Sunday, November 29, 2020

Advent in the time of COVID-19

The Advent Wreath at St. Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke, PA. Picture is a frame grab from the conclusion of the streamed broadcast of the November 28, 2020 Mass. We are attending Mass online, and have been doing so for several months.

Advent, at least according to the homily delivered at yesterday's Mass, is intended to be a time of reflection and penitence. But that's not the way I remember learning about it as a kid in Catholic School in the 1970s. I (mostly) went to school at Blessed John Neumann, the school attached to the parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa, commonly known as St. Mary's. (I attended grades 2, 4, and possibly 6 at St. Stanislaus halfway across town, as part of a facilities-sharing plan that foreshadowed the parish consolidation that was to come decades later.) Every Friday in Advent we would gather in the second-floor corridor and hold a wreath-lighting ceremony, complete with Advent songs - I especially remember "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but we sang other songs like "What Child is This," "The King of Glory," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Behold a Virgin Bearing Him," a personal favorite. For us, Advent was a countdown to Christmas, a time of presents and goodies and time off from school. The Advent ceremonies were little breaks from classes, generally at or near the end of the day.

I have fond memories of Advent. For me, this was a time of preparation and anticipation. This was when decorating would get done - our tree always went up the weekend after Thanksgiving - the time to finalize wish lists and do some Christmas shopping at crowded, lavishly-decorated malls full of music and the sound of Salvation Army bell-ringers, the time to paw through the Wish Book from Sears as well as lesser catalogues published by Stroud's and Jewelcor and Bartikowski's (all local independent retailers, now closed) and Montgomery Ward. It was usually the time of the first major snowfalls, the big, fluffy, fun snows of December, not the more miserable cold, heavy, icy snows of January and February. This was when the Christmas specials would air, the classics from Rankin-Bass and the more modern oddities, when variety shows and sitcoms alike would air special holiday episodes. This was when my mother and grandmother would begin making cookies, chocolate chips and bird's nests (called by others "thumbprint cookies") and sugar ("cut-out") cookies and "rocks," whiskey-soaked fruitcake cookies that were often as hard as their namesakes.  It was a good time, and the weekly lighting of the Advent wreath would slowly mark the passage of time.

The catalogs are gone, for the most part, and much gift shopping is done online. Shopping at a mall, what malls remain, seems like suicidal insanity. Christmas TV specials are mostly offered as Boomer and Gen-X nostalgia. What decorating is done is done, for the most part, by me. What cookies are made are made by me. Temperatures have been unseasonably warm, and there is no snow in the forecast.

I have meant for years to set up a home Advent wreath - an LED one, of course, with three purple candles and one pink ("rose") candle. Year after year I have never gotten around to it, and this is not the year to go rummaging around Michael's or the basement of Boscov's for the required components. So frame grabs from my parish's weekly church services will have to do. 

With each week that ticks by, we are one week closer to Christmas - and to the end of the time of COVID-19.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

First snow, November 17, 2020

November 17, 2020. Nearly 250,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Donald Trump continues to refuse to accept the results of the U.S. Presidential Election (he lost, for the record), refuses to allow transition activities to begin, and is in fact manipulating U.S. troops to create a crisis for Joe Biden the moment he enters office. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Thousands are lining up for food handouts.

And it snowed in Northeastern Pennsylvania for the first time this season.