We have two main competing visions for how to celebrate Christmas in America. The first, which we could call the retail model, is undoubtedly the most popular. And it has a lot going for it as the primary mover of Christmas celebrations in this country. Beginning as late as Black Friday (the shopping day the day after Thanksgiving) or as early as July or August, it culminates with Christmas Day and then abruptly stops. No more Christmas music. No more greetings of “Merry Christmas!”
As the season progresses through November and December, it involves increasingly frenzied shopping, completely de-Christianized but otherwise interfaith school children programs, much stringing of lights and decorating of Christmas trees, drunken work parties, and secular holy days that include Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Oh, and lots of Santas and Elves on Shelves and, for some reason I will never understand, viewings of “Love, Actually.”
The Christian liturgical calendar is somewhat different. For the Western Church, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day. It’s the beginning of the entire church calendar year and it is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. It usually involves special prayers, more opportunities for worship, and special time for repentance. It’s not a time for partying. Then the feasting begins on Christmas and lasts for 12 days moving into the Epiphany season.
You have heard of the 12 days of Christmas but, perhaps, thought it just a song that involves a true love giving you lords-a-leapin’ and turtle doves and what not. If you hear about it much these days, it’s usually in the context of the Associated Press’ annual calculation of how much it would cost to give the items in inflation-adjusted dollars.
But the 12 days are what the actual Christmas season is. And believe it or not, there are more than a few of us who celebrate it that walk among you.