According to the Ordo, it is still Christmas: “The Christmas season extends from Evening Prayer I of Christmas through the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, 11 January 2015.”
A few years ago, I happened to visit a nearby mall just prior to Halloween, and I was quite surprised that work crews were already putting up Christmas decorations. As a Christian, let alone a Catholic priest, I found the Christmas décor intrusive and offensive. Soon, malls and other merchants will probably have the Christmas decorations up by Labor Day. Their Justification? “Australia celebrates Christmas in warm weather!” Point. Set. Match.
Although I am offended by the steady consumerist push to make the Christmas season arrive earlier and earlier, until now, I have not really done much about it. This past weekend, however, I preached about the situation, and my message was well-received. One woman even said that she wished I could write it out for her son. When I get such encouragement, I usually take that as a prompting of the Holy Spirit.
This blog entry will not be a recreation of my homily, but I will focus on the idea of Christmas and how American culture celebrates it.
For most Americans in the 21st Century (including a large percentage of Catholics), the Christmas season officially begins on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. Even if people are accustomed to frequenting the mall, and have seen Christmas trees and snowy window-shopping scenes since late October, they “know” that Christmas really does not begin until Black Friday.
Black Friday refers to the ledgers that merchants keep. In the BC era (before computers), shopkeepers used black ink to record profits and red ink to record losses. It was believed that a good start to the Christmas season could put them well into the “black” for the calendar year. Some accounting computer software still uses red and black font colors for profits and losses, but the majority of people under 40 years of age would not really know to what the “black” in Black Friday refers, especially since “black” days on the calendar usually refer to days of disaster. For example, in NFL circles, the Monday after the last day of the regular season is called “Black Monday” because so many coaches, general managers and staffs from losing teams will be fired. Any number of “black” days refer to stock market crashes. At present, in stock market lore, there is a black Monday, Tuesday and Friday. In time, Wednesday and Thursday will likely join their ranks.
It may be an American national characteristic that by and large, we are not terribly inquisitive. How many people would actually care enough about the origins of Black Friday to research it? Perhaps the prevalent “it is what it is” philosophy really should rule the day!
Part of me has just wanted to admit that the battle for the Christmas season is over, and that in America, Christianity has lost. Then I remembered that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and as insignificant as my voice may be out here in the blogosphere, with the help of God’s grace, what I write may prove valuable and even important to some.
As the Ordo states above, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve. The beginning of Christmas has no real relation to the American feast of Thanksgiving, which was proclaimed by George Washington and then reproclamated by Abraham Lincoln. In fact, in 2014, the First Sunday of Advent—the Church’s four-week preparation for Christmas—did not take place until three days after Thanksgiving.
As Catholic Christians it is important for us to realize that American culture has actually tried (rather successfully) to commandeer the Christmas season. Some popular music radio stations play “all Christmas music all the time” from Black Friday through Christmas Day and then the Christmas music stops. Christmas is over, right? Actually, Christmas has just begun.
It is plausible to argue that American culture is now technically “post-Christian.” With this in mind, Catholic Christians— some 60 million strong in the United States—need to be consciously counter-cultural regarding the celebration of Christmas. Becoming less consumeristic and not participating in Black Friday sales is a good starting point. Lately, I have been imagining how different Christmas might be if we, as Catholics, tried to limit our gift-giving to one gift per person. Little did we realize that encouraging children to write to Santa with a “list” of presents they want would later produce adults who may stampede on Black Friday!
If anyone wants to start a “just one present” movement, I will be right behind you. If I knew how to write computer code, I might try to start the movement myself!
Not long ago, I went for a walk on an unusually warm December 26th at a coastal town park in Fairfield County. One of the parking lots at the beach area had been designated as the Christmas tree recycling drop-off point. With a good dose of hyperbole, I was nearly run down by a constant parade of speeding SUV’s. The drivers would race to the drop-off point and pull the tree off the roof or out of the back, unceremoniously toss it on the growing pile, and then speed off again, nearly running me over again for good measure. And I was not even wearing clerics!
Most of these drivers and tree-throwers were men, and they had probably been directed by their wives to the drop-off point. Sadly, many were also likely Catholics. And as far as they were concerned, Christmas was over. To make a sweeping generalization (which I am wont to do), I would imagine that many of these men were “Type A” personalities and naturally task-oriented. The trees had likely been in their homes for about a month, and Christmas was over. The quicker they took down and disposed of the decorations, the more quickly they could get onto the next task, which might include relaxing.
In my first assignment as a priest, one of my Communion calls was to an elderly woman who loved Christmas so much that she kept her apartment in full Christmas display throughout the year. Taking a cue from her, I also keep up a few Christmas decorations year-round. It makes decorating for Christmas easier, and I never need to be too scrupulous about when Christmas is actually over.
As Catholics, it is important for us to realize that Christmas (the Christmas season) really begins on Christmas Eve, and continues this year until January 11, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. How can we become true Christmas activists? My ideas are not exhaustive, and I hope you come up with and implement your own, but we can call or write to radio stations and let them know that we want Christmas music throughout the Christmas season, the real one. We can contact retail and mall managers and let them know that we find Christmas in October offensive. We can try our best to live fully the entire Christmas season. And most importantly, we can try our very best to keep Jesus Christ in Christmas!