New Sherwood

Christmas shopping

Today I did some last minute Christmas shopping. A lot of people are down on Christmas “commercialism”, and for the most part I agree with the criticism. It takes a lot of effort not to let the commercialization of Christmas affect one’s own preparations, or even take over the entire holiday. Nevertheless, I think there is something good in what has become the uniquely American ritual of Christmas shopping. The conversations I overheard, for instance, had to do with people talking about what other people might enjoy or appreciate. Like good manners, the pressure to shop for others can force you to consider the “other” when you might not otherwise care. This has to be a good thing. That’s what social pressure is supposed to do, draw us a little bit out of ourselves. I also appreciate the public displays of Christmas festiveness, even in a commercial context. I disagree with those who say that commerce is by definition a-cultural or even anti-cultural. There is no reason in the world why a business must subordinate everything it does to the “bottom line”, and when it comes to small businesses, most don’t.

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Speaking of which, each and every clerk I spoke with today wished me a Merry Christmas. Even the Barnes and Noble clerks. And they didn’t wait for the customer to give them any clues, selectively saying “Merry Christmas” only to those who mentioned the word first. No – they wished all a Merry Christmas, unashamedly and unselfconsciously. This, in Chico, a notoriously progressive university town, sometimes called “Berkeley North”! Is this merely a profit-minded response to the public backlash against the “Happy Holiday” grinches? Perhaps. That’s most likely the case with Barnes and Noble, which doesn’t seem to have any moral scruples about anything. (I won’t let my kids go ten feet into that store …) In any case, I think the spell of political correctness is being broken when it comes to Christmas. It will be nice when we can once again wish strangers a Merry Christmas without any political backdrop whatsover.

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One of the books I purchased was a gift for a relative who is expecting a child. I wanted to find one of those books for new parents that teaches about infant development, medical and health issues, breastfeeding, and other things. However, almost every book I picked up was promoting something evil or ridiculous. Most had chapters promoting the glories of artificial birth control. Almost all had an overt emphasis on “gender-neutral parenting”. One of these books – one of the better ones – acknowledged that young boys should be “encouraged” to wear pants instead of dresses. However, if a boy wants to wear dresses “all the time”, you should contact your pediatrician! Hey, how about not letting your boy wear dresses in the first place? Since when is this optional?

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My passion for books is waning. Perusing the religion, philosophy, history, biography and current affairs sections just doesn’t stimulate anymore. I don’t want to read Hegel or Kierkegaard or Bertrand Russell or Christopher Hitchens. I don’t want to entertain any more of the world’s tragic misguided ideas. I don’t want to read any more apologetics. I don’t want to read another book about the decline of western civilization. I don’t want to read another book about bout how great America is because “it allowed someone like me to rise to the top”, or conversely, how bad America is because “fill-in-the-blank doesn’t have a chance to rise to the top”. (To everyone – left, right, and center – it seems that America is all about “making it” and rising to the top.) I sense that, for me, the hour is late. I should be reading “Preparation for Death” by St. Alphonsus Liguori, which has been sitting untouched on my bookshelf for much too long. I have barely scratched the surface of St. Thomas Aquinas. I never finished St. Augustine’s “City of God”. I seldom do any disciplined spiritual reading at all these days.

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December 23, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

17 Comments »

  1. I haven’t read much secular literature, either. Recently I’ve been occupied with reading the lives of the saints.

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    Comment by etoyasu | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. Jeff,

    Thank you for leaving such a direct and honest comment on my blog today. Have a very merry Christmas!

    Laurie

    p.s. Think of me as I make one last desperate trip to Chico tomorrow for Christmas gifts, AARRGGHH. Maybe I’ll hit Orland Hardware first . . .

