Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The Day After
That's it. Wrap it up. Show's over folks. Nothing more to see here. Get ready for New Year's. Think about the past year and about making resolutions for the one to come. Do anything else but remember that Christmas is not just one day in the year but a time of year, or even better, that Christmas might be more than just a time of year, that it might be something deeper and more profound than a day upon which all the mall walking, employee harassing, gift hunting (it is almost a full contact sport these days), jingle hearing, and tinsel totting find their culmination.
Yes, the old carol The Twelve Days of Christmas might still be sung, and some people might recall that these 12 days refer to Christmas and the eleven days that follow, but not very many people realize why this carol mentions twelve days of Christmas. In fact, today, one would hardly hear anyone suggest that we sing this song the day after Christmas because, silly, it's a Christmas carol and Christmas is only the 25th of December. One would not hear Christmas carols in public after December 25th, at least not in an America that was originally opposed to the celebration of Christmas (think Puritans - yeah the same ones from whom we supposedly get the pseudo-religious feast of Thanksgiving), didn't like public feasts (think Presbyterians), and, when Christmas did come into its own, became known as the day when children would find gifts left by a mysterious Santa Claus (whom few realize is really Saint Nickolaus devoid of his religious garb - that of a bishop - and moved from his feast, December 6th, to fill the spiritual void in America's soul) and, later, the day around which businesses hoped to make money (which is a logical progression since free market capitalism - that is, at least the consumerism brand of capitalism - is pretty much the unofficial religion of America where "supporting the economy," ie buying junk one doesn't need, is one of the ten commandments).
Despite the urban legend, the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas was not a secret catechetical tool used by English Catholics when the Church of England and Anglicanism threatened the continuance of the Catholic faith in England. Instead it recalls the fact that the traditional Anglican rendering of the Christmas Season included Christmas Day and the following days until the day before Epiphany (Epiphany is January 6th, so if you count Christmas Day and each day before Epiphany, you get 12 days [25 - 31 is 7 plus 1- 5 makes 12]). Yet, this religious significance to the 12 days of Christmas has almost been forgotten, especially as businesses hope to profit off of the idea that the 12 days of Christmas are the 12 shopping days before the 25th of December.
Yet even us Catholics can forget that we have an Octave of Christmas (from December 25 - January 1st, eight days inclusive, hence the term "octave"), or even that the Christmas season lasts until the Feast Baptism of the Lord and permeates the first few weeks of Ordinary Time (the Nativity Scene at the Vatican won't be taken down until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation). Instead, like the rest of our society, we tend to forget Christmas after the 25th of December and begin to focus on New Year's Eve, not remembering that the first Christmas (whenever it was) is the reason we call this year 2007 and the next one 2008. Yes, our time (which is money, right?) is measured in years from the birth of Christ and yet we think of Christmas as only being one day a year.
And doesn't even the secular world acknowledge the importance of having Christmas be something that is year round and not just a single day. Do not the poets and other romantics of our age recommend we keep the childlike wonder and "magic" of Christmas year round. Then how much more important is it for us Christians to keep the wonder of the child-of-God-making grace that was given to us in Word Made Flesh, the baby Jesus?
Christmas, my dear friends, is not just once a year. It is not just a liturgical season. Christmas is everyday since everyday we celebrate the incarnation. Merry Christmas. May the feast never end!