Mythology. . .
Growing up as a child, Christmas Eve was more about church than anything else. We had the children's Christmas program on Christmas Eve. It was followed by the Divine Service. The night was cold, the time was late, and the children walked out the door with a paper bag filled with a bright shiny red apple, some hard ribbon candy, a few chocolates, and some peanuts in the shell. It was magic (in my mind). The Christmas Eve supper was oyster stew, Bond-Ost cheese (with caraway seed), rye bread (homemade), head cheese, pickled herring (homemade), and other delights too wonderful to be imagined today. From church to bed because the Swedes in my family got up at before daylight to be at church at the crack of dawn for julotta. Then a family meal and presents and, by that time exhausted, a welcome nap. It was glorious -- at least if I forget about how cold it was and how bad the heater was in that 1950 Chevy.
A part of me wants to believe that under our modern day Christmases of take out meals and last minute shopping and parties, a hint of such a Christmas of old still lives. But that is the mythology. It lives in the imagination of an ever decreasing few. My kids have never known the wonder of such a day. Our family Christmases have been sandwiched in the few hours between Advent 4 and Christmas 1 where dad was not busy at church or napping on the couch or visiting the walk in clinic for his annual bout of bronchitis. Christmas was all about church, but not in the way I recalled it as a child in Nebraska. They do not resent it and all my kids are people of faith (a credit to their mom and the Holy Spirit more than me). But the myth ended with my generation. Even in Nebraska it does not happen like it did of old.
I could detail the traditions of Holy Week and Easter (including the old Palm Sunday ritual of the religious inquisition and confirmation) and the result would be the same. The mythology is that somewhere there still lives such vibrant and living traditions and families who live it out still all in the church with a few home routines on the side. There is not much left to recover. We must begin anew. Much to my disappointment, it will not be in the recreation of our ancient past. Time moves too quickly and the past is too far in the past. There is no recovery mode left. We are now more on the virgin ground of starting over. And so it does.
The church begins a fresh teaching and leading individuals and families to find Christmas in the Holy Incarnation of our Lord and to make the trek of Holy Week from palms and hosannas to cries of crucify to the hammer blows of nails to the cries of the Suffering Servant to the shock of salvation that comes by death to the silence of waiting for the Word to be fulfilled. The church cannot count on history or knowledge or even the desire to learn the journey of the Church Year with its rich and profound lessons and piety. We cannot spend our time trying to remember how it was and building into the folks today the same fading memory we have. We must start fresh not abandoning the Church Year or the holy traditions but learning them together as if none had known them before. It is a painful lesson for a person like me who would love to go back even if for a moment but it is the only future open to us. Our secularized culture leaves us no choice. The vast numbers of the unchurched or dechurched or no church now are a field waiting to be planted with the Word, nurtured in the piety of faith with its weekly rhythm of Sunday to Sunday and its calendar of color, liturgical variety, hymnic depth, and holy time, and, of course, the eschatological day to which all time points.
The myth is that if you scratch deep enough into the secular veneer you will find the religious core. Nope. You won't. The secular core must be planed and sanded and formed by the Word and its piety into a place for God -- every generation! No where is this more true than today but never was it not true. Speak the Word. Teach the doctrines of the Scriptures. Pray. Kneel before the Body and the Blood as it is placed upon the lips, heaven's food for earthly creatures. Sing the faith. Show the children. Love the neighbor. None of these can be counted upon to continue like the traditions of old we once thought immortal. All of them must be learned anew by each new generation, taught to those in crib and cradle, proclaimed to those not yet of the Kingdom. There is no other way.