Monday, November 29, 2004

The Twelve Days of Christmas 

I understand that people are getting fed up with the over-commercialization of Christmas. People are tired of seeing Santa and Rudolph decking the aisles of Wal-Mart before Halloween is even over. But I'd like to argue that not celebrating the holiday at all is not the solution. For some of us, it's not even an option.

I am a Christian, and Christmas is an important holiday in my religion. I've been celebrating the birth of Jesus every December as long as I can remember, and, commercialization or no, I am going to be sitting in church on Christmas Eve with my family singing "Silent Night." I'd no more consider forgoing Christmas than I would sleeping in on Easter Sunday. I imagine that this is probably a popular sentiment among many Christians.

However, the church I belong to does Christmas a little differently than some other Protestant churches do. The Anglican and Episcopal churches celebrate different seasons throughout the year. Two of our major feast days, Christmas, celebrating Jesus' birth, and Easter, celebrating his death, are preceded by a few weeks of somber reflection. The time of reflection before Easter is called Lent, and the time of reflection before Christmas is called Advent.

As we prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, scripture readings and prayers during Advent remind us of his coming again in judgment. It's sort of a way to remind us why Jesus was born, to focus less on the cuteness of the little baby and the bland niceness of the season and remind us that his existence has a greater purpose. One quirk of observing the season of Advent is that we don't sing Christmas hymns in church until Christmas day, with the exception of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which takes its place alongside other anticipatory Advent hymns such as "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus."

It might sound stingy to hold off the celebrating until sundown on December 24, but don't start thinking we Anglicans and Episcopalians are some kind of puritanical joy-stealers. As you can see in the calendar wheel I linked to earlier, we have a whole season dedicated to Christmas, and it's twelve days long. That's twelve days to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" and answer the phone with "Merry Christmas!" (yes, my dad does that) and even to put a partridge in a pear tree, if you are so moved. And the season of Christmas ends with a bang as we celebrate Epiphany, the arrival of the Three Wise Men at Jesus' cradle, symbolizing his status as Messiah for not just Israel but the world at large.

So if celebrating Christmas is part of your religion but you're feeling dispirited by all those annoying Old Navy commercials on TV and the neighbor's 50-foot inflatable snowman, consider keeping Advent in preparation for the big holiday. Consider reading some Advent scriptures (1,2,3,4) and reflecting on why this holiday is celebrated. Then, you should be geared up for a good twelve days of joy and celebration.


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