COLUMN: An open letter to everyone going to Christmas mass this weekend

Posted at 12:05 PM, Dec 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-22 14:33:06-05

CINCINNATI -- We need to talk about a pandemic that plagues our city during the holidays...

Seat Savers.

Seat Savers are folks who want to celebrate major holidays in a church, but they don't want to get there early (or even on time) to get a seat.

Cincinnati is home to devout Catholics, going-through-the-motion Catholics, lapsed Catholics and everything in between. Usually twice a year -- give or take a few Confirmations and First Communions -- all of these variations of Catholics and their families haul down to one of Cincy's many parishes to be packed in like sardines next to other Catholic-variants for Easter or Christmas mass.

But between meal preparations, last-minute gift buying or vegging out on the couch, the whole fam couldn't possibly make it out the door in time. So they send Grandpa, Uncle Lou or whoever is itching to get out of the house to mark the family's territory by piling coats onto the pews.

Seat-saving is not a new concept; Elaine Benes showed us the ugly side of seat-saving in 1993. She apprehensively agrees to save three seats in the movie theater in the 'Seinfeld" episode "The Movie." She starts to get a rush out of yelling "They're TAKEN," but she eventually caves and ends up sitting with three strangers.

"But I am here, they are not."

"They're coming!"

Elaine lost the seat-saving battle -- but it's not too late for you, Cincinnati.

As a Catholic in Cincinnati, I've encountered many Seat Savers on Easter morning and Christmas Eve. My family regulars St. Columban in Loveland, but I've witnessed the same phenomenon at other parishes. I can only speak to my own experience at Catholic churches, but this affliction could stretch across all denominations.

My mom is particularly irked by Seat Savers. It's become her crusade to battle them, although she doesn't do much to protest other than cussedly complain about Seat Savers during the entire mass.

So this is my call to action, Cincinnati: If you're in mass this weekend and you encounter a Seat Saver, ask them what the big idea is. Maybe they'll cave like Elaine -- probably not, or at least not the first time. But it will open the door for an important dialog, as legitimate activists say. If you really want to intimidate the Seat Savers, rally up everyone standing along the wall, seatless, and begin a thundering chorus of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables. It's a solid revolution jam.

And if, by chance, your family is a chronic Seat Saver -- just stop. Get out the door and get to church early. I know it's hard to cram your 4-year-old into a shirt and tie and it's not fun to sit around for 45 minutes waiting for mass to begin.

But you know what's really not fun? Cramming your 4-year-old into a tie and getting to church 45 minutes early only to stand in the back and stare over a sea of empty "saved" pews covered in coats and hats.

You might be thinking "Oh, Marais, what about newborn babies or someone very ill or the elderly?"

1) A newborn baby isn't going to need a seat of his or her own, silly.

2) If you're contagious and very ill, stay home. The communion wine is like a Petri dish as is.

3) Honestly, seniors are usually the ones doing the seat-saving! And if an elderly person made it into church after all the seats have filled up, I'm fairly certain one of many good Samaritans would offer up his or her seat.

If you still choose to save seats, remember how rude and neurotic Elaine looked while she was trying to save seats.

Oh, and one last thing. Here's a bonus tip for churches: Auction or raffle off "reserved" rows of seats for Christmas and Easter masses. It's a great fundraiser and parishioners fight like cats and dogs to win.