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    Comment by Laurie LaGrone | December 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. Hi Jeff, good news: hearing Merry Christmas is indeed a good thing. I found that in my shopping I was reminding the clerk that it was Christmas! And I don’t worry about political backlash when I say Merry Christmas; in fact I think I’d welcome some crass backlash! It would give me a chance to say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

    A slowdown in reading. Hmm. I guess that’s the plight of parents of growing families. But I took my cue from you and have been reading to my children every night. I’d recommend “Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls” by Carol Houselander if you don’t already have it. My children (except for Grace and Lucy who are too young yet) are all edified by the great stories. One word of caution: some of them are real tear-jerkers.

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    Comment by Mike Garcia | December 24, 2007 | Reply

  4. Laurie: You’re quite welcome, of course. Thanks for sharing your observations in the original blog entry. Yes, I’m always good for “direct and honest comments”. Hope I didn’t run off any of your readers. A Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    Mike: Glad you were able to remind a few clerks why they were so busy last week. And I’ll be sure to check out that book by Carol Houselander: thanks for the recommendation! You’re right about the need for a backlash against this anti-Christmas insanity. I used to display the following message (since modified) at my shop in Sacramento this time of year:

    “Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, non-addictive, low stress, gender-neutral, multi-cultural celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, as well as the secular practices of your choice, but with full respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

    And further, please accept my wishes for a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, with due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contribution to our diverse society has helped make this country great (not to imply that USA is necessarily greater than any other country), without implying that anything religiously important may have happened 2007 years ago, and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, gender (or genders), physical ability, religious faith, veteran status, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation (or orientations) of the wisher, wishee or their third party beneficiaries.

    These wishes are limited to the customary and usual good tidings for a period of approximately one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first.

    Use of the term ‘holiday’ herein is not intended, nor shall it be considered, to be a thinly-veiled reference to the national commemoration of the birth of an unmentionable religious figure, nor is it limited to Judeo-Christian celebrations or observances, nor to such activities of any organized or ad hoc religious community group, individual or belief (or lack thereof), nor is ‘holiday’ to be understood as implying that there is anything particularly ‘holy’ about the day or days in question. In particular, the word ‘holiday’ is used herein without any reference whatsoever to religion, history, culture, etymology, or common sense.

    These wishes imply no promise by the wisher to actually impose any of the aforementioned wishes upon the wishee her/himself, or to accept any responsibility for the consequences which may arise from the imposition or non-imposition of the same. The wisher, furthermore, shall be held harmless in the event that the wishee, due to her/his own internal disposition, suffers any emotional trauma or distress by recalling the religious origins of the holiday, or by associating these wishes in any way with the exclusively private, personal, and non-social observance of the holiday referenced in paragraph four.”

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  5. By the way, Laurie, I visited Tom Foolery for the first time yesterday. Very nice store! (No comment on the back room, since I didn’t make it in that far …)

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  6. Hello, Mr. Culbreath! I hope you’re enjoying your New Calendar Christmas. =) I was “etoyasu,” the first person to comment. I used my wordpress account by mistake.

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    Comment by Adrian Martin | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  7. +JMJ+

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Jeff!

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    Comment by Enbrethiliel | December 25, 2007 | Reply

  8. I was continually saluted with “Merry Christmas” while shopping this year. I think I only heard “Happy Holidays” once. The tide has turned. Merry Christmas to all the Culbreaths!

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    Comment by elena maria vidal | December 27, 2007 | Reply

  9. Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones, and a belated congratulations on the birth of your littlest angel.

    “My passion for books is waning.”

    I suspect your passion for books, like many other passions in life, may ebb and flow, as things of greater importance take precedence for their alloted time. As well, types of books may shift in their appeal as you grow and change with the years and the seasons.

    I love reading, I love books. The look of them – their bindings, covers, the shading and texture of their pages, the typeset. I love the memories I take from them, and those rare times when I come to the last page and close the book, full of regret that they have had to come to an end.

    I have a pile of books in the basket by my bed, and at night, relish the process of deciding which will be granted the honor of selection. And yet, for those times when weariness or disappointment or sadness or arid apathy grip me, there is only one book that soothes, that gives peace, that orders my disordered world: the Book of Psalms.

