Mom called me in a frenzy last weekend, asking me to rush to a store to pick up the most recent Barlow Girl album for her goddaughter’s Christmas gift — an obvious effort to curb the 10-year-old’s playback of Katy Perry lyrics.
I was a bit baffled as to why now — a good five weeks before Christmas.
“We’re doing Christmas at Thanksgiving, you know,” she said.
Oh, the classic Christmas at Thanksgiving stunt.
With a family wedding crowding out this year’s holiday weekends, my mom’s side decided to celebrate Christmas in November — somewhat less kitschy than Christmas in July, but somehow just as soft on meaning, and with its own name, “Thanksmas.” (I do not make this stuff up.)
No word yet as to whether there will be a tree or creche, but I’m sure there will be presents and a ton of food.
So, that’s apparently what Christmas is boiling down to: a time to give each other stuff and to stuff our face. As long as someone walks away with a Target gift card, a new scarf and a jeans button barely holding on, Christmas will be accomplished.
The rescheduling of holidays isn’t new for many families. Especially as grown children move away and travel complicates plans, or households separated by divorce try to accommodate the celebrations of two sets of parents, it’s more common to see families pushing back holidays to the weekend after, or, in my case, the month before. Even my dad’s side is celebrating Thanksgiving on the Saturday after the holiday to make sure we can all be together.
Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today’s Faith & Reason blog acknowledged the calendar shift, asking whether marking holidays “whenever” diminishes their holiness. She quoted one of American Catholic culture’s astute commentators, Father James Martin, from his most recent book “A Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything.”
By making Christmas (and Thanksgiving and Easter, for that matter) conform to our schedules, we’re casting these special days as inconveniences, he argues:
“Midnight Mass in many parishes has moved from midnight to 10 p.m. then 9, then 4 and then 3, so people can ‘get it out of the way’ and have more time for presents or parties. . . . And the people who opt out of gift-giving madness, to focus on the spiritual side, are now the party poopers.”
“For the Christian, our lives revolve around God, not vice versa.”
As Catholics our lives are shaped by the liturgical seasons. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, which marked the ending of the church year. This Sunday we’ll begin a new year with Advent. Just as winter, spring, summer and fall cycle us through the calendar year, so should these liturgical seasons guide us through our life in the church.
At least in Minnesota, it doesn’t make sense to jump in a lake in January or sled down the back hill in August. The seasons provide parameters for appropriate actions, each offering its own special gift. This is also the case for liturgical seasons. To splice the celebration from the date is like sledding in August. It misses the point and it likely turns the holiday into something it’s not.
Lest you think I only eat coal, let me say that I do understand families’ desire to share the holiday with as many loved ones as possible, even if it’s not on the calendar day. In this case, the best thing a family could do may be to acknowledge that it’s not actually Christmas, but it’s celebrating in the spirit of Christmas just the same. The church even gave us a Christmas season, which extends far beyond Christmas day.
But celebrating the actual day as the true holiday is essential, and conforming our lives to Christmas — and not vice versa — is what will transform us as Christians during this holiday season.
What do you think? Can Christmas be rescheduled? Or is it the holiday that can’t be contained? Is the Liturgical calendar relevant to your life?