So Thom and I have been mostly Anglican for five years now. The introduction to and delving into liturgy, church calendar, and traditions has been a rich addition to our faith. We like it and we hope to continue in a place where we can combine all of that with an active and living community of believers. We're currently searching for where we will eventually settle. In the meantime, we are attending church with friends during this particular season.
As most of you know, we're in Advent right now. Not Christmas, not "Christmastime", but Advent. Advent is a period of waiting, of contemplation, of groaning, of expectant darkness.
The modern take on the Christmas season is this: there's this day where we all stuff ourselves with turkey and then the next morning (or late that night) we rush off to consume - it's Christmastime! We shop like mad, we quick get the decorations all up, we bake, we attend office parties and friend parties and church parties and small group parties and school parties, we exchange gifts, we sing carols, we watch heartwarming movies to get in the spirit, and on and on. In essence, we celebrate! For five weeks leading up to this one day, Christmas, we celebrate and celebrate and celebrate.
When we finally get to the day, we're so sick of celebrating we can hardly enjoy another feast. The presents get unwrapped in haste and suddenly all of the work you've put in for weeks before is over, it's effects fleeting. We sit in a pile of new belongings and dirty dishes at the end of the day and we think, "Thank God!....that's over."
Um, I'm sorry but that is NOT what Christmas should be.
I love Christmas - I've talked about it before. The scene described above is something I've lived out for several years now. I've been trying to recapture the joy of my childhood, and trying to fight for the celebration of actual Christmas (Christ coming to earth as a baby, God in the flesh, for the purpose of saving us) to prevail. But I keep losing.
Every year, I fill the weeks preceding Christmas with as much Christmas as I can, thinking it is getting me in the mood to celebrate, thinking it is preparing my heart. But celebrating can't prepare you for celebrating. That's like spending thousands of dollars in expectation of a raise at your next review; you just can't possibly get excited about the money when it comes if you've already spent it.
Instead, it encourages an attitude of "creating Christmas". If only I can spread enough cheer, make the right cozy atmosphere, eat all the right foods, and plan enough events to keep the excitement alive, then we can all make it to Christmas with a smile on our face. By the time we've done all this other stuff, we'll be ready to really focus on Jesus.
Well, here's the news: I'm not responsible for the joy of Christmas. It's there whether I put decorations up or not. It's not going to lessen if I don't go window shopping at the Macy's downtown. We're not going to miss it if we never get around to making cut cookies.
This has been a long introduction, but here finally is the experiment: We're not celebrating Christmas until Christmas Day and we are going to celebrate for 12 days for the entire season of Christmas. This means, in general, no decorations, even tree - we're planning to get it the weekend before and decorate it on Christmas Eve (however, Thom did put up outside lights), no Christmas music or movies - although we have been teaching the girls some carols each night with an Advent reading, no baking, no indulging in Christmas treats (but there have been a few, I will admit), and no piling on the pre-Christmas outings.
We're holding these rules loosely, not legalistically. We've "broken" them already to some degree as I mentioned. And make no mistake, we will be doing all of these and more for the full 12 days once Christmas begins. The main difference is not putting these activities on as if they are some necessary force in order to usher in Christmas, but instead (the hope is) that they will be a natural outpouring of the celebration that grows from first encountering the birth of Christ. Honestly, if I get to Christmas Day and making peanut brittle does not feel like a desire of my heart to celebrate Jesus, than I won't do it. But I think it will.
It's no wonder we get to the year's end and want to throw off any remembrance of the holidays; we embrace January 1st, turn our backs and move on - to a better year with better resolutions! We've been eating ourselves silly, indulging every celebratory whim under the label "Christmastime" for five whole weeks. Letting Advent be it's own season, a preparatory one, for sure, but distinctively different from Christmas itself does more than just lead up to the celebration, it gives us a break and a rest and wonderful stillness and lets us actually enjoy the celebration when it comes.
Before you contradict, absolutely I believe that Christians can acknowledge, even celebrate, the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ on any day of the year. We do and we should. I'm not suggesting we pretend we don't know about Jesus until December 25th comes around (and yes, I do know that's an arbitrary date), and then act all surprised. But if there is something to distinctively celebrating this event, a day apart from other days, and I'm fairly certain that historical Christianity feels there is, than let that celebration be distinctive! Don't let it get lost in a month-long frenzy to embrace warm, fuzzy feelings.
So far, for me, it seems like I've done myself a huge favor. Every time a thought comes into my head like "I have to get a wreath for the door!" another thought speaks louder, "Wait for Christmas!" And I promise you, all the pressure is off.