Yes, I know it is January, but that doesn’t mean Christmas is over. By now you’re no doubt tired of all those carols and bells, but believe it or not, it is still Christmastime. You see, while everyone else started watching Home Alone and baking cookies as soon as Thanksgiving came to a close, I began to wait.
As a kid I loved the buildup to Christmas—weeks and weeks of music, decorations, and desserts. Eventually the big day would arrive; we would unwrap our gifts, play with our toys and eat more cookies. Then, suddenly it’s December 26. Take down the tree, put away the lights and stop singing those carols—Christmas is over. It always seemed so incomplete. It turns out it was incomplete.
In the strand of conservative Protestantism in which I was raised, there was never any talk of Advent. (I remember the first time I saw an Advent calendar. I was 23!) We always jumped straight from celebrating Thanksgiving to Christmas.
In fact, Advent has been an important season on the Church calendar for centuries. Beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. It is a symbol of the world’s yearning for the arrival of its King. We commemorate the time leading up to His birth, yet we also look ahead to his return.
The commercialism of our day has me yearning for an Advent revival. Every year the Christmas celebration creeps further up the calendar. I am pretty sure I saw decorations in the stores in September—or was it August?
When Christmas is celebrated between October 31 and December 26 it loses the very thing that makes it special. I once heard it put this way: when a pregnant mother is expecting, it would be strange for friends and family to celebrate for the entire third trimester, have a huge party on the day of the child’s birth, and then abruptly stop celebrating the next day. No, instead, the friends and family prepares for the new arrival. It is only once the child arrives that the celebration begins. That is the gist of Advent. We wait for the Child to arrive. Then we celebrate.
Have you ever wondered about “The Twelve Days of Christmas?” They are not the twelve days leading up to December 25. No, instead they begin on Christmas Day and run until January 5. For some Christians, in fact, the Christmas Season runs all the way to January 10! During that time there are many feast days, including the Feast of Stephen on December 26, the setting of the famous carol “Good King Wenceslas.” Think about it, a Christmas carol about events that happened entirely after Christmas Day. That is the traditional pattern of celebrating Christmas; prepare during Advent, celebrate during the Christmas Season.
I have been trying for a couple years now to observe Advent. There is just one problem. I cannot find anyone who will wait along with me. My wife tries, but she inevitably gives in early. I have tried to pitch the idea to friends, but everyone acts like I have made up a new way of doing things.
As it turns out, I have accomplished nothing other than looking like Ebeneezer Scrooge. I have tried to emphasize how nice it will be to celebrate Christmas during actual Christmas but nobody is buying it. My pleas of “wait, wait!” are heard as “bah humbug”. Nevertheless, I persist. All those carols were sung prematurely. Those December 1 Christmas parties were 24 days early. While you’re taking down your tree, I’m just starting to enjoy mine. So, please excuse me when I say . . .