Christmas Day 9: The Frustrations of This Feast

10th-century Byzantine Nativity, Walters Art Museum

I’ve been posting these Christmas posts since it was still Advent. But that part of me that is obsessed with page hits thinks that it would be easier to get people to pop on over to read about Christmas a week before Christmas rather than now, a week ‘after’ — aka nine days in!

Our culture is very good at anticipating an event, but not very good at drawing out celebrations. A prime example of this was one year at my All Saints’ Day party (1 November); we ran out of drinks, and so a few fellow saints and I marched down in costume to the local Loeb (now Metro) to re-stock. All along the way, people would say to us, ‘You know Hallowe’en was yesterday, don’t you?’ Yet people were going out in fancy dress a week before Hallowe’en and no one was batting an eye.

And now it is Christmas. Originally, as I learned from BBC History Magazine in this year’s Christmas issue, Christmas in Anglo-Saxon England was celebrated as a quiet, holy day for prayer, followed by 12 days of festivity, culminating in a big Twelfth Night bash. Now that’s a way to party! Rather than a month of drawn-out, scattered parties, a day of prayer to prepare you for twelve days of feasting. I approve.

Today, some people look at you as if you are lazy if your tree stays up to Epiphany on 6 January but shrug their shoulders if it is up on Advent 1. But Christmas doesn’t start until 25 December!! But, alas, our feasts come on their appointed calendar day and are gone the next.

Part of what the older mediaeval and — to this day — Orthodox way of Advent and Christmas gives us is a way to have real anticipation. Advent is a time of fasting and preparation for Christmas in the older traditions. Not with the sorrowful penitence of Lent leading up to Easter, mind you. But still a fast — a time of abstinence from certain foods until the feast comes on 25 December.

This Advent fast keeps the pre-Christmas celebrations at bay. So also do Advent hymns, such as ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’, and Advent wreaths, and the ‘O Antiphons’, and such. The old ways gave us a spiritual focus for our energy. This, in turn, makes the celebration on Christmas and the following days more focussed on Christ and the Incarnation as well.

We have reading the Scriptures about Mary and Elizabeth and John the Baptist as well as the prophecies of Our Lord’s coming. We have sung the anticipatory hymns. We have lit the candles. We have prayed the Collects. And now, we can sing the carols, read the Christmas story, and feast, feast, feast!

So, today, 2 January, 2013, open up your hymn book and sing some Christmas carols. Because the feast isn’t over yet.

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