a newsletter article — slightly belated
Keep celebrating, because it’s still Christmas!
As I write this on December 30, it’s still Christmas. As you read this in early January, it will still be Christmas. Even if you get around to it in late January, there’s still a sense it could be Christmas.
I’m whatever it would be called for a Scrooge who is grumpy when people don’t celebrate Christmas enough. After months of holiday lights in stores and of songs on the radio, it all vanished on December 26. Symbols of joy were cleared away as detritus, bagged up and kicked to the curb with the tree, disposed of as if life could and should return to “normal.”
But we miss out by shortchanging the official 12 days of this season, from December 25 to January 5. We need more carols and candlelight, and probably would do well to keep giving gifts (though I’m not asking for lords a-leaping). In the darkness, in the cold, amid the bleak midwinter, huddled under our worries, we’d benefit from more celebration, more practice at joy, more brightness of outlook and demeanor.
Back to the 4th Century the Church celebrated Christmas all the way until Candlemas on February 2, following the timeline of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple from Luke 2:22. That made it a full 40-day season. (After all, why should the repentance of Lent take all the fun of 40 days?!)
What’s more, our sense of Christmas as the biggest festival of the year (followed now by Halloween, as our Confirmation class reminded me, based on commercial capabilities) is also a newer trend. Originally the big three were Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany. Christmas was a minor prelude!
I’d be in favor of not bypassing Epiphany. For our current calendars, the liturgical schedule of Christmas concludes with the celebration of Epiphany on January 6. We celebrate that as the visit of the wise men (see Matthew 2 for your at-home festivities). We also celebrate the arrival of the light and ponder what this means for us at the shared Epiphany choral service on Sunday, January 8.
This is a bit different in Easter Orthodoxy, where the focus of Epiphany is the Baptism of Jesus, a festival that the west typically celebrates on the Sunday after Epiphany. An internet search for “orthodox epiphany” will show some of the fun they have with the occasion.
Amid too much date-keeping and liturgical minutiae, the main thing worth knowing (and which I mentioned in this space a couple months ago) is how they reflect on Jesus’ baptism. We typically think of the waters of baptism as blessing us and connecting us to God. Since we’d say Jesus was already blessed and connected to God, the Orthodox view is that Jesus blessed and connected the waters to God. It’s a great transposition. Jesus entered the Jordan River and hallowed those molecules, and through the logic of the hydrologic cycle—as waters flow downstream and evaporate and fall elsewhere as rain—now all waters have been blessed by Jesus.
That also serves for continuing our celebrations of Christmas. As Jesus is born into our world, into our flesh, breathing our air, then there is nothing outside of the touch of the sacred, outside of God’s presence. Our lives and this world are imbued with holiness. That means Christmas cannot be boxed up or put to the curb, because even the landfills and basement shelves—and yes, I have to admit, even the non-Christmas songs on the radio and the unadorned stores—are born with God’s presence.
So keep celebrating—that’s our new normal!