Wexford Wanderings

by Hugh E. Conway

Season’s Greetings

In Wexford, the holiday season is a special time of year when parishioners take a break from their hectic schedules and daily chores to remember the special bond that helps bind family and friends. The original pioneers brought with them many of the traditions to help celebrate the spirit of the holidays. Some of the now universal and timeworn customs of going out and cutting down a selective Christmas tree, bringing the tree back to the house, and trimming the tree with popcorn chains, twinkling lights, colorful decorative ornaments, and shiny tinsel. Greenery, pinecones, and candles decorated the inside of the house providing a nice aromatic, woodsy, pine smell. Stockings were hung on the fireplace or if a fireplace was lacking on the end of the beds with care in the hope that goodies would be found on Christmas morn. Christmas cards were written and sent to relatives, friends, and neighbors, and the received Holiday cards are displayed for all to see and admire.

For North Americans, Christmas, recognized as a national holiday, did not occur on a regular basis until the middle of the 1800’s. At that time, the nation as a whole was struggling with sectional conflict and the devastation from a civil war that for a short period of time tore much of the nation apart. The Wexford Cemetery contains numerous comrades at arms who fought during this great time of peril in American history, some marched and fought on the side of the Grand Army of the Republic and others on the side of the Confederate States of America.

Additionally, a life-changing process occurred at this time with the transition for much of the population from rustic rural farm life to the hectic, fast-paced, job-oriented, industrialization and urbanization.  Social and personal needs arose at this pivotal time in American history to help create many of the customs associated with the American Christmas as we know it today. The American Christmas’s new customs and meanings provided a soothing solution to help the nation as a whole make some sense of this chaotic era. The new traditions helped to secure, albeit for a short period of time each year, a peaceful spirit of unity and togetherness with the addition of hospitality and gift-giving.

The tradition of gift-giving at Christmas is often associated with the biblical story of Christ’s birth when the three Wise Men (Kings of the Orient) visited Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and gave the newborn child gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold. Gift-giving played a modest role in Christmases past. Typically, the hung stockings would be filled with small gifts of dried fruit (a luxury in the winter), socks, mittens, and little candles. There is a link between gifts and giving in that the present provides tangible proof and signifies that the receiver is cared for and loved. The place where gifts and presents were placed to await the opening on Christmas morning switched to beneath the decorated Christmas tree.

As time passed, an increasing larger emphasis was placed on gift-giving creating a new growing world of commerce, consumerism, and commercialization. American shoppers increased demands and a constant bombarding of commercials elevated the roles of gift-giving during the holiday season from Christmas to New Year’s Day. Merchants and retailers were happy to oblige with more and more products and an increased level of advertisements proclaiming the need to purchase each new toy, piece of jewelry, or electronic gadget. Today, Christmas shopping season is considered the single most important sector of the American consumer economy with the beginning date continually being pushed earlier and earlier. This past year, Christmas lights, ornaments, and holiday greenery started showing up in the large department stores in October overshadowing Halloween and completely covering over and blocking out Thanksgiving.

To some, excessive gift-giving has become controversial and worrisome because of the amount of materialistic outflowing on a recognized holy day. A symbolic solution for many is by giving charitable gifts and contributions to less fortunate during the holiday season. The charitable contributions are normally given to a spiritual society, religious group, church, or recognized charitable organization and the giver does not observe how their donation affects the homeless, hungry, unemployed, and destitute. 

In the past at Wexford, Priests and Nuns taught Catechism and CCD classes providing a shining light on the real reason for the Christmas season. The real reason was the gift from God of a precious Son who would cleanse the world of mortal sin. His act of love redeemed us and delivered us from darkness and superstition. There really is a good reason to celebrate at Christmas.

Happy Holidays or as they say in the Wexford area, Merry Christmas and wishing you a Happy Joyous New Year.

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