I must say this. I have to take a stand. As a Christian in this nation, I am increasingly upset every year. Each December, as I make my way through streets and stores, I hear holiday greetings. But never, never do I hear the name of the holiday I am celebrating. It’s sickening. Oh sure, there are trees up with ornaments, and sure, there are reindeer and snowmen and lots of jingle bells and lights. And people wish me happy holidays, and that’s nice and all. But as a Christian, I don’t know why I can’t just hear people tell me those two little words that I want to hear this time of year. What’s so bad about saying…
What, did you think I was going to say, “Merry Christmas”? Of course not! Like I said, I’m a Christian. And in the Christian calendar, it’s not Christmas yet. Not even close. Christmas is a twelve-day season that goes from December 25 to January 6. Saying “Merry Christmas” in the first week in December is like saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day” on January 20. Or saying “Happy Independence Day” in the middle of June. It’s like buying your child a car for their fifteenth birthday. It just doesn’t make sense.
Of course, I’m being facetious…kind of. But I am also trying to make a point. All the Christians out there moaning and groaning that people at Best Buy don’t say “Merry Christmas” to them completely misunderstand their own holiday. I mean, if you’re going to complain about being treated so poorly, at least get it right! I’ll be honest – I do get upset at the radio stations that play Christmas songs, because they always stop playing them precisely when the Christmas season begins!
“Oh, you’re just being pedantic,” you might say. “Everybody knows the Christmas season starts at Thanksgiving.” Sure. I’ll admit I’m a pedant. (I’m a Doctor Who fan, after all. Pedantry is our birthright.) But I think this is symptomatic of something bigger in our society — we are always, always looking forward to the next thing. We never linger where we are. We never take the time to breathe and just be. Some examples:
- The cultural Christmas season ends at Christmas. Once the day is here, forget it, not interested anymore. On to New Years.
- The “Thanksgiving season” (if there is one) lasts exactly as long as the Macy’s Parade in New York. The last float is always Santa Claus. Well, that’s it! All done! On to Christmas!
- Election campaigns in America, particularly presidential campaigns, begin years in advance of the election. Years. Senators have been saying that Democrats shouldn’t pursue impeachment because we should just let the American people can have their say. In a year.
- When we’re children, all we want to do is be adults. When we’re working, we constantly look forward to the weekend, or to retirement.
- We live in an era called postmodern. That word is very telling: we’ve gone right past modern, which means “contemporary” or “now,” and gone into the “post-now.” We’re living in the future.
In terms of Christmas, the church has completely lost this battle to the culture. The church invented Christmas in the fourth century, as a way to celebrate the coming of the Light of the World; and the church invented Advent sometime around the fifth century, as a way to learn to wait for that coming. But even within the church today, most “Christmas pageants” and so forth happen during the Advent season, not Christmas. It’s a perennial dispute as to whether we can sing Christmas carols in worship before Christmas Eve. Church leaders understand that no matter how many times we remind people about Advent, we’re fighting a battle we’ve already lost, even with many of our parishioners. There’s a part of me that thinks Advent is important because I want to take my stand and fight. I want to say, “We invented Christmas, not Hallmark!” But that’s both completely ineffective and beside the point.
But I also think Advent is important because we need to learn, as a culture and as individuals, how to slow down. How to be present. How to appreciate the moment and to just breathe. Advent can teach us that, if we’ll just listen to it. The world misses it. Christians who rant about the War on Christmas miss it. People like me who rant at those sorts of Christians also miss it. I need Advent as much as anybody else. So:
B r e a t h e i n .
B r e a t h e o u t .
J u s t b e .