A woman holds a figurine of Jesus as Pope Francis leads the Angelus Dec. 13. Too often we forget Jesus is the “core” of Christmas. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Gerry Turcotte: Searching for the ‘core’ of Christmas

  • December 18, 2020

At breakfast recently my daughter noted that my cardigan made me look like an academic. As a professor I wasn’t sure how to take the comment. But I admitted that the first thing I did when I began teaching in a university was to rush out and buy a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows.

“Of course,” she said nonchalantly. “That’s academia core. Though probably more ‘light academia’ than ‘dark academia.’ ” And so began a lesson on current Internet trends, as she explained how her generation was incredibly invested in aesthetic categories, also called Cores. “Like Cottagecore, or Goblincore.”

Light and dark academia appear to be collections of images that riff on academic archetypes, with one critic explaining that to participate in the aesthetic, one need only put on a blazer and read Dostoevsky. Who knew I was a participant all along? Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, with its focus on murder in the academy, is credited with inspiring the “dark” genre; TikTok and Instagram have given life to the explosion of interest in both.

“Given your interests,” my daughter added, pointing to a series of remarkable images on her phone, “you might want to look into angelcore.” So I did. Aesthetics wiki describes angelcore as “an aesthetic inspired by Christian imagery and depictions of angels. The aesthetic is designed to emulate the same unearthly beauty that European angels are described and depicted with.”

Like all the aesthetics, the followers of these “movements” post copious images to online notice-, pin- or mood-boards, producing an extraordinary array of creative material, though surprisingly little of it connected to a specifically Christian understanding.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the way all of these cores define and support subcultures, from disaffected youth to elitist literary poseurs, from Romantic poetry aficionados to coffee addicts! Indeed, this is the power of the Internet more widely, that it allows individuals with the most specific of interests to find each other. Needless to say, this is both good and bad.

One need only look at how conspiracy theorists find each other over some of the most absurd premises to understand where things can go wrong. The more hopeful manifestation of such focus groups, however, is how art, faith, ideas and more can be illuminated by a collective consciousness that seeks out inspiring interconnections that individual observers might miss. 

It was with all this in mind that I googled Christmascore. To do so yields the most wondrous panoply of festive images. Pages and pages of pictures of gingerbread cookies, cupcakes and candy canes. Internet pages are dedicated to remarkable Christmas trees and winter landscapes: light-strewn Austrian streets; canals in Amsterdam lined with icy decorations; quaint and snow-filled Canadian villages sparkling under garlanded lights.

What I didn’t see were references to Christ. Not even in some commodified, Hallmark-inflected, rendering of the Nativity scene, or invoked through a picturesque image of the three wise men crossing starlit dunes. The pages, here, were entirely decorative. And while this may be expected, even predictable in our secular age, there is perhaps no greater time for us to look beneath the veil and to identify the essence that our modern age has distilled so cavalierly.

What the closing days of 2020 remind us of is the need for a connection to a deep and sustaining faith life. The suffering of so many, the closing of our churches and places of worship, the isolation that social distancing creates — all of this should compel us to seek out, or re-engage in, the most essential “core”: Jesus-core. Not an aesthetic, but a substantive and even trans-substantive antidote to the alienation, cruelty and disregard of our modern age, exacerbated by a pandemic that has threatened at times to erode our better selves.

The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of our saved selves and the beacon of hope that salvation delivers. It is not in a Christmas card per se, or a beautifully wrapped gift or street, but rather in a more profound present that we received without qualification — as undeserved of this as we may be. Still, it is ours. This precious gift of hope, of love, of salvation. We should unwrap it. Cherish it. Give thanks for it — at Christmas and every day after.

I mentioned earlier that searching Christmascore proved disappointing. Ironically, when I entered Christmascore-Christian, only one religious reference surfaced: a beautiful Irish Christmas blessing. It reads: “The light of the Christmas star to you, The warmth of home and hearth to you, The cheer and good will of friends to you, The hope of a childlike heart to you, The joy of a thousand angels to you, The love of the Son and God’s peace to you.”

Those are words that should shake us to the core and remind us what Christmas really is about.

To you and yours, have a truly safe and wondrous — and faith-filled — Christmas.

(Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.)

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