Tuesday, December 25, 2007

12 Days of Christmas

There are quite a few things I really like about Catholicism. Amongst others, it has nurtured in me a love of theatre and ritual in my life. The cycle of religious festivals with appropriate colours, symbols and texts provide a rich stimulus to imagination as well as feeding the never ending questions of life.

Christmas is, without doubt far more exciting than Easter. I know the liturgical police and the theological prudes will chase me through the corridors of fidelity for uttering such a heresy. But, let’s face it, cribs, carols, trees, candy cane and the spirit, if not the presence of St Nick all work together to provide a lot more excitement than an empty tomb. And we get 12 days to celebrate as well. I always use this as an excuse for sending Christmas Cards right up until January 6th. Wish someone would tell Australia Post about the 12 Days deal so we could continue using the Christmas stamps after December 31st.

Each year I join the universal competition to provide the mother of all cribs. In my young adult years I lived with a community of capuchin Franciscan Friars where I was introduced to some of the popular European customs in which the Nativity setting became the impetus for creating an electronic metropolis complete with flying objects and a night sky that would have blown Galileo away.

This year at Casa Robertson’s Domestic Church I have set up my Nativity scene on top of one of my bookcases after consulting the Vatican Feng Shui web site. The main figurine of a very tall Joseph embracing Mary and the Christ Child is from Kenya. My angel form Peru is grounded rather than perched on the roof and is playing a set of pan pipes. The shepherds have a bit of trouble getting to the main area due to the presence of assorted characters including the Flintstones and Batman. Other visitors at the scene include a small carved figure of St Francis brought back from Japan and a couple of miniature dolls presented to me by the first Korean students at ACU McAuley.

The most popular figure in my Nativity scene with some visitors is the Power Ranger who gets moved all over the place to watch over the gathering and monitor the behavior of the dinosaurs, kangaroos and mermaids.

Out of view (as you would expect) are the “Three Kings”. They are currently on the other side of the room near the TV and will slowly progress to the crib to arrive on schedule for the Epiphany on January 6th. One year I was away and had an external Nativity. A neighbor took on the task of moving the “Three Kings” through the garden to arrive on time. I really think she ducked out late on the night of Jan 5th and gave them an express run through the shrubbery.

I feel sorry for the poor old “There Kings”. They don’t really get to make much of an appearance as everything gets taken down and put away that night in accordance with a tradition handed down by my wise old grandmother.

Over the 12 Days of Christmas that lead up to Jan 6th, I hope to present a small reflection on one of the nativity settings in y neighborhood and city here in Brisbane.

So, I hope you are able to enjoy the 12 days of Christmas which take us into the New Year with its promise of joy and peace.

2nd Day of Christmas: December 26th: Feast of St Stephen
On my way to the train this morning for the patronal feast day Mass of the Cathedral in Brisbane, I walked through my local shopping centre. At the Coles supermarket there was a frenzy of activity as staff climbed ladders and brought in boxes to pack up the Christmas decorations.

I tried to explain the 12 Days idea to one of the fresh faced workers and was greeted with a slightly blank expression. I didn't dare ask what school she attended in case someone from the "other place" reads this and says" "told you so about Catholic Schools".LOL

At the station as I waited for my train I struck up a conversation with one of the young boys who had been at the local primary school when I worked there for a few years. He is now a full blown teenager with a hangover. Must be something about having "been there" and done that" written all over me.The trip to the city saw me doing the older adult advice on how to drink sensibly with a young man who consumed far too many drinks too quickly with no food and no water breaks. Do they teach sensible drinking habits in Catholic Schools these days?

I was lucky as the Christian Brothers in Geelong built their College within walking distance of the Golddiggers Arms and most of the staff were old boys who seemed to take their responsibility of initiating the next generation with some duty of care.Will they have a special drink for WYD?

So, meanwhile back at the Feast of St Stephen, which I celebrate each year now at what is possibly the only Cathedral in Australia named in accordance with Fowler's Modern English Usage. Brisbane's Cathedral of St Stephen is so named to avoid the notion that St Stephen owns the place as in Dooley's Pub (which is now known sadly as the Valley Pub).

As well as celebrating the patronal feast of the Archdiocese, December 26th is the birthday of a colourful Brisbane identity, Mick Sullivan. Mick is a veteran of the old school of Labor Catholics and can probably match local hero Cliff Baxter for characters and anecdotes that live on in the imagination.There must be something about the name Mick Sullivan because a google search will provide you with a lifetime of reading of wonderful characters with that moniker, none of whom resemble our local product in Brisbane.

And so to the image with this post. It's the striking Nativity Scene installed at the edge of the Sanctuary in the COSS. The congregation at the Cathedral is a constant source of wonder and amazement. It is quite a cosmopolitan group with young Asian students,backpackers, Japanese Tourists, elderly people, a sprinkling of veiled Missionaries of Charity and the now unveiled Canossian Sistersall belting out a selection of carols to one of the best organs in any public building in the city.

It is quite an experience to sit in a full Cathedral the day after Christmas surrounded by faithful companions.Their greetings and spirit were quite a contrast to the crowds armed with their "boxing day bargains" I had to push through on my way back to the train.