It’s that time of year. It’s Thanksgiving (in the United States). Just a few more days . . . but we’ve had Christmas decorations, songs, commercials, and anti-consumerist pleas for literally months now. The annual joke is that it happens earlier every year; this year, since I saw Christmas ornaments on display at the Bethesda Navy Exchange while I was still using AC in both my car and my home, I’d have to agree.
But I don’t get upset about it. I used to. I used to think it was horrible. Can’t we take things in the proper order? Can’t we understand that we shouldn’t skip ahead?
Now, though, I no longer stress over it, because this misses something important about the whole subject.
I don’t dismiss the argument. Far from it. It’s an old argument, older than the first mall, older than the celebration of Christmas itself; in fact, it pops up in the Bible several times, in both Testaments, when people get rebuked for wanting to skip to the end. God makes the point many, many times that salvation history must play out according to plan, and there are reasons why we must do things in order.
The liturgical year is a reflection of that history, and we go through periods of fasting and preparation before both Easter and Christmas for the same reason. Sure, Advent isn’t mandatory (in the current Roman Rite) like Lent is, but it’s still encouraged to treat it the same way.
And it’s pointless to just skip ahead; it’s not just an irritation over listening to “Jingle Bells” while shopping for turkey stuffing ingredients. For Catholics, it’s a real liturgical issue. I have some friends that even refuse to play Christmas music until sundown on Christmas Eve, the point where the liturgical season of Christmas actually begins. From this Sunday until then, it’s Advent, and we shouldn’t bow to pressure from those who suggest otherwise!
But what kind of message does that send?
Think about it. Yes, the world is rushing to Christmas; but Christmas doesn’t actually get here any sooner. Yes, even Catholics tend to forget that Christmas lasts longer than December 25th, no matter how many times “The Twelve Days of Christmas” plays on the radio; but the anticipation of the day is so thick it can be cut with a knife.
And yes, it’s pushed for commercialization . . . but why are we rejecting this fascination with one of the holiest days of the year, even if it’s just about making a buck or getting the “right” present?
Think about it. We’ve got a whole society focused on a very important holy day, like no other time in the year. This is the time when even most diehard Protestants, shouting about idolatrous Catholics and their statues, have no problem putting up images of Jesus in the manger. This is the time when the most fluffy of liberal Catholics, bent on ignoring tradition, blow the dust off of long-disused hymnals and try to pluck out traditional hymns like “Veni Veni Emanuel” on the guitar.
It’s a time of deep tradition, and even non-Christian society is wanting to get in on the action. And yet we stand around saying “You shouldn’t do that.”
If you want to shout “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “The Reason for the Season,” that’s fine. That’s laudable. But don’t do it by rejecting the people who want in on the fun, just because they’re not keeping completely kosher. Instead of saying “My way, not yours,” let them know that they can have both.
Christmas won’t get here any sooner. Keep in mind what Advent is for, and you’ll have the right attitude. Don’t drive people away with puritanical rules like not even mentioning Christmas before a certain date. As Christ said, when we fast, we should do so while celebrating.
And if anyone who likes the celebration decides to take you up on your offer to delve a little deeper, so much the better.