Sunday, December 25, 2011

Two Christmases

Like it or not, you may as well get used to the reality that there are two Christmases.

One is the public Christmas, celebrated more or less universally, except for the die-hard Scrooges among us.

This is a season-long celebration, beginning immediately after Halloween and running through December 25, known as Christmas Day. Then Christmas comes to an abrupt halt.

This season has its own widely diverse music, hymns and carols and songs ranging from “Joy to the World” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, with its anthem being “The Christmas Song” as sung by Mel Torme or Nat King Cole.

It even has its own sentences and responses which run something like this:
“Have a Happy Holiday.”
To which the reply is:
“And you too.”
Or, on some occasions it is “Merry Christmas” with the reply “And to you too.”

While it celebrates the values of generosity and family love, this season is founded firmly on financial matters such as what’s good for the economy and where to buy gifts at the best bargain.

This Christmas Season is cynically known as a “Hallmark Holiday” and is part and parcel with the secular culture in which we live.

The other Christmas is that which is celebrated by Christians of all kinds around the world.

This one is also a season, but it begins right where the other one ends, on Christmas Day, December 25 and runs to Epiphany on January 6. Compared to its lengthier secular counterpart, this Christmas Season is a fast twelve days—which is ironically sung about in a favorite fun song during the Halloween-to-Christmas period. One day is not sufficient time to do justice to celebrating Christmas, so the better part of two weeks is set apart for the rejoicing.

What is more, it takes up to four weeks even to think about celebrating the Christian Christmas. Preparations, spiritual preparations must be made, starting in late November or early December, at the same time the Hallmark Christmas Holiday is going strong. But there is a radical difference.

The Christians observe four Sundays called Advent, a purple-colored time, to reflect on one’s needs and repent of one’s sins, and to long for, yearn for the gift of new life from God. It is not a time for Christmas carols. The mood is much different, more solemn, more contemplative in contrast to the frantic giddiness going on outside the church. God’s people wait with quiet hope and expectation for God’s promises to be kept.

So when the Season of Christmas finally arrives, for Christians there is almost a sense of relief, of release and freedom. The promise of new life is kept in the birth of Jesus, and we are all granted a new lease on our lives. The joy of Christmas wells up from the depths of our souls and finds voice in our songs of praise to God.

The gift we receive is not a gift someone bought for us in a store at great or small expense. It is a priceless gift freely given by God to everyone, quite apart from their deserving it, in spite of their not deserving it.

So here’s the problem: two Christmases on two different schedules with two very different values.

What has happened is that the Hallmark Holiday has eclipsed the Christian Christmas. It’s not a wild and crazy assumption to suggest that for most people who call themselves Christian, more energy and time is invested in the secular, cultural Christmas, than in Advent preparations for and celebration of the Christian Christmas Season.

So what do we do about it?

One option is that Christians boycott the secular celebrations and pay more attention to Advent-Christmas. Well, that’s nonsense, because it won’t work.

What might work is for us to recognize first of all that we live in two worlds. There is a secular world out there that is not Christian, and though we live in it, we are not of it. We’re just pilgrims passing through. So we learn to distinguish one set of values from another, getting-and-giving from God’s grace, expensive from priceless, temporary from lasting.

Which is to say that we will not escape observing the one, but we should not neglect celebrating the other.

May the next Twelve Days be filled with the joyous gift of new life in Jesus Christ for you and those you love.


  1. Don, You hit the jackpot withl this one. I am printing it out and sharing it with family and friends.


  2. Wonderful post, Don! With Advent activities, Christmas Eve and Day services, it is all too easy for me to get swept up in the frantic race to December 25. This is a good and needed reminder that, just beyond the paper-tearing of Christmas morning, another Christmas celebration waits and I can shout joyously with Ebenezer Scrooge, "I didn't miss it!"

  3. Just wanted you to know, I posted this on my facebook feed, and it's gotten several comments!

  4. Dear Don,
    I just finished reading "Two Christmases." Bravo!

    I really struggle with the secular Christmas. I find myself feeling annoyed, even angry with it. But only recently I began thinking about the development of the Christian Christmas and a phrase popped into my mind. "Turn around is fair play." I suppose some ancient Romans might have resented "our" having co-oped Saturnalia or other ancients our taking over their solstice celebrations. If I don't procrastinate too long I may blog about that.

    By the way, I sometimes long for the the Christian Christmas that lasted until February 2--feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple!

    Peace and All Good to you and yours for the REST of THIS Christmas and throughout the New Year!


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