We all have some explaining to do, and maybe some repenting. Here’s the deal.
Imagine grandpa’s turning 100 years old, and you’ve spent countless days planning the most magnificent birthday celebration. Invitations have gone out to hundreds of guests. A towering cake and a great feast from renowned catering service has been ordered. The banquet hall has been rented and the big band orchestra is coming to play all of grandpa’s favorite tunes.
However, when the big day arrives, grandpa is wheeled into the banquet hall only to find a weary crew taking down the decorations, muttering tired complaints and voicing relief that the whole thing is finally behind them. Grandpa’s heart sinks, as he wonders to himself, “Where is everyone going? Why are they taking things down? The celebration is supposed to begin today…”
This is what we have done with Jesus’ birthday. As things now stand, we begin the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations and family gatherings in late November climaxing on the morning of December 25. Then it stops abruptly. Christmas is over, the New Year begins, an people go back to work and school. “Phew! Glad that’s behind us,” we exhale.
The traditional celebration of Christmas is the opposite. The season of Advent begins four weeks before Christmas, and for a month Christians await the coming of Christ. Then, on December 25, Christmas Day itself ushers in 12 days of celebration, ending on January 6 with the feast of the Epiphany. For most, the 12 Days of Christmas is just the name of that goofy carol we’re tired of hearing parodied in commercials.
We are spending this year learning to observe the Christian Calendar and synchronizing our lives with Sacred Time rather than secular seasons. Resist boxing everything up and putting Christmas behind you too hastily. Now that all the stress is behind us, let’s maximize these 12 days (which are almost behind us) to ponder the full meaning of the Incarnation. Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait share some ways Christians have celebrated over these 12 days down through the centuries in The Real 12 Days of Christmas:
The three traditional feasts (dating back to the late fifth century) that follow Christmas reflect different ways in which the mystery of the Incarnation works itself out in the body of Christ. December 26 is the feast of St. Stephen-a traditional day for giving leftovers to the poor (as described in the carol “Good King Wenceslas”). As one of the first deacons, Stephen was the forerunner of all those who show forth the love of Christ by their generosity to the needy. But more than this, he was the first martyr of the New Covenant, witnessing to Christ by the ultimate gift of his own life.
St. John the Evangelist, commemorated on December 27, is traditionally the only one of the twelve disciples who did not die a martyr. Rather, John witnessed to the Incarnation through his words, turning Greek philosophy on its head with his affirmation, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, KJV).
On December 28, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents, the children murdered by Herod….They died unjustly before they had a chance to know or to will-but they died for Christ nonetheless. In them we see the long agony of those who suffer and die through human injustice, never knowing that they have been redeemed. If Christ did not come for them too, then surely Christ came in vain. In celebrating the Holy Innocents, we remember the victims of abortion, of war, of abuse.
Finally, on Epiphany (January 6), the celebration of Christmas comes to an end. Epiphany commemorates the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel-Christ’s manifestation to the nations, as shown in three different events: the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the turning of water into wine.
So, maybe we owe it to ole grandpa to put some decorations back up, bring out the feast, strike up the band and get his party going! Turning 100 years old is a rare feat! What’s even more rare? God becoming Man. That’s worth at least 12 days of feasting! Don’t you think?
And, finally, may we all remember the Christmas promise of “God with us” is true every single day of the year!
Merry Tenth Day of Christmas!