I’m not sure how much of a problem “Christmas fatigue” is here in Phoenix, but it was a real issue in Bethlehem (the “Christmas City”) Pennsylvania. We’d start putting up decorations in the middle of November and then on the day after Thanksgiving, we’d kick the holidays into high gear. There would be busloads of tourists every night to see the sights, horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping up and down the streets, carols playing from the trees along Main Street and special services each weekend for people to attend.
All in all it was rather overwhelming.
But the ironic thing was, with all the preparations and focus on the holiday of Christmas, people still said things like “We do Christmas on Christmas Eve.” or “We did Christmas this morning when the kids came over.” Apparently the months of preparation that went into the making of the family celebration boiled themselves down to about an hour (at best) of “doing Christmas”.
The worst of it was listening to young families compare notes on how they would load the kids up in the car and then spend the 24 hours driving from one parent or grandparent’s house to another, stopping for a few hours at each and trying to bribe the little ones to behave as they were repeatedly packed up and trundled off to another house.
While it may not be a problem here, or the need to compress the “experience” may be less pronounced, I worry that we all still manage to respond in ways small and large to whatever subliminal message it is that forces us to imagine Christmas as an “event” which we “do” at some point between sunset on the 24th and sunrise on the 26th.
I guess it’s this concern that has driven me to my quixotic campaign to insist that Christmas is a season of 12 days and not a single event. It’s the reason that I greet people with a hearty “Merry Christmas” on the 4th and 5th of January. (And receive many raised eyebrows as a result – I think they’re wondering if I’m actually secretly Russian or Greek Orthodox.) And if I could just convince the rest of my immediate family, I’d love for us to give each other one or two gifts a day for the whole of the 12 days. (I try making the suggestion each year, but I keep getting vetoed by our daughter…)
But I have two serious concerns about this as well. First, celebrating the Season as an “event” takes away our chance to recognize that we are really celebrating a fundamental action of God’s reaching out to us as human beings and entering fully into our lives as one of us with the effect of bringing our humanity fully into the God-head. The idea of the infinite becoming finite is so wonderfully paradoxical and so full of meaning and nuance that it deserves to be pondered for a full 12 days and not simply saluted in an hour. By so doing the “hour thing” we miss out on the deeply spiritual meaning and teaching that is contained in the liturgical season.
The other, more practical concern, is that trying to compress two months worth of expectations into a frenzied hour of observance almost always leads to a sense of disappointment, an emotional letdown, and the inevitable question “Is this all then?” People who suffer from depression and anxiety during the holidays are often reacting to the particular experience of emptiness and exhaustion that follows the long long buildup. Helping people manage the post-holiday letdown is one of the most common tasks of the clergy in January and February.
So, perhaps, just maybe, given these real concerns, you might consider joining me in my quest to keep Christmas a season and not a moment. Wise people say that change happens one person at a time. Perhaps a few of us each year, deciding to stretch out the joy a little bit longer each year, can slowly return us to the traditional and deeply spiritual sense of Christmas as a time to be journeyed into and not a thing to be produced.
And perhaps a few more people might join me in saying “Merry Christmas” all the way through to the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6th.
I wish you all a blessed Advent and a long and wonderful Merry Christmas!