It’s time. Time to join my liturgical compatriots in our annual, tired lament about the proliferation of “Christmas” junk which barrages our senses, as my colleague Timothy Brunk recently noted, nearly three weeks before Thanksgiving.
What tipped me off this year? Was it the massive display of blow-up Christmas-y inflatables at our local “home goods” store [find the hidden toddler]? Was it the most frightening iteration of a Christmas tree I’ve ever seen [see below]? Was it the neighbor’s display of life-size glitter-bedecked deer, jousted into their front yard? (And we’re not talking one deer, here. We’re talking about a herd, accompanied by floodlights, just in case you missed them.)
Which one of these “things” reminded me of the impending doom of the secularized christmas season doesn’t really matter. In fact, I don’t think it even matters whether or not we bother with the liturgists’ yearly, ritualized dismay over the loss of Christ’s Nativity or the steamrolling of our patient season of Advent. The strife is o’er and the battle won…won by the dying mall—the elf on the shelf—and the peppermint mocha-flavored beverage I’m enjoying as I’m writing this.
I’d like to propose something radically different—that we give up on Christmas. Give it up completely—give it over hedonism and holiday shoppers. They already have it anyway.
See, now don’t you feel better?
Now, I can’t take complete credit for this glorious suggestion. I came upon the idea during a recent conversation with my spiritual director (yes, a Benedictine!). When I began to whine about how much I hate Christmas presents, my spiritual director suggested this bold plan: Let “them” have Christmas. Let’s borrow a leaf from our Orthodox brothers and sisters—let’s celebrate Epiphany instead!!!
I’m not entirely sure what such a practice would look like in the Western church—would we still have really weird caricatures of St. Nicholas, most of whom vaguely look like the 1930s ad for soda pop? Would we still watch the best Christmas movie ever [Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, of course!]? Would we still watch a crazed crowd of “Creasters” show up in parishes on Epiphany Eve but miss the evangelical call to come back in Ordinary time?
Or, would a Western iteration of “Merry Epiphany” take on centuries of cultural and para-liturgical customs already practiced around the world, with parades, gifts, and beautiful holiday breads? Those of us exposed to a mainstream, commercialized America may forget that, not only do our Eastern brothers and sisters celebrate with great solemnity the Epiphany, but many Western Christians actually still celebrate the end of the octave of Christmas.
So, maybe instead of the same-old diatribe about Advent getting lost in the shuffle and Christmas getting completely hijacked, we can try something new—something that reminds us of the cleansing waters of baptism and the light of Christ which pierces the darkness.
And so, as our Advent weeks approach, a very Merry Epiphany to you, and a Happy New Church Year.