It’s happening already, a good ten days before Thanksgiving: People are putting up their Christmas trees. When I see the posts online, I comment, “So soon?” or “Already?” or “Thanksgiving? Advent?” I guess I’m just getting curmudgeonly in my new status as a 50 year old.
“COVID,” they respond. Or “2020.” And that explains it some, right? I mean 2020 has been enough to take, so why not spread some Christmas cheer? (Cue Buddy the Elf.)
I get it, of course. I’m as done with 2020 as anyone. Between the pandemic that is furiously moving toward its predicted climb, and the political upheaval in the US, and the economic downturn, and missing family. Shoot, it’s awful. Point made and given.
But it’s not like this is new. The “Christmas Season” (surely someone out there has trademarked that, Target? WalMart?) begins earlier and earlier each year. A good 15 years ago when I was looking for it, I noticed the first holiday display at a local Staples with the M&M Guys holding a plate of Christmas cookies in early October shilling red and green candies. As if I buy holiday colored candies from Staples for my baking needs. So when the big box stores put up their Christmas stuff in September, I roll with it.
So what’s the harm?
For me it comes down to this: who’s telling me how to celebrate Christmas? Is it the major retailers or someone else?
If the “Christmas Season” lasts only until Dec 26 when we’re tired of the blasted tree that’s been up for 6 weeks or more, then Madison Ave and the retailers have won. Because then Christmas becomes all about buying things and the run up to Dec. 25 and not about celebrating the nativity of Jesus. If Christmas ends right when the celebration is beginning—and we’re moving on to Valentine’s Day like the local CVS—then it’s really centered on turning a profit.
Historically for the Church Christmas lasts for 12 Days — you remember the tune, I’m sure—beginning on Dec 25 and running through to the Epiphany on Jan 6. The Epiphany marks the coming of the Magi from the East bearing gifts for the toddler Jesus (he’s about two when they come). Many Western cultures continue to celebrate Christmas throughout the entire 12 days with nativity plays and singing, and decorations in shops and cafes and lights and candles. It doesn’t just abruptly end so I can buy something else.
And I guess that’s my biggest concern: is it just about buying presents? To me the best part of Christmas is time with those I love, playing games, eating good food, listening to Christmas music, looking at the lights on our tree without worrying about checking people off my list and stressing about what to buy. It’s about pondering the great gifts of peace and love and joy and hope that the Christ child brings into the world. It’s about looking for those things in a time when things have been hard and noticing that the best things in life aren’t bought in a store.
Can you do all of that and still put the tree up early? Of course. But instead of taking it down immediately following Christmas Day, perhaps you can let the holiday cheer linger a bit longer, carrying you into 2021.
And for those wondering, we’ll put our tree up on the Saturday before Christmas like we do every year. And we’ll even wait to turn on the lights until the afternoon of Christmas Eve.