Friday, December 2, 2011

On the Phenomenon of Instant Christmas

It is well-known that in the U.S. (if not other countries as well), Christmas is seen to start as soon as Thanksgiving ends (if not even earlier). There is no preparation: as soon as the turkey is eaten, the crèche and tree are set up. Songs by Bing Crosby begin to be played incessantly, and the country begins to celebrate the coming of Santa Claus (and, occasionally, Christ as well). This is what I call the phenomenon of "Instant Christmas."

In a culture often marked by the pursuit of instant gratification, it makes sense that Christmas would begin a month early. What does not make as much sense to me is when I see Catholics celebrating "Instant Christmas." I have a friend who put up a small Christmas tree in early November, and he was already humming Christmas songs. I've even seen complete crèches set up by Catholics just as early as the rest of the culture does. The thing that I take issue with there is a complete absence of an entire liturgical season: Advent.

The season of Advent is a time of waiting. It is a penitential season (though, one could argue, maybe not as penitential as Lent). During Advent, we wait not only for Christmas, when we celebrate Christ's first coming: we also wait for Christ's Second Coming. Indeed, many of the readings the Church has chosen for this season involve preparation for the Second Coming, the parousia. All this is lost with Instant Christmas: there is no waiting involved, and there is no mention of the Second Coming at all (unless an apocalyptic sect happens to make a prediction that year). The Jewish people had to wait centuries--no, millennia--for the coming of the Messiah, yet we do not wait even a month.

What I would like is if Catholics, this year and every year, would dedicate themselves to the proper celebration of Advent. Let us be penitential and dedicate ourselves to prayer as we await the celebration of the Son's "divine condescension" (in the words of St. John Chrysostom) and as we await "the Day of the Lord" (as the Old Testament often refers to it). Let us put away our crèches and trees for now: after all, we will still have two weeks with them once Christmas comes. Let us let purple flow instead of green and red: let us let Advent wreaths glow rather than Christmas lights. Let us reclaim the season that the world forgot: let us reclaim Advent, a time of waiting, a time of preparation. When the day of Christmas finally comes, we will celebrate more joyfully after our long wait than after an instant switch. When the world puts away the green and red paraphernalia, we will be just beginning our celebration. We will be counter-cultural, just as Christians should be.

Let us live by our calendar rather than by the world's. Let us reclaim Advent.

Our Lady of the Sign, pray for us!

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