Not much about Christmas gets my goat more than the premature decking of halls and being called a grinch because of my insistence on sticking to the liturgical calendar rather than the new-fangled secular one that says the “Christmas Season” begins the minute Thanksgiving turkey has been cleared from the table (this also goes for de-decking of halls December 26. Christmas has just begun. Why are we taking everything down?). Every year, I boycott two of the radio stations on my car radio because they start playing Christmas music the week before Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas when they mysteriously stop (and it’s not even the good stuff). My godfather’s daughter tells me to “get in the spirit” when I publically say, “I can’t put up the tree, yet. The Feast of Christ the King hasn’t even happened.” Black Friday is another story altogether. And this is supposed to be the Season of CHRISTmas.
As Charlie Brown would say: ARGH!
Three times in the last two days, I’ve seen stories about Christians maybe needing to tone down the religion for various reasons, one of them being a clip from the Today show on NBC with the NBC medical editor who said of Christmas, “the religion part mucks the whole thing up.”
Regardless of the never ending arguments of what month Christ was really born, what part of CHRISTmas is unclear? What part of “this is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, son of God and the Virgin Mary” doesn’t register? Yes, He is the reason for the season, and we Christians should never forget that. Hence, the reason for us Christians following the liturgical calendar rather than the world’s when is comes to preparing for this Feast. Secular sorts don’t have to do what we do regardless of the branch of Christianity followed, but why should we bow to the world on how to celebrate a Holy Day that is really about the One who was born to offer us salvation? And why does the world stubbornly refuse to get that?
This week, the second week of Advent, just past the beginning of the Church year, is when when we celebrate love (from the Greek, agape) as a theme. This is the week during year C, or when the Gospel According to Luke is read, we hear Saint John the Baptist crying “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This is one of the four weeks we Christians use, or should use, as the getting ready to welcome Christ back into our lives. Unlike Lent when we atone for sins, this is the time when we open our hearts and remember what it means to be Christian, to be a follower of Christ, to perform corporal works of mercy, to be generous of heart, spirit and goods. That much has not been totally lost, but remembering that it is Christ who asks it of us is another story.
Christians, especially in this country, one of the few to be founded originally by people who were not pagan, should not be afraid to celebrate both Advent and the Christmas Season following it (for the Church, Christmas ends the Sunday after Epiphany or the Feast of the Baptism, Christ’s Baptism). In my house, which admittedly is run by liturgy nerds, only the Advent wreath is out before the Second Sunday. As the week has gone on, gradually, a real pine tree has come in the house*; the village buildings of Bethlehem, the manger, shepherd’s camp and Three Kings Oasis Annex have migrated to one end of the living room (the various pieces and parts include camels, dogs and barnyard fowl. I’m not kidding); the lights are making their way into the boughs; and before long all the angel, bell, cross, seafood, snowmen and other assorted collection of ornaments from various travels will make their way onto the tree (the bells alone come from Ireland, Germany, Assisi, one of the missions in California, and much more). It’s not that we don’t want to get into the spirit, but we want to do it in the proper time, and in the proper context.
This is not a holiday (from “Holy Day”) strictly about getting a haul of fabulous presents or being just festive. It’s one about welcome, and being open to Christ. The secular world seeks to destroy that and have us burned out on celebrating before the actual Feast ever happens. That is what many of us Christians resist.
This coming Sunday is Gaudate, or Joy, Sunday, the Third Sunday, when we traditionally decorate, or make the house fair as we are able, trimming the hearth (we’ll set the table Christmas Eve). Next Sunday is the Gospel story of the Visitation, when the Blessed Mother visited her cousin Elizabeth who greeted her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” How does Christ come to us, not just at Christmas, but during Advent, the time of preparation? The time that is now. This is what the weeks leading up to Christmas should be. Preparing home, baking cookies, making fruitcake (a real fruitcake, not the doorstops sold in stores), rehearsing music, a little shopping, and doing up care packages for friends in need is not out of place, but should be done remembering that this is all about Jesus in the end. We Christians may have adopted the date, but the Holy Day revolves around someone else. Someone who was born to teach the world to save itself from damnation. That’s what the world wants us to forget.
Christmas is all about religion. Christians should never forget that. Secularists can stuff it and just wait patiently for their trees to be picked up from the curb until the rest of us are done with ours. (my very green hometown uses the pine trees in the community mulch pile, but only picks them up once, after Epiphany when they can get them all in one trip. The people who take theirs down December 26 or 27 have been known to get really impatient waiting the two weeks. Tough.)
By the way, I usually get into the Christmas spirit around December 23. No reason to waste too much energy on it before then.
* As I was putting the lights on the tree and mentioned to a member of the family that I think I’m allergic to it, I got the order to “take a Benedryl.” We’re serious about this real tree thing. The big fight, though, is how to arrange the midwestern Bethlehem on a mantle not big enough for the whole thing.
Okay, one fun one. Note the laugher in the background. Rumor has it Denny Brownlee did it as a joke in the studio and somehow it got recorded. (Some of the best stuff out there in entertainment started that way.)