by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson
No, I’m not starting my 2015 Christmas list early. I’m still hung up on this past Christmas season, except that we really don’t have a Christmas season any more.
I can hear you gasping. No Christmas season? The stores fill with merchandise before Halloween, and the commercials earlier than that. Christmas trees bloom in parking lots before Thanksgiving. Christmas parties pile on and overlap each other like shingles. It probably won’t be long before Christmas and Back to School start stepping on each other’s toes.
That’s not what I am talking about. Merchandising campaigns are not a season. Christmas is supposed to be about loving and sharing and a celebration of family. (And yes, the religious celebration which is the reason for the season, but I’m not going to preach sectarianism or even doctrine.)
So what am I talking about? Now we have hysterical shopping, multiple parties, frenzied gift wrapping and, the culminating centerpiece, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is anticipation; children determined to go to bed for once (or stay awake and see Santa) and Christmas Day itself is a tsunami of shredded gift wrap and ritualized overeating. Then it’s over. Nothing looks sadder than a Christmas tree, denuded of packages but with its lights still blazing bravely, on the day after Christmas. Within days the tree and the wreaths and the Santas and the creches disappear, packed away until the following year. When I was a child, many people only took down their Christmas decorations on January 6th.
But shouldn’t Christmas be more? More than an extended shopping spree, more than a gift-fest, more than even a day of church services?
To me Christmas transcends its religious affiliations and sacred symbolism. It is a time of hope and love and family and peace. We’re losing that to a mountain of merchandizing and parties. Most religions have some sort of midwinter celebration, a time when the year turns and the days begin to lengthen, bringing back light and warmth and survival. The basic idea seems to be one of renewal, of a restart of the life cycle.
In earlier times there was a lengthy Christmas season. It started with the beginning of Advent around the first part of December and went on until Twelfth Night (sometimes called the Night of Three Kings) which by our calendar is January 6th. When I lived in Mexico, they still kept this schedule. Christmas Day was a time of religious celebration and the exchanging of gifts was done on the 6th of January, when traditionally the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ Child. Incidentally, some of my Mexican friends are now caught between cultures with their children expecting bounty on both Christmas Day and the Night of Three Kings! The appeal of marketing wins again.
So what am I dithering about? Basically it is this : Christmas should be a season of joy, of peace, of fellowship and goodwill – things people can and should enjoy whatever their religion. While gifts are important, they and their attendant marketing should not be the sole focus of the season. I would like to see the Christmas season – with its joy and peace and all that – be extended from the beginning of Advent to Twelfth Night. Not more presents, nor more parties, just more good feeling and fellowship. We can only benefit.