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The Christmas Dilemma: An Elegant Solution

21 Dec

The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas.
~ G.K. Chesterton

1950 Merry Christmas grandma... PlymouthIt’s December 21, and we just today procured our Christmas tree – finally!

Considering that most families have had their trees up and decorated since late November, you’d think we were just über-cheapskates who stall until merchants start giving them away free. Or, worse, maybe we’re somehow anti-Christmas – a household of Scrooges muttering “Bah” and “Humbug” at every turn.

Nope, innocent on both counts – we’re actually Christmas spendthrifts and fanatics! Untold number of decorations, special linens, and other seasonal paraphernalia are starting to reappear after their yearlong absence, and I know we’ll be buying more – we always do! And not only do we relish the celebrations, we like to let them linger as long as possible into the new year. In fact, if it were up to me, we’d leave a Nativity scene set up on the mantle year round to foster a perpetual yuletide groove – why be extravagantly cheerful and generous once a year?

Nevertheless, in terms of Christmas trees, we’re almost always the last ones on the block to get one, and it’ll stay bare until Christmas Eve. We’ll decorate it that night before departing for Midnight Mass, and we’ll spread out the gifts underneath when we return. Then – and here’s the real kicker – we’ll leave the decorated tree up until well into January!

This is the heart of what I call the “Christmas dilemma” – a phenomenon Catholic parents know all too well, and it’s only tangentially related to Santa Claus.

Instead, the Christmas dilemma is rooted in the utter collapse of Advent outside of the liturgy. I mean, you know and I know that Christmas is preceded by four weeks of preparation, and that the eight-day feast itself begins on the evening of December 24th. Likewise, you know and I know that the Christmas season continues on until the Baptism of the Lord – this year falling on Sunday, January 11th. The dilemma, the problem we parents face, is that nobody else knows those things, least of all our children, and the culture at large is determined to keep it that way.

bizholidays-analysis3daConsider the obvious: Wal-Mart and Walgreens start hawking Xmas merchandise as early as Halloween, so our kids are already salivating over holiday treats and gift possibilities long before Advent is even on the liturgical radar. Up next, Thanksgiving – the faux Christmas Eve, with St. Nick himself, sitting atop his Macy’s sleigh/float, ushering in the “real” Christmas season (read: “shopping orgy”).

Then, the High Holy Day itself arrives: Black Friday! With sales and Santa blasting us from dawn until dusk, and omnipresent Christmas music 24/7 on radio and overhead Muzak wherever we go – there’s no escape! Even if conscientious parents want to preserve the Advent illusion throughout the month of December, the schools hammer the Christmas theme from Thanksgiving on, right alongside Target and Kohls and the Chamber of Commerce.

Advent-wise our kids don’t stand a chance, and then December 25th arrives almost as a disappointment – an idea that Dave Barry captures so well:

I really like Christmas Eve. I think I like it even more than Christmas Day. On Christmas Day, you get to open your presents and see what you got, but you also know that Christmas is starting to be over for a year, and by nighttime some of the stuff you got is already broken. On Christmas Eve, all the tree lights are on and carols are playing and people are saying “Merry Christmas,” and everything is about to happen, but it didn’t happen yet. That’s the best time of the year.

christmastreerecycling400And, just in case we didn’t get the point, there’s the holiday coup de grâce: The universal Christmas tree dump on December 26th – the very day that the feasting should just be getting underway. My kids are already pretty sensitive about being Catholic weirdos – Mass obligations on the weekend, confession from time to time, meatless Fridays, movie restrictions (what, no R-rated flicks?!) – so they’re always on the lookout for opportunities to, say, blend in a little more. Putting up the tree in mid-December and then leaving it up until mid-January is like asking for trouble from their vantage point: “Can’t we just be like everyone else for a change?”

What to do? I’ve given it lots of thought, and it occurred to me that the solution has been staring us in the face all along – it’s so obvious, so simple! Yes, it’ll also seem radical – off the wall even – but I’d like to propose it all the same, although I imagine it’ll take some time to implement, and we’ll have to run it past the Roman Curia, if not Pope Francis himself.

Here’s my idea in a nutshell: Let’s admit defeat with regards to Advent, cut our losses, and move the celebration of Christmas to the day after Thanksgiving – genius, right?! Consider the advantages:

  1. On account of the long Thanksgiving weekend, most Americans already have Black Friday off – check! Plus, sane people would welcome an excuse to stay home and away from the malls that day anyway – check, check! And football? Yes, of course. But that comes later in the day, leaving plenty of time for Mass and unwrapping gifts and sharing a cup of cocoa around the fire before the afternoon games begin – check, check, check!
  2. Then, there’s the shopping advantage – I’m no expert, but I’ll bet those October early-bird sales crush the tepid deals you’ll find after turkey day. Moreover, if Advent runs from All Saints until Thanksgiving, you’d be able to actually focus on preparing for Christmas instead of merely enduring what has become a preemptive holiday onslaught.
  3. Finally – and the clincher as far as I’m concerned – a Black Friday Christmas can usher in a true octave of feasting and festivity that accords with what everybody else is already doing! Christmas cookies, secret Santa gift exchanges, holiday parties, and hearty “Merry Christmas!” greetings could be embraced with gusto. We could go caroling – real caroling – any time in December free of liturgical guilt. And, the best part? The tree! We could put up our Christmas trees right after Thanksgiving, and then toss them out on the curbs first thing on St. Stephen’s day, just like the neighbors. No more furtive curtains drawn on our January tinsel and lights, skulking around in the new year with our dried-out Douglas firs. It’ll be “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and all that.

The objections, I know, are legion, but at least we’ve all developed a tolerance for this kind of liturgical shapeshifting – Ascension “Thursdays” celebrated on Sundays is my favorite example.

Anyhow, maybe my proposal could be the basis for further discussion. The key, I think, is to make it easier for American Catholics to practice their faith, don’t you think? Sure, the Holy Father wants us to reject a culture of comfort, but let’s be reasonable. Nobody wants to stick out; better to blend right in – where’s the harm in that?


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