We hear so much today about “The War on Christmas.” There is certainly a war going on that involves Christmas, but in my book, Christmas is prosecuting a war on the season of Advent. And Christmas is winning.
Those of you who have lived in one of the more liturgical Christian traditions probably know something about the season of Advent. If your experience is anything like mine was when growing up as a Lutheran, Advent was that time of December when everyone sang Christmas carols, ate the sweet treats that friends and families made for one another, and decorated the house. Oh yes, there was that funny little wreath with the one pink and three purple candles that some folks set out. I never really got that part.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Advent is a four week season of the liturgical calendar that precedes Christmas. The idea is that it is a season of waiting and of preparation. The Messiah is on the way, but we have to be patient as well as to prepare ourselves for the big day by ramping up our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Then comes Christmas day, which begins the great celebration which lasts for several days. You might remember that song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?
Had I grown up Catholic, I might have had a fuller understanding of Advent. OK, had I grown up Catholic and a generation or two earlier than I did. I used to hear my mother-in -law recall her childhood during the years of the Great Depression. In her family, Advent was spent getting ready for the holiday. The family would wait until Christmas Eve before putting up the Christmas tree, and would then go to midnight mass so as to be there when the whole Christmas season blasted off to a fabulous start.
No more. Many of we “modern traditionalists” bemoan the season of Christmas taking over Thanksgiving and even Halloween, at least in the wonderful world of retail. Forget Advent, it is a cooked goose. For pretty much everyone, the day after Thanksgiving throws a gigantic switch, with starts celebration and merriment everywhere. And shopping, of course. Lots and lots of shopping.
Then Christmas day arrives to great fanfare and flourish. And then . . . [cue crickets]. Just as the Christ child arrives, we entertain for a day and then quickly pack it all up and trot everything back to the basement for another eleven months. And even though we regular people can string the mood out for a few days, it’s not the same, particularly since the stores, TV networks and radio stations look and sound like February or September.
Don’t panic, I am not here to wag my finger at you, even if it does seem like the modern world both starts and finishes Christmas too early. I know that in today’s society (in which the Secular-Retail Complex has halfway managed to hijack the whole season into something barely recognizable to the oldest among us) this ship has sailed. I have lost this war just as much as the war against people saying “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” If you do not understand that last sentence, don’t worry – you are among the victors.
What I am here to suggest is that it is possible to slow things down just a touch. At our house, the tree does not go up right away, one of the few ways that celebration of a Catholic liturgical season works in tandem with my tendencies towards procrastination. It is, however, one of the few times of the year when I can procrastinate with just a touch of triumph. Until I remember that the advent wreath and candles are packed away with the Christmas decorations. Rats.
The other way to emphasize Advent just a bit (and one that I actually do) is through music. A couple of years ago, I came across a group of young nuns in Missouri, who are known as The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. They sing beautifully, and have released several CDs, including one that shares with us the music of Advent.
When I write about muisic, I like to link to pieces that you can hear. Sadly, I could not find any of their Advent CD online to share, but I did find this little video, made shortly before the album’s 2012 release. This video tells us a little about who these sisters are, and gives some background music from that CD, entitled Advent at Ephesus. So, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial, I hope you will click the link above, and get a taste of some of the beautiful music of Advent. Better yet, you have plenty of time to order it online for yourself if you find that it appeals to you.
I did so last year and after sucking the CD into my iPod, have had it playing frequently since the start of December. I have found the sisters’ music a great way to try to escape the hustle, bustle and panic of the modern hyper-kinetic Christmas season and to replace it with the kind of peace and calm that we should be experiencing this time of year. This is the kind of “War on Christmas” that I can get behind.