January 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Sometime in the middle of the afternoon yesterday I was a little taken aback to see the tip of a blue spruce tree bobbing up and down outside my home office window. However, I wasn’t entirely surprised. On Sunday after church my wife Cassidy had suggested, in what I had mistakenly taken to be a joking manner, that we scour the neighborhood and find a Christmas tree that someone had discarded, and set it up at home.
You see, we had been away for two weeks over Christmas in Oklahoma, visiting Cassidy’s family. So far we’ve spent every one of the three Christmases of our marriage in Oklahoma. Because of this we’ve never had a chance to have our own Christmas tree at home.
Cassidy apparently decided that this year would be different. And when I refused to humor what I took to be a whim, she took matters into her own hands. While she was out shopping yesterday, she found a smallish tree on the side of the road, stuffed it into the trunk of our car, and brought it home. She also picked up a couple sets of colored lights at 75% off.
And so last night, as the spicy smell of spruce filled the living room, we unpacked all of our unused tree ornaments and decorated the tree, while singing along to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra’s Christmas albums. Our one-and-a-half-year-old son “helped” with the decorations, while our five-month-old daughter cooed encouragingly from the sofa. And afterwards, we gathered around the piano and sang more Christmas carols, and drank homemade eggnog. It was a splendid evening.
For most of the Western world this is weird. Christmas is over. It happened on December 25. We should just move on. Stop living in the past.
Of course, this is rubbish. Traditionally, Christmas isn’t just a day - it’s a season. It’s the 12 days of Christmas. And it doesn’t end on December 25 - it begins on that day, and ends on January 6, which has been celebrated for centuries as the feast of the epiphany, or the coming of the magi or wise men.
In some parts of the world, January 6 is the big day for giving gifts, as the culmination of Christmastide. Traditionally feasting and celebrations continued through all the twelve days of the season (The title of Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night” is a reference to the revelries held on the evening of January 5).
Cassidy tells me that in Rome, the Vatican keeps their nativity scene and tree up in St. Peter’s square until February 2 - following a tradition that extends Christmastide all the way until Candlemas, or the feast of the presentation of Christ in the temple.
I attribute the widespread depression and related neuroses around Christmas in part to the fact that there is such an enormous build-up to Christmas, lasting multiple months, during which time we are bombarded with advertisements and music priming us for the big day - and then the day comes, and all of a sudden the whole thing is swept away. We wake up on December 26, and there’s hardly a trace that Christmas ever happened - except for a lurking sense of ennui, indigestion, and the after-Christmas sales.
Put this together with the fact that many people no longer remember what Christmas is supposed to celebrate, and no wonder the “Christmas blues” have become a cliché.
We’re not meant to get to Christmas and then move on. We’re supposed to revel in it. We’re supposed to savor the sense of festivity. God came to earth and was born in the form of a tiny baby in order to reunite us with Himself and to offer us perfect happiness. This isn’t the sort of thing that can be adequately appreciated or celebrated in a single day. It takes a season.
So why not gather with your family tonight and sing some Christmas carols, or together read some Christmas poetry or Christmas stories - like the “Gift of the Magi” by O’Henry, or the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - or listen to the Nutcracker? Make some homemade eggnog, gather around the fireplace (if you have one), and put the troubles of work behind you for an evening. Let the Christmas spirit live on.
Long live Christmas!