There is a charming little book of definitions written by kindergarteners called “A Hole is to Dig”. I suppose if they had been asked what winter was one of the answers would be “Winter is to celebrate Christmas.” Okay, it would be more along the lines of “Winter is to get presents,” but you get the idea. Over at Caregiving Stinks, there is a delightful little post on just this. Just like his son, Joey, winter is Christmas for me too. It is one of the reasons why winter is by far my favorite season. But it wasn’t always this way for me and for many years Christmas was not something to which I looked forward.
I use to be quite a Scrooge. Christmas was a time of added stress: the stress of spending so much extra money on gifts that if I did not get would make me a horrible person; and the stress planning, plans being disrupted, and drama ensuing. Added to this was the resentment and anger directed toward a society attempting to divorce Christmas from its origins, to usurp its message from the One who gives that message meaning and makes it possible. Hearing Christmas music during Advent was like a grater on my skin. I loathed secular Christmas and being filled with such strong negative feelings I was unable to enjoy Christmas as one of the great solemnities of the Church.
Then I got married. Every Christmas of my married life has been wonderful. It is a time I always look forward to with great anticipation, and for me it is never too early to start. My wife and I start buying Christmas gifts many months before December. The first new ornament for the tree is bought early November (we’re behind schedule this year). The planning for feasting and celebrating begins at least a month prior. But what about that divide between secular Christmas and Christmas? My attitude is to render what is Ceasar’s to Ceasar.
We live in a secular society; it is no longer Christian though there are many vestiges of the prior Christian society which preseded our’s. It is vitally important that as Christians we celebrate Advent/Christmas. However, I also think that as Americans it is vitally important that we celebrate the “holiday” feastivities with all the other Christian, athiest, pagan, et. al. citizens of this country. We are not called to be isolationists. By inserting ourselves into the secular we can help bring it to the sacred. Of course, this requires that we have a very strong sense of the sacred and an identity as Christians. My wife and I have our Advent devotions. We set up our Christmas tree a week before Christmas. We set up other Christmas decorations before that. The creche remains empty until after the praying of Vespers on Christmas Eve. During Advent we sing Advent hymns – when praying – and on Christmas Eve we joyously sing Christmas hymns. If we are having a Christmas party, yes, it is during Advent and, yes, we sing Christmas songs. Why do I do this? Because a Christmas party isn’t sacred, plain and simple.
Today is the first day of winter here in Indianapolis. By which I mean, it is the first day that has truly felt like winter. On this magnificent winter morning, we are enjoying our tea and cocoa (cocoa for me) and kicking back to some Christmas music (on vinyl, of course). And I quite proudly proclaim that we are doing all this before Thanksgiving, today being only Novemeber 19. I pray that all you readers have a very blessed winter and Christmas. God bless us, every one.