A not-so-perfect Christmas

Friday 6 January 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — traditional end of the Christmas season

Everyone who was dreaming of a white Christmas just had to get over it. Here on Cape Cod, it rained on Christmas Eve. At least we didn’t have to rush to get the church parking lot plowed and the sidewalks treated before the Christmas crowds arrived. It may not have been a picture-perfect Christmas, but it was Christmas nonetheless. 

Many people have an idealized notion of how Christmas should look and feel. It seems to me that this was, in former days, based on Currier and Ives lithographs. In order to have a perfect Christmas, you needed drifts of pure white snow, a cozy New England cottage with smoke rising from the chimney, a horse-drawn carriage, and children ice-skating on a makeshift rink — even if you lived in the desert southwest. Their lithographs matched the popular tastes of 19th-century Americans. Never mind that the company motto was “Cheap Prints,” Currier and Ives made a fortune. Never mind that the company that produced these quintessential New England scenes was actually located at 33 Spruce Street in New York City. It looked like a perfect New England winter, even if it was imaginary. 

These days we have the works of the late Thomas Kinkade, “the painter of light.” Thom lived and died in sunny California. Nonetheless, his New England Christmas scenes at least look perfect. By the way, Thomas Kinkade also made a fortune.

We also have those TV shopping networks and online retailers inspiring us to have a perfect Christmas. We just need one of those “LED lighted ugly Christmas sweaters.” That should win the prize at the holiday party. Another must-have is a “star shower deluxe motion outdoor laser light with remote control.” That would surely impress our neighbors and friends. How about a “fiber-optic lit canvas art happy snowman” to hang over the living room couch? It’s the perfect finishing touch.

I am not making this up. All of these items were available this Christmas season. I suppose at this point they are drastically reduced in price. It’s too late for this year, but buy now and maybe next year you will have a perfect Christmas. 

You can get further insight by binge watching old Christmas movies. I had no idea so many films on the subject had been produced. Almost every film shows a perfect Christmas. What? Your Christmas didn’t look like any of them? There’s always next year.

Before next Christmas arrives, be sure to seek instruction from that guru of perfection — Martha Stewart. Who knew you could hand-stencil your tablecloth to match your Christmas china (or is it the other way around)? And who would have thought of a lime green Christmas tree with ornaments of bright teal and Pepto-Bismol pink? How crafty to construct a three-foot cone of cranberries and toothpicks as a centerpiece. The battery operated mini-lights are just the right touch. You didn’t do any of this? Well, maybe next year.

I have, dear readers, come to realize that, no matter how much I stress out about the details, there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas. 

One year, the florist loaded our poinsettias out in the van the night before delivery. Unfortunately, the overnight temperature dipped into the teens. We had withered black poinsettias in the Sanctuary that Christmas. It didn’t start a trend — although I once saw a jet black Christmas tree. 

And what happens when you go to incense the altar on Christmas Eve and the charcoal is stone-cold? In all the confusion, somebody forgot to light it. You just swing the thurible and pretend the incense is burning. Not to worry, some people will cough anyway.

This year, here at St. Patrick, Christmas was as imperfect as ever. At the children’s pageant, in all the excitement, the designated child failed to place infant Jesus in the parish manger scene. No problem. Jesus just arrived an hour later than expected. 

At Midnight Mass, as we were about to intone the Gloria, everything stopped short. None of the musicians had their music handy. The angel sang, “Glory to God in the Highest” in Bethlehem. Here in Falmouth, we just recited it. It was the best we could do, given the circumstances.

Finally, at the 11 a.m. Mass on Christmas Day, our bell choir was all set to go. There was one problem. The hand bells were locked in a closet. Nobody could find the key. 

All of our Christmas plans get smudged with human fingerprints. None of them ever turn out perfectly. This is due to the fact that we ourselves are far from perfect. We will not be perfect next Christmas, either. 

And that, dear readers, is precisely why God became Man. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts