December 15 is the day for the CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT in our area of the country. This count, which takes place all over North America and into Central & South America, is over 112 years old, yet many have not heard about it. Around the turn of the 20th C. scientists and bird watchers were becoming concerned about declining bird populations due to the winter tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt". People would choose sides and go afield with their guns. Whichever side brought in the biggest pile of birds won.
Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, of the Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition: A "Christmas Bird Census" that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. Today, there are tens of thousands volunteering for the count and over 57 million birds sited in the US alone ( 646 species).
For the past 10 years, I have taken my 4-H birding club to scour the island for water birds, small brown birds hiding in the thickets, raptors high above us, and everything in between.
|Canada Geese- very common|
|Snowy owls- rare, but seen recently|
The next day, Dec. 16th we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent. Certain Sundays throughout the liturgical year have taken their names from the first word in Latin of the Introit, the entrance antiphon at Mass. GAUDETE (REJOICE) SUNDAY is one of these.
On Gaudete Sunday, having passed the midpoint of Advent, the Church lightens the mood a little, and the priest wears rose vestments rather than purple. The third candle of the Advent wreath is also rose-colored. The change in color provides us with encouragement to continue our spiritual preparation for Christmas.
While the Introit, "Rejoice in the Lord always" gives us the theme for this day, the Epistle again incites us to rejoicing, and bids us prepare to meet the coming Savior with prayers and supplication and thanksgiving. The Gospel however, in the words of St. John Baptist, warns us that the Lamb of God is even now in our midst, though we appear to know Him not.
The spirit of the Office and Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the Christmas feast as well as for the second coming of Christ, and the penitential exercises suitable to that spirit are thus on Gaudete Sunday suspended for a short while to encourage us and to symbolize that joy and gladness in the Promised Savior, should never be absent from our hearts.
In the words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI: In this season of Advent let us reinforce our conviction that the Lord has come among us and ceaselessly renews His comforting, loving and joyful presence.
In this command ordering us to rejoice we are reminded of the JOY that is to come and not to loose HOPE.