winter holidays bring warmth and hope

I love the month of November. It's heralded by Halloween night, when the earnest trick-or-treaters arrive at the door, the cold air wafting in their giggles and shouts. Parents smile sheepishly at a distance.

When morning light scares away the goblins and ghosts of Halloween, November arrives with the feast of All Saints Day on November 1. The Church celebrates the victory of the Saints who Christ empowered to triumph over darkness and death. What a marvelous contrast, between the cold outside and the warmth inside, between the darkness of the night and the light of the following morning!

All Souls Day continues this message of hope, as we remember our loved ones who have left this world for the light of heaven. We think of their lives, pray for them, and wonder how they see things from their new shining vantage point.

Toward the end of November we arrive at the centerpiece of the fall season: Thanksgiving. We celebrate God’s largess and blessings to us, learning better each year to give thanks for all that we have received. The Thanksgiving table, surrounded with family and friends, is a symbol of the abundance of blessings we have been given.

Tucked into the warmth and celebrations of November is the Marian feast of the Presentation on the 21st. Unlike other Marian feasts, it is not a celebration connected with a mystery of the Lord, and there is no source in Scripture for it. Instead, the Presentation is based on a tradition. It commemorates the dedication of a Church in Jerusalem. The Church, called St. Mary, was built in honor of a long-held story among Christians, that Mary was offered to the Lord at the temple by her parents, Anne and Joachim. At Evening Prayer on this feast day, we pray:

Holy Mother of God, Mary ever-Virgin, you are the temple of the Lord and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Beyond all others you were pleasing to our Lord Jesus Christ.

This feast gives me such consolation. I imagine Anne and Joachim, offering thanks for this miracle baby, this girl they knew had a special role in God’s plan. Mary's Presentation teaches us something about our own offering to God. Each of us has a childhood innocence to offer to God, a time when everything about us was pleasing to God. Mary, “beyond all others” pleasing to God, is a sign that we can again please God and become a holy offering of love. As the French Carmelite, Therese of Lisieux said, “when we do everything with great love, it is not hard to please the good God.” There is something of this simplicity in the Presentation of Mary.

Warm, encouraging, and hopeful sums up the celebrations in November. They remind us of how good we have it! We are—all of us—temples of God, by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. As God’s children, we belong to Mary and were all offered symbolically with her as part of the New Creation in Christ.

This November, even as we begin the part of coldest winter, we have the greatest of hope!

Mary, help us to remember that, in your Son, we are already holy offerings to the Father, for God looks at us with the tenderness of a mother, and calls us closer by inspiring us to continually seek his face. Amen.

What is your favorite fall holiday and why? Share your favorite story!

Copyright 2013 Julie Paavola