When Does Christmas Begin ... and End?
Much of what we learned during the Advent Season was intended to undo some of our common misconceptions about the birth of Christ. For instance, I often emphasized how our Nativity Scenes tend to compress all the events of the birth of Christ into one scene even though the wise men likely didn’t come to visit the infant Jesus until at least a couple of months after his birth. But there are additional aspects surrounding how we celebrate Jesus’ birth that might need some recalibration.
For example, within the church calendar, we have four Sundays of Advent where we anticipate the birth of Jesus. Meanwhile, in the secular world, some radio stations begin playing Christmas music as early as October, and, within our consumeristic culture, early November also marks the beginning of commercials aimed at the Christmas shopper. But what all this amounts to is that Christmas is celebrated with a great big build-up that ends with a sudden stop.
Once Christmas day is over, and all the presents are opened, people (Christian or otherwise) seem to act as if it is time to move on. It is to this concern that I would suggest we need to rethink how we are going about this. Many saints who have gone before us within the ancient historic Christian church have regarded Christmas Day as the beginning of the celebration rather than the end. We, ourselves, even unwittingly, sing about this: The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” isn’t about the twelve days leading up TO Christmas Day; rather, it’s talking about the twelve days following Christmas – from December 25 to January 6. Our brethren in the Greek and Eastern Orthodox Church actually designate January 7 as the penultimate day in which they celebrate the birth of Jesus. Now, I’m not going to suggest that we need to change the day in which we celebrate the birth of Christ, but I do want to stress that we are mistaken if we treat the celebration of Jesus’ birth as something that comes to a screeching halt once the clock strikes 12:00 AM on December 26.
This is why, this coming Sunday, a full two weeks after Christmas Day 2016, we will worship by singing, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. And this is why, come December 26, 2017, we’re going to leave the Christmas lights and decorations and white banners up for a couple more weeks beyond December 25th, not because of laziness (as if no one had the time to take such ornamentations down) but because the birth of Christ our Redeemer is worthy of a celebration well beyond Christmas Day itself. If it really is true that Jesus is our Immanuel - God With Us, Pleased as Man with men to dwell. then we have reason to continue that ongoing celebration in our worship and our calendar.