THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: As we enter this Advent season, we are all familiar with the over commercialisation of Christmas that surrounds us this time of year. Every year we hear the slogans "Keep Christ in Christmas." All of this is well intentioned of course, and most certainly admirable. However, I submit to you there is a very easy way for Christians, particularly Catholic Christians, to totally and completely retake Christmas for Jesus Christ, blowing away most excessive commercialisation, in one mighty swoop, that will have an immediate effect on your own family, and a long-term effect on your relatives and neighbours.
How do we do it? It's simple really. All you need to do is resolve with your family to do like the Church, and celebrate the full twelve-days of Christmas!
Yes, it really is that simple. How do I know? Because I did it with my family, and it had an immediate positive effect. Not only that, but when my friends and family learned of us, they were curious, and commented how neat that was and they might try to do the same. You see while we have all been decrying the over commercialisation of Christmas for decades, the solution to the problem has been right under our noses all along, and it just involves going back to our traditional Christians roots -- that's all!
You see, Christmas has always been a twelve-day festival. It is not just a 'day' but a season, marked by the beginning on December 25th with the Feast of the Nativity. This is the date we use to mark the birth of Christ. It ends twelve days later on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. So just as Easter is a three day event, as Triduum, consisting of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, so Christmas is a twelve day event, beginning with Nativity and ending with Epiphany. In the Western Church, the emphasis of this twelve-day feast has always been the Nativity, while in the Eastern Church the emphasis has always been the Epiphany. Granted, in our Western culture, the big hurrah will always be on December 25th -- the Nativity -- but that doesn't mean the celebration should stop there. A century ago, the celebration of the twelve days of Christmas was still commonplace, and it could be once again. We are all familiar with the song entitled the 'Twelve Days of Christmas.' What we may not be familiar with is the fact this this song was first published in AD 1780 and is most likely French Catholic in origin. It is also a musing on the typical celebration of the Christmas festival that was commonplace during that time. Today however, many people aren't even sure what these 'twelve days' are, and while I was a Protestant, I remember listening to some Protestant pastors theorise that the whole 'twelve days' is most likely a myth, as they could find no textual evidence of a twelve-day celebration leading up to Christmas. It's a sad commentary on just how far our society has fallen away from its Christian roots. These pastors I overheard years ago, made the common mistake of thinking December 25th was supposed to be the finale to the 'twelve days,' when in fact, it has historically been just the starting point. Perhaps if these pastors had just reversed their thinking a little, and started counting the days after Christmas instead, they might have had an Epiphany.
Have you ever wondered why traditional manger scenes almost always incorporate the visit of the three wise men (magi)? If you look at the Biblical reference to this event, you will clearly see it had to have taken place months to years after Jesus was born, for it plainly says the Holy Family was living in a 'house' at the time, and refers to Jesus as a 'young child' not an infant....
'And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him' -- Matthew 2:11Based on the following passages concerning the wicked King Herod's dealing with the situation, we can discern that the Christ child was probably between one to two years old at the time of the visit of the wise men....
'Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.' -- Matthew 2:16So if the event of the Nativity (birth of Jesus) was separated by as much as two years from the event of the Epiphany (visit of the wise men), why on earth do we traditionally depict them together in manger scenes around Christmas time? Well the answer to that is simple. Christmas is a twelve day celebration that just begins with Nativity (December 25) and ends with Epiphany (January 6), thus the traditional manger scene (which includes the wise men) attempts to visually capture the meaning of the full twelve-day Christmas celebration from beginning to end.
Christmas is now, and has always been, a twelve-day celebration. This cultural reality is evident in the liturgical calendar of the Church, but was lost to Western culture at large sometime in the early 20th century. It began with the commercialisation of Christmas when large retailers decided it would make things easier for them if holiday shoppers would hurry up and get all their Christmas shopping done BEFORE the end of the year. That way, they could close the fourth quarter with retail sales up, and thus give a rosy report to the company share holders at the beginning of the new year. This of course would require some cultural behaviour modification, and that of course was accomplished by simply putting a heavy emphasis on the Christmas Eve Santa Claus legends that had already become popular by that time. Immediately, large retailers began promoting the Santa Claus legends, which of course put an extremely heavy emphasis on the evening before December 25, and that in turn put a lot of pressure on parents to get their holiday shopping done before that date, so as to surprise their children with all the gifts brought by 'Santa Claus' on Christmas morning. The marketing strategy worked like a charm, and in fact it worked so well, that it actually had the cultural effect of coaxing Western Christians into forgetting the whole twelve-day celebration entirely. Instead, the emphasis would focus on one single day -- December 25 -- which effectively became a Christmas deadline for gift giving!
So how do we change it all back? How do we retake Christmas for Jesus Christ? As I said, it's simple really. All we have to do is start celebrating the twelve-days of Christmas again. This can be done in multiple ways, and I leave it to your own family traditions to work out, but in my family, this is what we do.....
- We tell all of our family and friends that we are celebrating the full twelve-days of Christmas, sometimes educating them as to what that means as we spread the word.
- We keep the Christmas lights and decorations up until at least January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.
- We continue playing Christmas music in the house and car during that full time, but we like to use choir and instrumental music instead, rather than the commercial carols that are so overplayed during Advent season. This provides an acoustic break from commercialisation, with a refocus on Jesus who is the reason for the season.
- We stagger the gift-giving and stocking stuffing throughout the twelve days. Each day the kids don't know what they're going to get. Are they going to dig into their stocking for a handful of candy, or find a present under the tree? They won't know until they wake up each morning to check and see. Granted this does feed into the commercialisation a bit, but we've found it has some positive effects. First, it eliminates the post Christmas-morning blues, wherein kids are overstimulated by the number of presents they receive and don't know what to do afterwards. Second, it keeps the magic alive for twelve full days. Third, it blows up the Santa Claus myth, or at least significantly reduces it, relegating it to a much smaller role. We taught our kids about the real St. Nicholas anyway, so it really doesn't matter to us. Fourth, it completely eliminates the December 25 deadline, and turns it into a starting point, wherein if people want to give gifts, they have a full twelve days to do it in, and there is no rush. My cousin recently contacted me with an apology about his Christmas gift to my kids being late. I informed him there was no such thing as 'late' in our house, since we celebrate all twelve days, and his gift will be perfectly 'on time' at any point during those twelve days. He was both relieved and intrigued by our method of celebration.
- We go to mass on many of the appointed feast days during this twelve-day celebration.
- We spend time reading to the kids about the Biblical Christmas and teaching them about the meaning. The extra eleven days gives us plenty of time to get this done, and it also affords the children plenty of time to learn and reflect on these things.
- On the last day, the feast of the the Epiphany, we ask our children what they would like to offer to Jesus as their 'treasures.' Sometimes it's money out of the piggy bank for a tithe offering. Sometimes it's older toys for charity for needy children. Either way, the celebration begins with children receiving gifts, bringing focus on the gift of Jesus Christ that comes from God, and ends with them giving gifts to back to Jesus, in one way or another.
- Of course we also spend this time visiting with family and friends.