Monday, December 27, 2010

six geese a-laying

It recently occurred to me that I was literally born to celebrate Christmas in the traditional order. What do I mean? Well, let me start with the order. These days, the Christmas season starts sometime in November. I suppose at this point, you'd have to say the "traditional" start is black Friday. Curmudgeons grumble when decorations and piped-in Christmas carols appear before Thanksgiving. The proper start is to haul out the decorations the weekend after, get a live tree if that's your thing, and start shopping, baking, etc. It's the season of church and office parties, all leading up to the main event on December 25. Once the presents are opened, food is packed away, and guests have gone home, it's time to take down the decorations. If you're especially lazy or busy traveling, you might let things go until New Year's.

But it wasn't always that way. We still sing about 12 days of Christmas. Some of us might even have a vague awareness of the Twelfth Night--either as a Shakespearean title or as a geeky excuse to drag out the Renaissance Fair costumes in winter. But what does it mean? 12 days, staring from December 25; that takes you to January 5. Why? Because Epiphany (Theophany in the East) falls on January 6--the next big feast on the calendar ends the Christmas season. Note: the traditional season does not end but starts on December 25. Formally, it ends at Epiphany, but in some places the celebration can actually extend into February.

Traditionally, the season before Christmas Day was Advent--the preparation for the feast. Instead of a month of lesser parties, Christmas songs, and shopping, you had 40 days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. It was a preparation of the heart for the feast. This is still a common observance among Eastern Orthodox. Among Western Christians, there is sometimes the positive spiritual preparation of the Advent Wreath. I've even spoken with at least one person who knew about an ascetic pre-Christmas season that might preclude listening to Christmas music. I don't think he was Orthodox--perhaps there are vestiges in Roman Catholic practice as well.

But generally speaking, the greatest hardship of the Advent Fast these days is how it runs counter to what everyone else is doing. For a month leading up to Christmas, you must politely abstain from offered foods or other aspects of our culture's pre-celebration. Then, the day finally arrives, and once again you're out of sync. You're finally ready to celebrate, but everyone else wants to put away the decorations and move on to something else.

Fortunately, there is New Year's Eve, which we can all celebrate together. (Apologies--and sympathy--to those of you still following the Julian calendar.) But aside from that, it's hard--especially for an introvert like me--to keep the celebration going on my own. Having visiting family helps--you retain something of a festive atmosphere just because you're together with those you don't see often.

But the point of all this is that my birthday also helps. I was born on the sixth day of Christmas, so I get the advantage of an extra excuse to celebrate. This realization not only encourages me in my feeble attempts to do something with the season; it's also a positive spin on something I've long lamented--the fact that my birthday comes so close to Christmas. And I'm happy to sacrifice December 30 as "my day," if it contributes to his.

1 comment:

  1. Good post!! So true!
    And a very happy birthday to you - this Thursday!