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    Comment by annabenedetti | December 27, 2007 | Reply

  10. Merry Christmas Mr. Culbreath!

    Christmas Eve, we were having dinner with some good friends, and who should stop by the house but Fr. Stephane Dupre, who had just then returned from his visit to Sacramento.

    I had to mention that I’m a regular reader of your blog, although not a very regular comment maker.

    I wanted to let you know that Fr. Dupre had so many wonderful things to say about your family. And then he said something that surprised me. He said that everytime he meets somone who is a fan of your blog, he is surprised by a striking physical resemblence between you and the reader.

    I had no idea you were so handsome!

    Happy Christmastide to you and your family!

    P.S. For good parenting books, you may want to look for something by Dr. Ray Guarendi, a Catholic psychologist, with 10 children.

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    Comment by ben | December 28, 2007 | Reply

  11. To Adrian, Enbrethiliel, and Elena Maria: Merry Christmas from our home to yours, and thanks for your comments!

    To Annabenedetti: Wow, you have a way with words. That was beautifully said and I think I’m changing my mind already. I agree completely about the book of Psalms. I hope, when I am ready no longer able to read, there will be someone who will read the psalms to me.

    Ben: What a treat that must have been! Fr. Dupre is the most delightful company in the world! Please greet him for us and tell him that we miss him terribly – especially his rambling and effusive French homilies. More than any other priest he taught us to love the Mother of God. As for any physical resemblance you (or Steve Skojec) might have to me, I can only express my heartfelt sympathies. Fortunately my wife was nearly blind when I married her. (Things haven’t been the same since her vision was restored with laser surgery …) As for “Dr. Ray”, we have one of his books, listen to his radio show, and think very well of him. God bless you and Merry Christmas.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | December 28, 2007 | Reply

  12. Noticeably absent from your reading diet are poetry, novels and short stories. You are suffering from NFOS: non-fiction overload syndrome. I know, as I suffer from the same.

    The spiritual books are an excellent idea. I’m finding Mother Teresa’s “Come be My Light” to be a tonic for the toxicities of daily life in these United States. But I saved that Psalm comment for Spanning. Very well-said.

    Also, I can’t resist re: (Things haven’t been the same since her vision was restored with laser surgery …) The children keep coming, so things can’t be too bad! :-) Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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    Comment by TSO | December 28, 2007 | Reply

  13. +JMJ+

    Ahem! I assume Father Dupre’s observations about a physical resemblance between Jeff and his ‘blog fans only extend to male readers. =P

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    Comment by Enbrethiliel | December 28, 2007 | Reply

  14. By the way, if you haven’t read The Diary of St. Faustina, EWTN has a series in which you can follow along as a sort of televised study guide:

    http://www.ewtn.com/series/2006/Cenacle_Divine_Mercy.htm

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    Comment by TSO | December 30, 2007 | Reply

  15. TSO: “Noticeably absent from your reading diet are poetry, novels and short stories. You are suffering from NFOS: non-fiction overload syndrome. I know, as I suffer from the same.”

    By golly I think you’re right about that. Whenever I actually sit down and read some good fiction I enjoy it immensely. That happens only very rarely. Any recommendations?

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | January 3, 2008 | Reply

  16. Enbrethiliel: “Ahem! I assume Father Dupre’s observations about a physical resemblance between Jeff and his ‘blog fans only extend to male readers. =P”

    I sure hope so!

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | January 3, 2008 | Reply

  17. Jeff,

    Have you tried any of Wendell Berry’s poetry or fiction? I first found him through his essays, and it took me a while to actually get started on his other genres.

    His fiction is good, and refreshing, although for some reason I just don’t grab it off the shelf very often. But I find myself returning to his poetry again and again.

    peace,

    Like

    Comment by Zach Frey | January 3, 2008 | Reply


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