Today is Christmas. No, really it is. Still. Christmas is actually a liturgical season lasting from December 25 to January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today discarded trees will line the streets and many will pack away their Christmas decorations. Why the rush? For a celebration we anticipate for a month (or more), why don’t we make it last as long as it could?
Perhaps the over-anticipation is to blame. When Christmas begins in popular culture right after Thanksgiving, we can become sick of both Christmas music and Christmas spirit by the time December 26 rolls around. But even those of us who keep Advent alive and who try our best to avoid listening to Christmas music until the 25th can have trouble keeping the celebration going once the initial excitement has worn off.
There may be another, more telling reason that Christmas struggles to make it beyond a day. In the days/weeks/months of anticipation, Christmas can occupy our imaginations in an idealized form: opening the perfect gift or giving a great surprise gift; getting along with family; eating splendid food; or having a prayerful experience of midnight Mass. These idealized machinations more often than not fail to materialize. Our actual experience of Christmas is usually less than perfect. Maybe that is why we seek to quickly move on. The actual experience of the holiday doesn’t live up to the anticipation so we might be disappointed with ourselves or our loved ones. That would explain why the holiday-creep only seems to move in one direction and Christmas-themed commercials don’t start pushing into Valentine’s Day season.
In my romanticized vision of the past, people were able to feast joyfully for all the days of Christmas, but it is more realistic that by day 2 it started to feel more ordinary. In this way, I think giving us a season of Christmas rather than just a day is wise on the Church’s part. It may be easy to find God in the time spent with family or friends on Christmas Day because there is a spirit of joy in the air, but we are called to find God just as much when that spirit has dissipated.
It is also much easier to anticipate or reminisce than it is to dwell in the present. My mind today might wander between memories of yesterday to thoughts of New Years but the present occupies a privileged place in each of our realities. So my challenge for you is to live today like it’s still Christmas. If not as raucous as the 25th, this may be your opportunity to spend some quiet time alone or with a particular loved one. But don’t forget to keep the joyful spirit alive! Perhaps you might dwell more deeply on the mystery of Christmas: that God took on human flesh in the form of a child for our sake. Continue to play your favorite Christmas songs! Or at least don’t put your tree out on the curb today.
Image courtesy FlickrCC user The U.S. National Archives.