I can hear the groans already. “Still Christmas?? No! Please! I’m sick of Christmas!! Pleeeease let it be over with already!”
But actually it is still Christmas. You’ve heard of the “12 days of Christmas”? It’s more than just a song. On the church calendar Christmas actually does last through January 5. That’s twelve days. Count ’em.
In the old days this season of the church year used to be called “Christmastide.” Now I think they just call it the Season of Christmas.
The way we do Christmas in America contains a lot of irony. Technically, on the church calendar the Christmas season doesn’t start until Dec. 25. In America, though, Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier every year. When I was a kid, people started thinking about and decorating for Christmas after Thanksgiving. This coincided pretty nicely with the church calendar, because the season of Advent, which is sort of the build up to Christmas, a season of preparation and anticipation, begins soon after the Thanksgiving holiday.
But nowadays it’s not uncommon to begin seeing Christmas decorations in stores right after Halloween, if not before. (In a twist which almost seems indicative of two competing spiritual kingdoms, this past fall I heard that Halloween is the second most lucrative holiday of the year, behind Christmas.)
So by mid-November we’re already being treated to Christmas decorations, advertisements for Christmas toys, and even maybe an occasional Christmas carol interspersed in the ever-ubiquitous muzak. After Thanksgiving all the stops are pulled out, bringing the modern American Christmas frenzy into full swing.
It’s no wonder that this past Friday one of my colleagues at work was heard to say “I’m glad Christmas is over with. I’m sick of it.”
I didn’t listen to much Christmas music this year prior to the week of Christmas day. With two elderly relatives dying a couple weeks before and having spent the previous weeks waiting to hear of their fate, there just didn’t seem to be much room or inclination in my heart to think about Christmas this year.
That changed, though, when I attended a wonderful musical rendition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Clarence Brown Theatre here in Knoxville last Sunday. It made me realize I was becoming Scroooge-ish this year, and the delightful production helped revive the Christmas spirit for me.
So by Monday I was ready to hear some Christmas music. One of the local Christian radio stations devoted the entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas to playing Christmas music, so carols weren’t hard to find on the radio.
Due to my work schedule I wasn’t able to be with family on Christmas day this year, but instead knew I wouldn’t see them until this weekend (Dec. 26-28). So this year I was thankful to remember that Christmas lasts beyond the 25th. Therefore as I was driving to work on the morning of Dec. 26, I was ready to hear some more Christmas music.
To my dismay I clicked on the radio to discover that the channel which had been blaring non-stop Christmas music the day before, and for an entire month previously, was now suddenly back to their regular playlist again. Not a Christmas carol to be heard anywhere! All that build-up, and now they were moving on as if nothing important or special had happened at all! Almost as if they, like everyone else, were sick of Christmas, too, and just ready to get back to “normal life.”
That’s when it struck me how backwards we have this whole Christmas thing. The four weeks before Christmas Day are supposed to be Advent, a time of waiting and anticipation and preparation (namely to ready our hearts to celebrate Jesus, not to wear ourselves out getting all set for the grand Gift Exchange). That’s supposed to be the build-up to Christmas. Then Christmas Day is supposed to be a day of joy and wonder at “what God hath wrought” in Jesus.
Instead, though, we’ve allowed it to become a time in which everyone works themselves silly buying presents, and wrapping gifts, and decorating trees and houses and yards, and staging parties (with one or more to attend every week, it seems), and…and…I’m out of breath. No wonder everyone’s sick of Christmas by the time Dec. 26 rolls around.
But I think that’s where the beauty and the pleasant surprise of Christmastide comes in, the fact that Christmas is a season and not just a day. Now that all the hustle and bustle is over, we can take a breather. Now we can take some time to actually reflect on the meaning of the holiday, because we rarely have time for that before the 25th.
I assume the Christian radio station quit playing Christmas carols on Dec. 26 out of ignorance. Sadly, even many of us in the church have lost touch with the rhythms and cadences of the church calendar. Being somewhat of a liturgical rebel myself I’ll be the first one to say I don’t think we should be legalistically bound to the church calendar. I think it adds freshness to our celebrations when we change things up from time to time and from year to year. This year it really helped me enjoy Christmas by not listening to or singing Christmas carols until a few days before the 25th.
But at the same time, when we’ve so completely lost sight of the fact that it’s still Christmas, then maybe it’s time to be reminded. To that Christian radio station, and to my friend at work, I want to say: “Not so fast. Let’s allow it to be Christmas a little while longer. I’m really just starting to enjoy it now. Let’s allow ourselves time to reflect on what Christmas really means.”
After all, if we can get past all the busyness of Christmas and remember what it’s really about, on some level wouldn’t we like it to be Christmas all year ’round? We only get sick of Christmas if we lose sight of the real point. It’s not about the tree or the presents or the parties or the snow we wish we had or the mistletoe or all the rushing here and there. It’s about love and peace and goodwill and joy. Those are things I’d like to carry with me through the year.
I have a friend who grew up in a denomination that didn’t observe the. He discovered the church calendar late in life and has found it to be a great source of comfort and structure for his faith. This same friend makes a practice every year of wishing his friends “ ” between December 25 and . I think he’s onto something there.
So to all my friends out there I want to wish you a very merry Christmas, as well as a blessed and prosperous new year. And I hope you’ll take a little time between now and the 5th to continue to reflect on the meaning of this blessed season, when we remember that God became one of us in order to reconcile us to himself.
“…In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” – 2 Cor 5:19 (RSV). In recent years that’s become one of my favorite verses. It reminds me that God’s disposition toward us is not to keep track of our sins, but to do away with them, so that we may be reconciled to him.