Christmastide: Keep the Celebration Going

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Before Epiphany comes this year (always on January 6), I had an epiphany about Christmas in America:  we’re bored with Christmas.  There is little to no afterglow in the days following Christmas. Most Americans have turned the page on Christmas celebrations by the time they wake up to morning coffee on December 26.  What do I find on my local newspaper sit when I flip open the Mac on the morning of the 26th?  This:  “Looking to recycle your Christmas tree?”  When was this posted?  A quick glance to the article banner shows the posting time:  4 a.m. on December 26th. Ah, yes, journalists know their cities as well as anyone, and they know that Knoxville is done with Christmas.  Radio stations have deleted their holiday playlists. Chores and to-do lists become the order of the week with piles of wrapping paper and dozens of cardboard boxes to be thrown away.  In typical American fashion, we check the item marked “Christmas” on our to-do list and look to the next thing on the calendar.  But when the cultural schedule tires of the holiday season, the Christian calendar indicates that Christmas has just begun.  Twelve days of celebration and joy are prepared, the increasing light of God’s entrance into the world, and our culture is too tired or bored to notice the rest of Christmastide.

Here is the most irritating instruction in the celebration of Christmastide: the Church encourages us to rest from unnecessary labor.*  How obnoxious.  Surely a conspiracy is afoot.  For twelve days we’re off the hook from frivolous labor?  Yes, and God is ok with this.  He even wants this for us.  He wants something even more than rest from work:  he wants us to continue celebrating the birth of his Son.  We have become so accustomed to toil and hard work that God wants us to exhale from all that tires us unnecessarily, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  These twelve days are a glimpse of the days when there will be neither toil nor grueling work, when we will enjoy an unending celebration in the Son’s new heaven and earth.

Beyond these twelve days, the Epiphany seasons awaits, too.  Do a little bit of math by adding the twelve days of Christmas to all the days of Epiphany and you have forty days of celebrating the nativity and childhood of Jesus.  This isn’t meant to be a chore.  It’s supposed to be a relief.  Peace on earth, goodwill to you, that kind of thing.  Anytime there are forty days of fasting and repentance, there are always forty days of celebration following.  For Advent’s four weeks of waiting, there are forty days of Christmas and Epiphany.  For Lent’s forty days of fasting and repentance, there are forty days of Easter (and an extra ten until Pentecost, for good measure) for celebrating the risen Christ.  Many of us have become well-familiar with focusing on our sin and all that needs repentance.  But these seasons in the Christian year are given to us so that we might become more accustomed to joy.

Do you like a good story?  Try listening to “Good King Wenceslaus” on December 26th, a story remembering the Feast of St. Stephen.  What about that left over wine from pre-Christmas celebrations?  Well, December 27th is a day to bless the wine in your house.  St. John’s feast day is celebrated on the 27th and a legend is told that he once unknowingly drank a poisoned cup of claret with no ill effects.  Despite the plotting of his enemies to take his life, John died in exile according to God’s timing, not man’s.  John will forever be known as the “disciple of love,” for love is the major theme of his writings.

The Christian year is doing its best to make sure you’re not bored in Christmastide.  If you enjoy a glass of vino, there’s even a recipe for a drink called “St. John’s Love.”  You already have these ingredients from gingerbread cookies, so get the spices back out again and enjoy your favorite vintage.

Photo by Mareina.
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St. John’s Love (serves 8)**

1 quart red wine 
3 whole cloves
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar

Even on a very dark day, December 28th, when Christians remember all the infant boys who were killed by King Herod, the church turns curses into blessings.  Fathers are encouraged to pray blessings over their children, a practice that is, sadly, too neglected.  Another custom centers around the honoring of the youngest child in the family.  The youngest child in the household is allowed to choose the food, music, activities for the entire family on December 28th.  Ok, this is my daily reality with Madeleine, but you get the point.  It’s everything a child wants on their birthday and more.  Maybe this reinforces the entitlement within youngest children, but at least it’s only one day.  But it’s a holy day that gives us a holy way of honoring and blessing children in a world of cursing.  No chore is more urgent than blessing the children in our lives.  

I haven’t even begun to mention what awaits Christians after December 28th, but maybe I’ve given you a reason to keep your tree upright and away from the green incinerator.  So spread the love this Christmastide.  Celebrate like a child.  None of us should be done celebrating yet; there’s 36 more days of celebrating ahead of us. Just don’t go back to life as usual.  How boring is that?

* Check out this website for more reading on a Christmastide; these readings certainly influenced my thoughts above.  
**Gotta show some love to the people who introduced me to St. John’s Love