There are people who find it disturbing that others observe Christmas festivities before the actual feast day on December 25th. They find it troublesome that others do not reverently observe the season of Advent in its true penitential somber. They guard against playing Christmas carols before Christmas Eve. They hesitate before going to parties of merriment. They are respectful of the holiness and reverent on the waiting.
While that is not necessarily a bad thing, I would suggest that they might need to look at their own heart’s issues with pride. (*) I would also suggest that Catholics, as a whole, not fall victim to guilt if they enthusiastically embrace the festivities of Christmas within the season of Advent. There is no room for guilt in the season of Advent as there is no lack of merriment while awaiting and preparing for the birth of a baby.
While I know that Advent is a penitential time of waiting and preparing as well as being known as the “Little Lent”, my experience of waiting on five births clues me in to the fact that it is very much okay to decorate and bake and party during the Advent season. It is, in fact, necessary! Perhaps it is the only way to observe Advent. Especially when we walk very closely to the one who carried that baby, prayed while pregnant with Him, and nourished Him until Christmas Day.
Let me give you an example.
We are all waiting on the birth of a very precious baby. We should prepare and do so with great hope, faith, and heart!
What does a mother do in that final month as she awaits the birth of her baby?
She cooks and freezes meals. She bakes. She nests. She cleans the house and washes the bedding. She decorates the nursery and anoints the house with fresh little touches. Family and/or friends gift her with a baby shower. She plays quiet nursery rhymes for the baby swimming in her womb.
What do we, as wives and mothers, do jointly in the month before this Christmas birth? We cook meals ahead of time. We bake abundantly. We nest and feather our homes. We clean the house and pull out the winter clothes to wash and make fresh our winter beds. We decorate the house lovingly and anoint the rooms with fresh touches. Yes, we even attend a few Christmas parties. And, yes, we play quiet Christmas carols as we dust the traditional spot for the nativity.
Is there really any difference in terms of preparation and anticipation?
This is the obvious rejoicing…the rejoicing we do before the birth, the rejoicing that says we trust in this new life and we are abundantly blessed with the anticipation of that birth.
It doesn’t mean that we are not reverently observing our own “Little Lent” even while cooking, baking, decorating, cleaning our homes, playing Christmas music, and attending Christmas parties during the season of Advent.
Preparation is a beautiful thing, a necessary thing, and a festive thing. It’s where community comes together.
The “littleness” of this season comes when we prayerfully consider our own spiritual lives and not the daily lives being lived around us. We are called to be in this world, not of it. This world will never give us the observance, rejoicing, celebration, reverence, or prayer that we believe this season is entitled. It never can. Something will always be lacking.
But we can find that little something within our hearts. That joy, that reverence can only be found within our hearts and it comes to fullness on Christmas Day. It’s a heart song between God and His creation.
In the silent times when I linger to pray, my Magnificat falls open on my lap before me and I read about the tradition of the Christmas Crib:
“His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, like the Shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the Angel’s words: ‘Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (Lk 2:12). This is still the sign for us too, men and women of the third millennium.
There is no other Christmas.”
~ Pope Benedict XVI
And that is our focus, that is our Christmas, that is the cause of our rejoicing.
After the birth, after the house fills with well-wishers and admirers, after the shouts of joy and congratulations have echoed through, after the gifts have been presented to the new babe and opened by his mother, after the joyful crowds of people visit and eat and hug around the family circle, after…
…comes rejoicing in its purest sense.
The shepherds and our families withdraw from the well-light, well-known glow of light. The town turns off their Christmas lights.
The wise men bow low. Our friends leave their kindness.
The cows murmur low with heavy breasts. The stores empty.
Milk runs over. Eggnog is cleared off the store shelves.
The lambs fall asleep. The town falls asleep.
The Christmas bustle on the streets dissolves.
The mother is left alone with her newborn babe. We are left alone with our Savior beneath the lights of the tree.
This is our moment.
Most believe Christmas is over.
Our Church and its people know otherwise.
Christmas is just beginning.
There are twelve days of Christmas celebration, beginning on Christmas Day and continuing to the feast of the Epiphany, but the world seems to hush on December 26 and Christians, still wanting to rejoice, takes this offensively, as though the world has turned away from what is good and holy. Rejoicing should be loud and merry, full of exclamation points and pomp and commotion.
Or should it? Must it always?
We can still rejoice, but it is a quiet rejoicing. It’s the rejoicing known by mothers and fathers who have gazed shoulder to shoulder over the face of their newborn infant. We, as Christians, are left to gaze upon something good and holy; something that does not need bells and whistles and parties and pomp and commotion to herald its completion because…
…because it is complete. It is reverent awe.
The Holy Father tells us that in view of the infant in the manger:
“There is no other Christmas.”
Our rejoicing comes in fullness on Christmas Day. There is only us and our Savior.
There is no need for anything else. No more food, no more parties, no more festivities, no more decoration, no more presents.
“There is no other Christmas.”
There is only us and a manger and the stillness of poverty that lies in the aftermath of society’s commercialism and consumerism.
“There is no other Christmas.”
(*) Here I am not referencing the observation people have made on the consumerism attack of the holiday. Things that desecrate the true meaning of Christmas should be spoken out and guarded against…always.
Copyright 2012 Cay Gibson