Below is the text of the welcome that Rosemary Gleeson gave at this year's Vespers on December 14. If you missed Vespers, you can watch a recording of the live stream.
As odd as it may seem to open Christmas Vespers with a reflection on Thanksgiving, this year almost demands that we do so. For this is the year that many Americans abandoned the Norman Rockwell image of Thanksgiving – the extended family happily gathered around the table, watching grandma set the turkey down, waiting for grandpa to carve the turkey – for the Black Thursday Thanksgiving. Countless family members left their family tables not to settle into a football game or a tryptophan-fueled nap, but to staff department stores eager to get a jump on holiday sales. And then there were the shoppers leaving their tables: the bargain hunters – most civil, some desperate because of the economy, and some criminal, bearing not tidings of great joy, but pepper spray to fend off other shoppers.
And if we look at what has been screaming at us from our televisions and radios and on our computer pop-ups, we’ll see a rather embarrassing reflection of our culture. Poor old Andy Williams – his classic Christmas song has been corrupted from “It’s the most wonderful time of the year – to “It’s the most wonderful sale of the year.” And that semi-schmaltzy ad (which I actually love) that has the young adult son returning home to his loving sister who is brewing such great coffee that its aroma wakes up his parents has been rivaled by two classy looking sixtyish parents hopping into their luxury car (that’s the product, of course) to escape the return of their adult son, saying “He’ll be fine.” And for those of you who watched the Giants/Cowboys game last Sunday night, you learned that “Tis the season to be jolly” has been supplanted by “Tis the season to buy a new Norelco super shaver.”
So for those of us who want to live the spirit of Christmas in these four weeks after Thanksgiving, it’s an uphill battle. But we do have help. The networks are still running “A Christmas Carol,” so we can remember that we, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, can cast off our grumpiness and gloominess and instead reach out to help the Cratchit families in our lives. The Grinch again celebrates with the Whos down in Whoville on Christmas Day, George Bailey still learns from his angel Clarence that his life has made a difference, and, one of the earliest recorded victims of bullying – Rudolph – still emerges to save the day with the nose that caused all the other reindeer to “laugh and call him names.” Most important of all, Charlie Brown is still hearing the Nativity story from Linus who reminds him – and us – that the birth of Jesus is what Christmas is all about.
Commercialism and materialism, like death and taxes, will always be with us, but we can choose the messages we want to receive, we can rise above the greed and move beyond the selfishness. This evening we gather here in the Peddie chapel – students, staff, faculty, parents, grandparents, alumni – to set our spirits free to hear the message of peace and good will, and glad tidings of great joy.