Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The First Day of Christmas? Part II

Welcome to Part II of the First Day of Christmas, definitive answers to these four perennial questions inspired by the classic song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas:"

  • What is the first day of Christmas? In other words, on what day did the original singer's first present of a partridge in a pear tree arrive? Answer: December 26th!
  • What do we mean by the Christmas Season? I see that phrase interpreted so many ways. Does it have any definitive, commonly understood meaning? Or is it just a broad, sweepingly indistinct term? Is there value in defining the season, or should we let it be open to interpretation? 
  • Thinking about the song and all the gifts on each of those days, how many presents arrive in all? Think about it for a second. Five golden rings on days 5 through 12 amounts to 40 rings!  Coming soon in Part III
  • And speaking of gifts, is there any significance behind the seemingly random gift choices?  Coming soon in Part IV

  • We tackled the first question in Part I of the series. Missed it? Get caught up HERE.

    And now, 
    Onward and Upward 
    with Part II

    What, exactly, do we mean by the Christmas Season? I know the answer (smile), but before I reveal it, let's discuss why there is even a question. Opinions vary, as they say. To understand the over-arching Christmas Season question a bit more deeply, let's list and define some distinct periods of time that take place within the season:
    • Advent: Interpreted on the liturgical calendar as 4 Sundays and weekdays before Christmas Eve. Each of the four weeks are often represented by a colored candle representing Advent themes of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, respectively. These colored candles surround a pure white Christ candle. Messages of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace are discussed and celebrated in successive Sundays of Advent, and the Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve. 
      • In 2014, the Advent Season was November 30 through December 24, or 25 days, inclusive. Advent can range from 22 to 28 days in length. 
      • However, if you buy an Advent Calendar, you'll see it usually includes the first 24 days of December, counting down the days to Christmas and, with treats of chocolate, building anticipation for the birth of the Savior. 
      • Of course, there is the coincidental fact that 24 is also the number of beers in a case of beer. and 24 different winter beers would make a wonderful adult Advent calendar!  
      • But, I digress...
    • Christmas Season
      • According to the liturgical calendar, Christmas Season begins after Advent, i.e., at midnight on Christmas Day, and continues for 3 Sundays and weekdays after. So for 2014, the Christmas Season is Thursday December 25 through Sunday January 11, 2015.
      • Some others say the Christmas Season begins with Black Friday sales on the day after Thanksgiving and ends when the last of the wrapping paper is wadded up in the trash, 
      • This year, for the first time, I saw Christmas decorations up in stores before Hallowe'en. Personally, I find that the crass commercialization of Christmas reflects poorly on our National values, but to each his own. Ayn Rand would say that the commercialization of Christmas reflects perfectly on our crass National values. 
      • But again, I digress.... Ayn Rand is the subject of a different blog post.
      • And can we please recycle the wrapping paper?
    • Christmas Octave: 8 days from December 25 to January 1, inclusive. I do not hear this one mentioned much except among musicians. (That was a joke.) Seriously, this is an archaic term, except without it we would never understand the next term... 
    • Octave of Epiphany: The period of time from Epiphany to the 3rd Sunday after Christmas, inclusive, is a period of about 8 (actually anywhere from 3 to 9) days depending on which day of the week Christmas lands on. The only reason the liturgical Christmas season runs past Epiphany is so that Advent plus Christmas Day plus Christmas Season gets us to 40-ish days (actually 43 days, regardless of which day of the week Christmas lands on. Of course 40-ish days is parallel to the 40-ish days of Lent and the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness.
    • Christmastide. Adding to confusion about the meaning and duration of the Christmas Season, we have a new term with even more variation around it. The dictionary compounds confusion with two different definitions of Christmastide
      • the festival season from Christmas to after New Year's Day. Note that this is the same period of time that has already been called the Christmas Octave.
      • the 14-day period from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, especially in England.
      • don't forget the so-called Twelve Days of Christmas which ends on Epiphany and so must begin on December 26
    • My birthday falls between Christmas and New Years Day. Growing up, I always felt that my birthday got lost in the seasonal sauce, There is a season of quiet reflection in the week between holidays. I call it Happy New Christmirthday Year.    

    To see this image full size, click HERE

    All of these different terms have meaning and value, even if they overlap or cause confusion. Here is the bottom line for me. Tradition. I celebrate Thanksgiving. Then a break in time happens and maybe a subtle hint of the Advent is detected. I finally get into the cookie-baking, package wrapping, tinsel-hanging, card-writing Christmas spirit with Saint Nick on December 6th. The anticipation builds until midnight between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or whenever the Christ Candle is lit, or whenever the baby Jesus is placed in the manger of the Nativity scene at home, or whenever the youngest person in the household places the Angel atop the Christmas tree. Christmas Day is quiet and holy with presents for everyone and plenty to eat. Then, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on the 26th, but unlike the song we do not continue with gifts. Instead, the season of Christmas is extended past birthday and New Years to Epiphany with reflection about the year passed and plans for the year ahead. The fact that the season extends past Epiphany is usually lost on me. In Casa del Foam, my humble abode, the Christmas Season is the 32-day period from December 6th through January 6th, inclusive. 

    By tradition in my household, it is bad form to decorate for Christmas before December 6 or after January 6. I am fine with Advent calendars and of course Advent-themed worship services before December 6th. In fact, I am pretty much fine with the idea of celebrating Christmas and Christian ideals year-round. It's just that Christmas music and some of the decorations and list-making and shopping should begin no earlier than December 6th. This gives space around Thanksgiving, acknowledges the original "St Nick," and includes the celebration of Epiphany which is when the wise men following a celestial compass finally found the Christ child and offered Him gifts, according to the Gospel of Matthew (2:11).

    If I send or receive a Christmas card a few days after Christmas, I don't think it's "late." But a Christmas card before Dec 6 seems in poor form, even if Advent has already begun. The only Christmas cards I got before Dec 6 this year were from businesses and universities hoping to catch me in a giving mood. The timing caused the opposite reaction! And a card sent or received after Jan 6 reflects poorly on the management skills of the sender. For these reasons, I believe the world would be a better place if everyone Christmas year-round, but only decorated between Dec 6 and Jan 6.

    Recapping Parts I & II:
    • December 26 is the First Day of Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas conclude on Epiphany 
    • The "Official" Christmas Season begins on Saint Nicholas Day and ends on Epiphany. This 32-day period of time exists inside the 43-day liturgical events of Advent, Christmas Day, and the Christmas Season. But only a Cretin would send a Christmas Card before Dec 6 or after Jan 6! 
    Feel free to comment or share how your traditions are different!