It’s December 29th and our halls are still decked. All of our Christmas lights are hanging proudly outside. Our tree still stands, fully decorated, with more than a week to go before it comes down. Am I just too lazy to bother with it? Normally the answer to the “too lazy” question would be a hearty YES, but not in this case. No, our house remains decorated a week into the new year for two reasons – one important to our family, the other important to our faith.
First, we start late and I like to get a good month out of the decor I spend so much time putting out. My oldest is a December baby and two of the most exciting days of the year for a kid happen practically back-to-back for him. He was actually due on December 25th – so I guess it could be worse – but as it is his special day usually competes with holiday parties and Santa appearances. As a result, we don’t decorate at all until after his birthday (or after his party, if we host it in our home), so there is at least a little segregation between the two events. This year we didn’t even buy our Christmas tree until December 12th, and didn’t decorate it until the 15th. Ten days of pine-scented, tinselly goodness just isn’t enough time.
On the first day of Christmas…
The second reason, the really important reason, is historical. Christmas doesn’t actually start the day after Thanksgiving and end on December 26th. That’s how it works in the retail world, a world where Christmas is a time for boosting sales and spending as much as your credit limit will allow. To me, that is a very sad, cynical view of the season and one that focuses on all the wrong things. Instead, religiously Christmas starts on December 25th, the first day of Christmastime for Catholics and most Eastern Orthodox religions. It starts on the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, the first day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The four weeks leading up to the 25th is actually a time of anticipation, as we wait for the Light of Christ to enter our world.
O come, Emmanuel
Visit a Catholic church during Advent and you will see a stark church with very few adornments. Purple accents will be placed here and there – purple traditionally being the color of royalty and used during Advent to announce the coming of the King of Kings – but very few flowers or other decorations will be seen. But visit on Christmas and the days leading to Epiphany Day and you will see a church in full regalia – decorated trees, nativities, wreaths and candles abound as we celebrate Christ made man.
We three kings
This celebration lasts through January 6th – Epiphany Day – the day we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men to Christ. A religiously significant holiday, Epiphany really doesn’t get its due respect by most. Christmas Day celebrates the Light of Christ arriving on Earth, but Epiphany Day celebrates that Light being seen by the world. Prior to Epiphany Day only a select few had witnessed the Christ child. Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, his flock – but really no one knew He had arrived. Then come the Magi, three wise men – kings themselves – who went initially as nonbelievers seeking proof. Traditionally the three were a Greek, a Hindu and an Egyptian, following the Star to the Christ child. Once they arrived and witnessed first-hand God made man, they took this knowledge with them back to their kinsmen – the Light of Christ spreading through the occupied areas of Earth at that time.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
For Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and others, Christmas doesn’t end until the word begins to be spread. Until the Good News of Christ starts making it’s way out to the masses. Until the twelve days have passed and Epiphany Day has arrived. Christmas should be about Christ, about the miracle His love for us provides, the redemption we ultimately receive because of His sacrifice on the cross. The season tends to get overshadowed by the gift giving and getting (another throwback to the gifts of the Magi) – which is fun, but not the reason for the season.
So, when you pass my house on January 5th and my lights are still proudly glowing, if you get in my car and I’m still blasting “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, if you stop by and see my tree still up and my nativities still on display – know it’s my way of outwardly continuing to celebrate the birth of Christ and the light of love His birth shined on the world. It isn’t just me being lazy.
Me still in my jammies at 3pm on the 5th is an entirely different story though…