It seems like every year Christmas is arriving earlier and earlier, and I don’t mean December 25th. Christmas is beginning to arrive in stores in October! It is not uncommon anymore for the Christmas aisle to be put up at the same time as the Halloween aisle our extern sisters tell us.
We’ve always lamented the lack of Christmas music during the actual Christmas season and its prevalence during Advent. Any sister having to go out to the doctor’s any time after Thanksgiving knew she’d be bombarded with Christmas…but now even the Christmas music has begun before Advent, before December, before Thanksgiving!
For some people, this is a wonderful thing. It is extending ‘the season’, the ‘Christmas spirit.’ For others it is an annoyance. For those who will be missing loved ones it may be a sad reminder. But why is it happening? What is causing us to start Christmas earlier and earlier in the year?
The world is longing for Advent.
The change from the long days of summer to the short days of autumn and winter can be difficult. The year feels like it is slowly dying, slipping away. This can remind us of our own mortality, whether we are still in the spring or summer of our life or whether we have entered our autumnal years. These thoughts can be difficult, and it can be so easy to try to avoid them by getting lost in the busyness and ‘warm feelings’ of the Christmas season. But God didn’t arbitrarily create nature’s rhythms and He didn’t place the great feasts of the Church willy-nilly on the calendar.* Nature is God’s first Bible, it is His first revelation to us. The shortening of the days, the dying back of the garden, the gathering chill in the air, it all speaks to us of our own mortality and the effects of original sin. But just as in nature spring follows winter, we also will rise and what once seemed dead will be given new life.
It is no coincidence that Christmas is celebrated at the darkest time of the year. The winter solstice occurs about December 22; the longest night of the year. Christmas, on December 25th, is at a time when the darkness seems to have overshadowed the light, all around us lies dead. But Christ is born and Light enters into the world and into us.
Christmas is a time of great joy, a time when we can feel all is right with the world. So it makes sense that when faced with the bleakness of fall, the shortening of the days and the chilling of the weather, and the reminder of our own mortality that it all conveys, we can want to begin Christmas as soon as we can. But when we do this we are robbing ourselves of a crucial piece of the puzzle: Advent.
Advent is the 4-week season immediately preceding Christmas that the Church gives us to prepare. There’s no preparing ‘in the world.’ You jump from Halloween or Thanksgiving (or, it seems now, from summer) directly into Christmas. Without Advent Christmas loses its full meaning. Those signs you'll start to see in yards "Keep Christ in Christmas" might remind you that Christ was born on Christmas, but Advent reminds you why He was born. How much do you desire a sip of water after you've had a whole gallon? Not much. How much do you desire a sip of water after a day in the hot desert without any? A lot! That's Advent.
Advent reminds us why Christ was born in Bethlehem. It reminds us the state we were in before that miracle happened, and what would have become of us if God hadn't done the unthinkable and become man. We were dead, spiritually dead. We were at our darkest hour, the light was all gone. The distance between us and God was insurmountable. How could we ever bridge the chasm that separated us? But we were not without hope. Through the Prophets God told of a child who would be born...
This Advent, don't rush into Christmas. Let the longing for the coming of the promised One grow in you.
*(If you live in the Southern Hemisphere the experience will be different, but Christian writers have written on the connection of the Southern Hemisphere’s weather pattern with its feasts as well.)