I only learned within the past ten years about how the Advent and Christmas seasons have traditionally been observed in the Church’s liturgical year. And I’m guessing there are many others who are as in the dark about this topic as I was. To share what I’ve learned, I’ve written several times in different blogs about observing Advent and the Christmas season (as in this recent post). The post you are reading is a collection of snippets from other posts I’ve published about the season.
Following is an example about how treasuring Advent has led me to a deeper joy when Christmas comes, which is an excerpt from a Christmas letter I posted at my blog catholicpunditwannabe.blogspot.com in 2009.
Thoughts About Celebrating the “Holiday Season”
It seems to me that the ‘holiday season’ is celebrated almost in a frenzy. Besides the frantic ‘holiday’ shopping (which usually includes many personal purchases–retailers count on them!) we engage in the constant creation of, purchase of, and indulgence in ‘holiday foods and beverages,’ accompanied by the din of ‘holiday songs.’
The intoxication comes to a screeching halt on the actual day of Christmas. As soon as the profit motive dries up, the frenzy stops, and a blessed peace descends.
The good news is the less I decorate and the more I avoid holiday celebrations, the more I treasure the four week cycle of Advent. I get thrilled by the Advent readings in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Masses, which remind me of the Love that was behind the First Coming and will be behind the anticipated Second Coming of Christ.
My partially self-chosen poverty of having an undecorated house, eating a minimum of pre-Christmas treats, avoiding holiday parties and cookie exchanges and the like, all lead me to a deeper joy when the penitential season of Advent is over and when finally we reach the proper time to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Baby God. The Church gives us a long time to celebrate, until Candlemas on Feb. 2, during which time we can have our decorations and our feasting, for 40 whole days. In this and many other areas of life, it seems to me, waiting and self control only makes the satisfaction deeper and more meaningful. And that alone, after all, might be a very good reason for keeping Advent.”
Here’s another bit along the same lines from my personal blog at Christmas: It’s Not Over Till It’s Over:
Christmas is a season, not a day.
In spite of what most people seem to think, the time before Christmas is not the Christmas season. On Christmas Day, the season is actually just beginning.
In the culture at large, the weeks before Christmas are a time for celebration, with lots of excitement from the Christmas music, lights, decorations, and parties.
In the Church year, the four weeks before Christmas are a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth, a time of sober waiting. These four weeks of waiting start on the first Sunday of December and are called Advent, which means “coming.” Advent is so important to the Church that it is the start of the liturgical year. During Advent, we anticipate the celebration of the First Coming of Christ that starts on Christmas Day, and we also are reminded to be ready for Christ’s expected Second Coming at the end of the world. The Advent vestments are purple, the color of penance. The Christmas vestments are gold or white, to show our joy.
It seems to me that to observe the real spirit of the season, Christians should only start the singing of Christmas hymns and carols on Christmas Day, and hold off on the decorations and the parties until then. The festivities can then continue throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas up to the Feast of the Epiphany. Or even longer.
The Twelve Days of Christmas end January 5. The Epiphany, which is also called the Feast of the Wise Men, is celebrated on January 6. At my house, the wise men finally arrive at my manger scene on January 6 after they have been wandering around the living room ever since the creche was put up.
But Christmas is not over even at Epiphany.
In the traditional liturgical year, the Christmas season ends forty days after it starts, on February 2, on a feast day that has been called many names because it celebrates many things. The feast has been called Candlemas because candles are blessed at the Masses that day. The Purification of Our Lady in the Temple is a second name. In the Jewish religion, a woman presented herself for purification at the temple forty days after the birth of a male child. The Presentation of the Child Jesus is the current title of the feast. When Christ was carried into the Temple forty days after His birth to be dedicated to God as required by Jewish Law for every firstborn son, He was recognized by an old man named Simeon and by an old woman named Anna, who had been waiting years for His coming. In some traditions, the feast is also called The Meeting because of Christ’s meeting with the prophet Simon and the prophetess Anna.
These thoughts just skim the surface of all the rich symbolism and significance of these feasts. And there are several more feasts during this time that I don’t have time to go into now.
The point to remember is that the Catholic Church dedicates a long time, the symbolically important number of forty days, to the celebration of Christmas, and, contrary to public opinion, the celebration does not end on December 25.
And here is yet another snippet from another post last year on this blog: February 2 A Feast of Manifestation, Purification, and Candles:
Differences of opinion about when Christmas actually ends are nothing new. For example, here is a poem from colonial Williamsburg:
When New Year’s Day is past and gone;
Christmas is with some people done;
But further some will it extend,
And at Twelfth Day their Christmas end.
Some people stretch it further yet,
At Candlemas they finish it.
The gentry carry it further still
And finish it just when they will;
They drink good wine and eat good cheer
And keep their Christmas all the year.
The gentry in the poem were missing the point: by drinking and eating as if it were Christmas all year, they weren’t celebrating the feast of Christmas any more, just gormandizing. Just like we moderns do . . .. But at least none of the people in the poem would be likely to take the Christmas tree down and throw it out the day after Christmas. They’d hold out at least until January 2, “When New Year’s Day is past and gone.”
And finally, there’s this from another Dappled Things blog post of mine from last year On the Thirteenth Day of Christmas 20 + K + M + B + 14:
Parting Thoughts about Christmas, from a Surprising Source
I came across the following apt observations about how Christians should celebrate Christmas, at an atheist website, of all places:
“Conservative evangelical Christians complain about people taking the “Christ” out of Christmas, but they seem to forget that they have already taken the “Mass” out of Christmas (Mass being a service including Holy Communion). When was the last time a prominent figure on the Christian Right has argued that Americans should remember to attend Mass on this Holy Day? . . . This is just one of many masses that have been excised from the season. . . . So, the next time a Christian insists that we put the Christ back in Christmas, tell them that they should also:
· Put the Mass back in Christmas
· Restore Candlemas
· Restore the Feast of the Epiphany
· Restore the Advent season
· Restore gift-giving to the real Christmas season, which occurs after Christmas day
· Don’t put up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve — if at all
· Use Christmas as a day of contemplating Christ, not for engaging in commerce”
When I write about this topic, I am trying to correct misunderstandings and to help other people grasp the beautiful significance of feasts that has been obscured in a commercially oriented secular Christmas. I hope to bring to light and show off some riches from the treasury of the Church’s traditional observation, to give to others some glimpses of the joys of Christmas that they may have never seen before, joys that can only be experienced fully by humbly observing the sober time of preparation that the Church calls Advent.
To close, I want to give G. K. Chesterton and Fr. George Rutler the last words, from a sermon Fr. Rutler prepared for the Second Sunday of Advent.
FROM THE PASTOR
December 7, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler
It would be hard to think of any writer in the last several generations who celebrated Christmas as heartily as G. K. Chesterton. It was precisely because of this, and not in spite of it, that he said with a severity not characteristic of his benign personality: “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes.”
Dangerous, that is, because the rush neglects the deepest mysteries of life which are the stuff of Advent meditations: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell; and by that neglect we are abandoned to a life of anxiety, unable to know why we were made or what we are to become. Disgusting, that is, because rushing Christmas spoils the appetite for higher things and tries to replace holy joy with entertainments that quickly become boring.