Last year, my wife wanted to celebrate Christmas all the way through to Epiphany. In many liturgical traditions, Epiphany (January 6) marks the official end of the 12-day feast of Christmas.
So the tree stayed up. We carried on with Christmas long after most of our neighbors had returned unwanted gifts and stowed their decorations for another year.
To be honest, I didn’t feel much like extending Christmas that year. My dad had died a few months earlier. We had wrapped up a stressful (and expensive) move to Michigan, returning to our old house… once we’d managed to make it habitable again after tenants who all but destroyed it.
But we extended our Christmas celebrations anyway, ignoring the shopping malls and superstores which had started merchandising Valentine’s Day — and, to some extent, ignoring my own feelings. After reading this post from David R. Henson, I’m glad we did.
The very first Christmas took place against a backdrop of oppression, cruelty, and empire — namely, the all-powerful Roman Empire. We like to think we’ve evolved beyond all that. But the truth is, every Christmas takes place against the backdrop of an equally oppressive regime.
Ours is an empire of commerce, and there’s no letting up after the Christmas season. As David Henson writes:
In our society, our calendars have been molded into seasons of consumerism, each bleeding into the next without pause. As soon as the Christmas wrapping paper is discounted, the candy hearts and paper cards for Valentine’s Day begin to appear, followed quickly by St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks and leprechauns, chased by Easter’s bunnies and candies. Then, it’s on to Mother’s Day bouquets, Memorial Day sales, Father’s Day ties, Fourth of July fireworks and hot dogs, back-to-school sales and Labor Day clearances. Halloween begins in September, Thanksgiving in October, Christmas in November.
Our civil, consumer calendar offers us no break in the buying season, no chance to reflect, to pause, to celebrate, to truly linger over a feast.
Which is why we need all 12 days of Christmas. Continuing to celebrate long after your neighbors have taken down their decorations will earn some puzzled looks — but that’s all more reason to keep your decorations up. While everyone else marches to the drumbeat of consumerism, we need to model another way:
This is the quiet power and justice of the Christian calendar. It offers us a chance to resist absolute conformity to the timetables of consumerism, to push back against a culture that requires us to find our worth in things, to stand defiantly against a calendar that hurries us past meaningful pauses and refuses to let us rest in peace.
So remember, Christmas isn’t over yet. Keep celebrating the revelation of God incarnate, who came into our world to rescue us from all forms of empire — including the empire of consumerism. As David Henson writes, to keep celebrating “is a most basic act of civil disobedience.”
To celebrate Christmas when others are rushing into the false hope of a new year is a reminder that our time is precious and should be savored rather than offered for sale. To continue to celebrate Christmas when it is already being forgotten is to begin to wake from the fog of consumerism to the new reality of the birth of Christ and the Reign of God.