It happens every year, but our senses still get commercially barraged with Christmas very early. Stores begin putting out Christmas decorations either while they’re also stocking Halloween candy, or sometimes even before Labor Day! And while Variety reported 80+ radio stations switched to 24/7 Christmas music only in early November, it happened earlier for some stations–even in late September. I’m sure you can guess the main reasons why…the coronavirus pandemic.
We all could use some cheer to help boost morale amidst ‘pandemicville,’ so many people began listening to Christmas music and putting up their decorations even earlier this year. As a mental health advocate, I understand this and support people taking positive steps to help themselves. My only request is that by the time December 25 does arrive, please don’t stop the celebrations!
Advent is meant to be a time of anticipation. From the Latin adventus, it means “coming.” “As we wait in joyful hope,” Advent prepares us to commemorate the Incarnation of God made man at Christmas and to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming. The four-week season ends with the first Evening Prayer of Christmas.
Humans often struggle with waiting – especially many of us modern ones that enjoy many technological advancements and conveniences. Add in a consumer culture that pushes Christmas for months in advance, and the true celebrating of it can be done before it even begins.
I don’t know about you, but we usually celebrate birthdays for more than one day around here. There are often events that occur throughout birthday week and sometimes even birthday month. So, when it comes to the birth of Emmanuel, “God is with us” that brought salvation to humanity – I think a couple of weeks of celebrating starting on December 25 is a small ask! Christmas is meant to be a gift from God and the Church. So, while some may be tempted to toss their trees on December 26 and move on, we still have so much more richness in which to partake!
“The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131,” according to New Advent. It’s the Mass of Christ because that is when we celebrate His birth. Just as the Magi brought gifts to the child Jesus, we exchange gifts to commemorate that same thing. The holidays have truly been fashioned around our holy days.
In the Church, the Christmas season actually starts on Christmas Eve night and ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the Sunday after the Epiphany in January. But to clear up any confusion, Christmastide used to run for forty days (before Vatican II) –from December 25 to Candlemas on February 2. And what about the Twelve Days of Christmas? They run from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night, the vigil of the Epiphany; but that is not when our celebrations end.
In his writings, Saint Augustine said December 25 was chosen to remember the birth of Jesus “on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”
How can we participate in ushering in more light after December 25?
There are many ways, but of course, we advocate little things with great love. Such as, if your Christmas cards didn’t arrive by the 25th, it’s OK; we’re still celebrating! Take time to give presents and share the gift of your presence – spending time and engaging with family. Kids like toys, but they love when you play with them. Watch some classic Christmas movies together. Make hot cocoa and read Christmas stories. Build a fire and cozy up together. Say Christmas prayers together. Celebrate the feast days because there’s still more feasting to do, and holiday baking by no means needs to cease.
There’s a great list of many more Christmas season activities here at Catholicculture.org.
I remember as a kid on Christmas morning, rising early, full of anticipation. My brothers and I could hardly wait for our parents to get up, but we weren’t supposed to wake them up. So, we’d have to stage some not-to-obvious noise outside their room to try and start the process. “Oh, you’re awake?” We’d ask when they finally emerged from their room.
That child-like anticipation, awe, and wonder is a vital part of the Christmas season. We need to tap more into that part of our hearts. The innocence and beauty, simplicity, and love. And fun and joy. I mean, what kid ever wants to end the celebration. It is childlikeness that helps us to embrace the entire Christmas season and usher in its light and love.
Most importantly, beyond the activities, take time to cultivate your interior life at Christmas. Ponder how Love was born into the world and transformed it. How can Love be reborn in your heart anew and bring about transformation? How can you grow in love with Christ? And how can you bear His light and bring His love to others? An important part of that is taking time for daily prayer, silence, and reading the Scriptures.
The preparations for Christmas help build the anticipation. But just because they end, the Christmas season doesn’t. What if we put that same energy of all our preparations into celebrating after Christmas? Our hearts have been through a lot this year, so this extra time with the Lord is timely.
Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace. Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men.”St Ambrose
Open wide the door of your heart and enter fully into the miracle. Let’s go deeper this year into celebrating Christmas. I know the Lord has more to do in us if we allow Him.