Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Christmas in Advent

When I was packing to return to school after Thanksgiving, I debated whether to bring back my Christmas decorations et cetera.  The deciding factor was the thought: I'm studying at the Liturgical Institute.  If we celebrate Christmas in Advent, there's something wrong with us!  And so I left it all at home.

The celebration of Christmas in Advent has always been a question I've debated.  Certainly it is better liturgically to celebrate Christmas, well, during Christmas!  Yet it does seem a bit excessive not to celebrate it at all during Advent, when the rest of the world is celebrating, especially since Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas - in joyful expectation more so than in sorrowful penitence.

A few groups of which I've been part throughout my life have celebrated Christmas after the holiday break (from work or school), but the vast majority of even Catholic groups celebrate before the holiday.  After spending this Advent almost completely out of touch with any holiday celebrations, I'm beginning to think this is more than just conforming to the secular holiday culture.

First problem: This Advent has not felt like Advent.  Sure, I've been doing the Jesse Tree on my own, and we've been praying Lauds and Vespers in common, and I've gone out of my way to wear the appropriate liturgical color each Sunday (epic win!), but it simply hasn't felt like Advent.  My Christmas shopping has been done gradually.  I've only listened to Christmas music on occasion (in an effort to keep myself from getting sick of it before Christmas came).  I've done no decorating.  My Christmas cards are not yet written (because I don't want them to arrive in Advent).  And I've been to a grand total of two parties.  It does not feel like we are approaching Christmas.

Second problem: I'm focused on Advent-not-Christmas.  As a result, I've been hesitant to wish people a Merry Christmas - whether they're people I know and see regularly or total strangers at the mall - which does little to support the celebration of Christmas or put anyone in a Christmas mood.  Even upon leaving school for the break, I felt no compunction about wishing people a happy new year, but had to force myself to say "Merry Christmas!"

Third problem: It's perfectly natural to meet and greet and wish people well in the weeks before Christmas.  There are some people with whom you'll part ways before the holidays, and others whom you won't see until the holidays; in both cases one wants to celebrate with such people and wish them the best.  The weeks leading up to Christmas are a perfectly natural time in which to reminisce and celebrate with those people who are close to your heart but are not the family with whom you spend the feast day itself.

Fourth problem: We have a hard time celebrating things for a long time.  I don't know how much of this is innate to the human psyche as opposed to twenty-first century American culture, but anticipation builds toward a major event and then dies down much more slowly.  That is to say: it seems to be easier to celebrate "Christ is coming!" for the whole month of December than to celebrate "Christ is here!" for the whole month of January.  Certainly this is aided by the fact that our society plays Christmas music and displays Christmas decorations on that time schedule, but I wonder whether this is something deeper than a societal disorder...

* * *

It's now Christmas Eve (I wrote most of the above yesterday).  After watching Christmas movies with my friends and sister (four in the past twelve hours), wrapping Christmas presents, and eating Christmas Eve dinner with my family, I am beginning to feel like it's time for Our Lord to be born.  Advent still felt too brief, but the calendar marches inexorably on, and the holidays come anyway.  I suppose my challenge now is to live out the other side of the coin: to keep the Christmas spirit even after the octave has ended. 

Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis . . . Cantate Domino canticum novum quia mirabilia fecit!

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