|Nativity by Gerard David|
Merry Christmas! Today is the 3rd Day of Christmas: the Christmas Season is only three days young.
The trouble is, it may not feel like Christmas is just beginning. For many years I had a second job at a local retail store, in the seasonal department. Retailers want to get "seasonal" merchandise on the shelves before the actual season begins, and try to get out there before their competitors do. As a result, over the past century the commercial “Christmas Season” (now more often called the holiday season) has started earlier and earlier: we are putting Christmas merchandise on the shelves in September, and the Christmas-themed music (mostly about celebrating Christmas, or maybe the “wonderful time of year”, rather than about the Nativity of Jesus itself) begins blaring out of the stores’ PA systems. They stop receiving Christmas items in early to mid December, and begin selling down their supplies, because once "the holiday” is over (i.e., December 25th . . . what's that holiday called again?) they don’t want to be stuck with a lot of overstock (which means financial losses). In our post-Christian culture the commercial Christmas season and its advertising sets the tone for the culture as a whole, and so for most people Christmas, sadly, is now over.
But not for those of us who are followers of the Babe Lying in the Manger. Today is only the third of eight days in the Octave of Christmas, all with the liturgical status of solemnity; beyond that, the customary “Twelve Days of Christmas” extend until January 5th, followed by the traditional date of the great Feast of Epiphany on the 6th; the formal Christmas Season itself extends until the Baptism of the Lord on January 10th. Some Catholics observe Christmas informally until the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd, as did Saint John Paul II, and also my lovely bride’s Polish forebears.
Granted, keeping Christmas when it ought to be kept can be hard, especially when we have all been living and working in an environment reveling in the “holiday spirit” during what was supposed to be the preparatory Season of Advent, and is now wearily going back about its business just when the real celebration is just starting. Fortunately, the Church has given us the Liturgical Calendar, to keep us grounded in the Gospel and the real events of Salvation History. There we find, as we see in today’s Feast of St. John the Apostle, that while the Incarnation points to the Crucifixion, it is only through the suffering and death of Christ that we come to the Triumph of the Resurrection. Our Celebration of Christmas, then, is not mere revelry in defiance of the cruelty of reality, or a vain attempt to deny it; it is true celebration because we know that, precisely because of that cruel reality, the Child born in Bethlehem has come to take us through the brokenness of this world and beyond to something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
A couple years ago I set out to keep myself focused on the True Season by posting something related to that particular day for every one of the Twelve Days of Christmas. While I'm not currently engaged in bloggery, I’m rerunning some of my old Christmas posts, either here or on my other blog, Nisi Dominus. Please feel free to join me . . . and have a very Merry Christmas!