by Lou Pizzuti
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . . a lot of stuff. We know the song. And then Christmas is over, right?
Now, if we listen to our culture, we’d think that Christmas ends sooner. How often do we see discarded trees, waiting to be picked up as early as December 26? And finding a radio station playing Christmas Carols during the 12 Days of Christmas? Bah.
But, as Christians, should we be marching to the beat of the culture? Or should we follow the Church and be counter cultural?
Yes, some of us keep Christmas going throughout the 12 Days – but that’s only the beginning of the season. The Nativity account in Matthew’s Gospel tells the story of the Visit of the Magi, traditionally celebrated (in the West) on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany. Some even go so far as to remember the season includes the Baptism of Christ, on the following Sunday. But longer?
Yes. Luke’s Gospel includes the Presentation of the Temple, celebrated on February 2, as part of the Nativity narrative. February 2. Forty days after Christmas.
Forty Days for Christmas.
Forty Days for Lent.
Forty Days from Easter to Ascension.
Do you see a pattern here?
If you’re part of a liturgical tradition – Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and even some other Protestant groups – you have a liturgical calendar – and you have this rhythm of liturgical seasons, given to you as a gift.
Why a gift?
Let’s start with Easter. It’s a feast. It is, in fact, the feast of feasts for Christians. As the Byzantine Troparion for Easter says, “Christ is risen from the tomb, trampling down death by death. And upon those in the tombs bestowing life”. The feast is 40 days until the Ascension. But, it’s preceded by 40 days of fasting and prayer, a time of introspection, repentance.
So, how does that relate to Christmas?
Christmas is itself preceded by a period of preparation. In the West, it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – Advent. In the Byzantine tradition, it’s – are you ready – FORTY DAYS, starting right after St. Philip’s feast on November 15.
In the secular culture, Advent has been eclipsed by Christmas. You can hear carols on the radio as soon you put away the decorations from that great holy day of secular culture, Halloween. From November 1 until December 25, it’s a time of increasing celebration, gluttony, and consumerism, and there is no thought of Advent, nobody cares to prepare the way of the Lord. Then, once the day arrives, there’s no more energy to really celebrate.
It’s just another symptom of the culture’s marginalization of Christianity.
The Church has given us a rhythm of spiritual life, of liturgical life (really, shouldn’t they reflect each other?).
Oughtn’t we, as Christians, choose, rather than following the culture, become counter-cultural?
Celebrate Christmas, my friends.