

Another author, Paul Evdokimov, wishing to describe the way in which symbolism unites the material world with the realm of the sacred, makes an interesting observation based on the term’s Greek etymology. Comprised of two smaller Greek words, syn- (συν-), meaning “together” and -bolos (-βολος) derived from bállo (βάλλω), the verb meaning “to throw” or “to place”, the word symbol can be taken to literally mean “something which throws/places together” or in other words, something which unites multiple levels of reality in a single expression, moment, image, etc. In a passage too beautiful not to quote in full, he writes “A symbol is a bridge which links two shores: the visible and invisible, the earthly and heavenly, the empiric and the ideal. The symbol makes it possible for the two to interpenetrate each other.”[2] The Incarnational and Eucharistic connotations could not be clearer.

Conversely, Evdokimov observes that the word symbolic shares an etymological, and suggests a conceptual, connection with a more sinister term, the diabolic. The different prefix, dia- (δια-) can mean “in the middle of” or “between” and is related to the Greek word duo (δύο) meaning “two”.[3] Combined with the verb, bállo, it can mean to lie, deceive, slander, to set at variance, or to make quarrels between people. It should be no surprise then that this is the Greek word which the New Testament authors used to refer to the devil, and it is this meaning which has followed the word into English.

Rather than December 25 marking the day the nations were freed from the chains of ignorance and idolatry, the cessation rather than the beginning of the Christmas celebration on that day perversely signals the mournful end of the pagan romp.

All that by way of background, what is diabolic then can be considered as the inverse of the symbolic. It separates what the symbol is meant to unite. It distorts, twists, and obscures the spiritual meaning which authentic symbolism is meant to express. Whereas symbolism is the means by which God has chosen to communicate with humanity, and lead man to Himself, its diabolic inversion is the means by which the devil disrupts that communication and leads man away from God.

In this context, let’s consider the way in which this kind of diabolic inversion interacts with what is symbolized in the traditional observance of Advent and Christmastide. According to Dom Gueranger, the way in which the season of Advent symbolizes the coming, adventus, of the Lord is threefold, corresponding to the three “comings” of Christ to the Church: the first in the manger at Bethlehem, the second in the soul of each Christian, and the third at the end of time. The sorrow which the Church manifests in her rites and prayers during this season signifies at once her sympathy with the sorrow of the faithful Israelites awaiting their Messiah, the penance which prepares the the Christian for his reception of Christ in the sacraments, as well as “the desolation of this bride [the Church] who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice which will say to her: ‘Come from Libanus, my bride! come, thou shalt be crowned. Thou hast wounded my heart.’ [Cant. iv. 8, 9].”[4] With the penitential practice of Advent expressing this threefold sorrow, the subsequent exuberance of Christmastide shines forth all the more brilliantly as the symbolic manifestation of the Church’s threefold joy at each of these three comings, for even that third and terrible coming of the Lord to judge the heavens and the earth is welcomed joyfully by she who has faithfully waited for Him, praying all the while, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.”[5]

But what becomes of this incredible symbolic structure when the traditional relationship between Advent and Christmas is, as Fr. Eckert said, inverted? When Advent, rather than being one of the most penitential and sorrowful seasons of the liturgical year, is celebrated as if Christmas has come early, and Christmastide is forgotten completely, tearing us from a premature party and plunging us into the dark, quiet, desolation of winter?

Rather than Christmastide expressing the happiness of the Christian who has been purified of worldly desires by repentance and is now free to enjoy the divine life within his soul, the inversion is more evocative of the faithless Israelites who tearfully remembered better days in Egypt sitting over fleshpots and eating bread to the full.

Well the answer is simple. Not only is that symbolism entirely lost, but it is subtly replaced by a diabolic counterfeit! Rather than December 25 marking the day the nations were freed from the chains of ignorance and idolatry, the cessation rather than the beginning of the Christmas celebration on that day perversely signals the mournful end of the pagan romp. Rather than Christmastide expressing the happiness of the Christian who has been purified of worldly desires by repentance and is now free to enjoy the divine life within his soul, the inversion is more evocative of the faithless Israelites who tearfully remembered better days in Egypt sitting over fleshpots and eating bread to the full.[6] Rather than the joy with which the Church will meet her spouse at the end of days, what is signified instead is the terror and grief the wicked men and fallen angels will experience when they find themselves face to face with a wrathful God.

At first glance, this all might seem quite remote and esoteric. After all, people are not consciously trying to diabolically invert the symbolism of Christmas when they give in to secular fads. But Traditional Catholics would do well to remember the motto heard constantly repeated in our circles: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, “the Law of Prayer, is the Law of Belief, is the Law of Life,” and to be mindful that a breakdown in any one of these three categories will affect the other two. Don’t think that the way we conduct our lives, the way we decorate our houses, the music we listen to, the way we dress, speak, eat, etc.; the patterns and symbols we express in our actions, even not consciously, have no bearing on the way we, our families, and our children will receive the faith and grow in prayer and holiness. These things matter. They really matter.

In closing, I would invite and encourage all Christians to restore in their own lives where they can, the traditional practice of Advent and Christmastide. Advent is a beautiful season in its own right, and there are so many wonderful Advent traditions - devotions like St. Martin’s Lent, the Barabara Branch, the St. Andrew Novena, etc., that Catholics can take up while they await the beginning of the Christmas season. Advent doesn’t just have to be a sort of “empty” season of “not-Christmas-yet.” And as for the Christmas season, there’s the feast of the Epiphany, Candlemas, and let’s be honest - who doesn’t want to add a whole extra month onto their Christmas party?

Conforming one’s life to the liturgical calendar is an integral part of the spiritual life, and as Christmas in the West becomes increasingly secular and decreasingly Christian, efforts need to be made to turn the tide. Restoring this liturgical order is a great strategy for restoring Christmas in general, as a constitutive element of Christian culture.

More on this topic from RTV - CULTURE VULTURES: How the Globalists Stole Christmas

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[1] Jean Hani, Symbolism of the Christian Temple, Angelico Press, 2016, pgs. 3, 8

[2] Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, Oakwood Publications, 1996, pg. 86

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year: Advent, Loreto Press, 2000, pgs. 28-32

[5] Apoc. xxii. 20

[6] Exod. xvi. 3

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Last modified on Monday, December 13, 2021