On Dec. 26, just after the alarm went off around 6 a.m., I turned on the TV to catch the morning news. I happened to choose WBNG-Binghamton that morning.
Imagine my shock, having just celebrated the first day of Christmass, to hear the news anchor announce, in no uncertain terms, “Now that Christmas is over,” and go on to tell viewers how to get rid of their Christmas trees!
OK, I understand he was just doing a community service, and that various jurisdictions had set up tree collections soon after Dec. 25. Still, as a pastor who encourages the celebration of the full 12 days of Christmass and then Epiphany, it was disconcerting to hear a well-meaning but ill-informed newsman tell his listeners that the whole thing was over, done, finished. Time to take down the tree, pack away the decorations and turn off the lights!
Later that day, I called the station. The morning anchor was long since gone, but a pleasant yet argumentative young man answered the phone. When I told him I was calling to let them know the morning guy was “factually inaccurate,” he got defensive.
“Well,” he said confidently, “for most people, Christmas IS over!”
I acknowledged that, in the secular way of thinking, many people start “getting ready” at Halloween (or before!) and are ready for it be done soon after Dec. 25, but for Christians (and the vast majority of the country still claims Christian faith) Christmass begins Dec. 25 and lasts a full 12 days.
Had he ever heard of the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” I asked? In his best newsman tone, he harrumphed, “we don’t go by a Christmas carol; we go by the calendar!”
I mentioned that my family will keep its Christmas tree up through January (at least until Feb. 2 — Groundhog’s Day, but in the church known as Candlemass and also The Presentation of Our Lord, see Luke 2). He “tsked tsked” that it was “dangerous” to keep up trees too long, as they could be a fire hazard and gave off allergens!
I said that we water it daily, have never had a problem with it (we don’t place it near the fireplace or furnace), and don’t sneeze any more than normal. In the end, we more or less agreed to disagree.
Maybe he’s right, in a way. Sadly, for many, what passes for “Christmas” ends when the gifts are opened, the last piece of pie is eaten and the relatives and friends, thankfully, go home. But not even in the “commercial Christmas” world is that entirely true.
Christmas sales are continuing right into the new year. The Hallmark channel is continuing its Christmas movie marathon, and now that some of my holiday craziness is over, I can even enjoy watching them with my wife. And many homes and other places still have decorations and lights up and lit.
Even President Obama, “after” Christmas this past week, in discussing his concern that federal supplemental unemployment benefits were lapsing, referenced “Christmas” as a bad time of the year to do this.
It’s also true that with many families having members spread out all over, there are Christmas gatherings still occurring right through the new year and beyond.
And for Christians, it’s the Epiphany of Our Lord on Jan. 6, when the Wise Men arrived bearing richly symbolic gifts (another carol, “We Three Kings,” tells that part of the story; see Matthew 2) when the gift-giving and receiving ought really to begin!
The early Christians didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth for the first three centuries of the church’s life. It was the resurrection following the crucifixion that was crucial and trumped everything else in history.
Only then in retrospect did Jesus’ birth begin to gain in observance. And since no one knew for sure when the birth had occurred, the Dec. 25 date was chosen for theological reasons.
In the Roman Empire, with its winter solstice festival to bring back the sun, early Christians found a fitting time to celebrate the birth of God’s true son, whose incarnation brings the light of God’s love into our dark and weary world. How appropriate to celebrate with candles, lights, decorated trees and wreaths, and the giving of gifts, to annually welcome the gift of the child!
You’ve probably noted that I’ve spelled “Christmas/s” in this essay with both one and two “s”. Intentionally so. The original and spelling is with double “s” for “Christ Mass”: the service of holy communion at the celebration of the birth of Immanuel (“God with us!”). He is the true light which lightens the darkness of our lives.
And so, if “Christmas is over” as the newsman said, then we are left with just the darkness, the dreariness, the depressing seasonal affective disorder of seemingly endless winter.
If some want to start “preparing” at Halloween, so be it. But it is NOT over on Dec. 25 by any means. So keep the trees up and lit (the earliest they should come down is on Epiphany, Jan. 6), the decorations hung, and the good wishes and carols joyously ringing as long as you can through winter’s dark days! And while you’re at it, if you’re so minded, call WBNG at 729-8812 and tell them that, for you, Christmass is NOT over!
Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorPaul R. Messner is pastor of the Otsego County Lutheran Parish.