I CAN SAY that still because Christmas is a season, not just a day. In the Roman Catholic Church, Christmastide is a season in the liturgical year beginning around sunset on Christmas Eve and lasting through Epiphany on Jan. 5, the church’s celebration of the Three Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem to worship the Christ child.

So, while Manchester native Adam Sandler famously boasted of Hanukkah’s “eight crazy nights,” Christians actually get “Twelve Days of Christmas,” as the carol says.

The season is full of feast days and traditions rich in theological and historical significance, though most Americans today celebrate their mundane variations. Nevertheless, as Catholic Bishop Robert Barron often observes, even our post-Christian secular culture remains “Christ-haunted.” It marks time and events with celebrations some may not fully appreciate.

Today is St. Stephen’s Day, the feast celebrating Christianity’s first martyr, whose fatal public stoning is written about in the Act of the Apostles. His death prefigured Christian persecutions to come, and which continue throughout the world today. Many modern Americans only know of St. Stephen in reference to the carol “Good King Wenceslas,” who “looked out / On the Feast of Stephen / When the snow lay round about / Deep and crisp and even.”

Stephen was a deacon of the early church who was responsible for distributing food and clothing to the poor, charitable acts millions of religious and non-religious Americans emulate to this day.

If you are fortunate during these COVID-addled days, you’re spending this time with family. It’s common to hear secular Americans warmly acknowledge that Christmas is all about “togetherness” or “spending time with loved ones.” The birth of Jesus was, of course, a family event. It is, on its surface, the story of a man and a woman welcoming their child into the world under difficult circumstances. It is a birth like no other, though, as it binds all of humanity as a family.

Ancestry.com says that over 26 million Americans have used their service to trace their genealogy. Family matters to us. Open up your Bible and read the opening chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, with all its “begats” and difficult-to-pronounce names. “Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).

Family matters to Jesus, too.

We can’t talk about Christmas without bringing up the man in the red suit, whether you call him Santa, Kris Kringle, or Old Saint Nick. Most cultures around the world recognize a mysterious and (most often) joy-filled gift giver sporting a distinctive outfit. Our Santa Claus is an amalgam of these traditions bearing its closest resemblance to the Dutch Sinterklaas, who wears a full white beard and red bishop’s cassock and miter.

Sinterklaas is, of course, St. Nicholas, a very real and historical figure, a Bishop of the Catholic Church in the early fourth century and the patron saint of children, among other things. Legends abound of the saint’s generosity and wide travels.

You might be confused to see internet memes around this time of year regarding St. Nicholas punching heretics. The Council of Nicaea in 325 declared definitively that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” Legend holds that after the leader of a heretical group of bishops refused to recognize Jesus as the son of God, the second person of the trinity, Nicholas slapped him.

This, too, is tied to Christmas. Why celebrate the birth of this poor child in a cave in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire some 2,000 years ago? If Jesus is God, as the church holds, then his birth means something. Something joyful, yes. But also something very dangerous. God become man. His very birth undermined the political and religious order of His day. A king tried to prevent His birth from even happening. Later a Roman governor would nail Him to a cross at the insistence of the region’s religious authorities. Why?

After giving birth and after shepherds visited the family with an incredible story of having been visited by angels, the child’s mother Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Christmastide is a time for us to reflect on these things, as well.

Merry Christmas.

Patrick Hynes is the president of Hynes Communications. He can be found on Twitter @patjhynes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

JANUARY is a peaceful month, too cold to go anywhere so I sit in my spacious chair with a quilt around me, still in my pajamas at two in the afternoon, eating guacamole with tortilla chips and contributing nothing whatsoever to civilization or to the GNP, except for the occasional limerick.

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Friday, January 14, 2022
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A BEAUTIFUL SNOW fell in Manhattan on Epiphany, the feast of light, and the city was cheerful that morning and my cabdriver said out of the blue, “It’s a beautiful day and we’re here and that’s what matters,” which is extraordinary coming from a cabdriver, an epiphany. I worry about cabdrive…

Sunday, January 09, 2022
Friday, January 07, 2022