More than a partridge

Christmas isn’t over, it’s just beginning

Dec 22, 2014 by

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Though the North American understanding of Advent is that of waiting in darkness, a cultural stranger would be forgiven for thinking it is only a season of light.

From lights strung on houses and businesses to the glowing plastic baby Jesus in front-yard nativities, Christmas in practical terms is more about the illuminated buildup than the big day.
Conversely, Advent is a time of darkness in other parts of the world.

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes . . . and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent,” wrote German pastor and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1943 after being arrested in April of that year.

The differences don’t end there.

All those candy canes at the store cost a lot less on Dec. 26 as North Americans move on with other affairs. But in much of the world, the story of Christ’s arrival is just getting started. Though most carols are about a baby born, we sing them almost exclusively while he is still gestating.

Charles Dickens, Santa Claus’ marketability, the rise in prominence of New Year’s celebrations — and attendant football pageantry — have all colluded to make us forget that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” is more than just a song.

The 12 days celebrate Christ’s arrival and take place not before but after Advent’s conclusion, building to Epiphany on Jan. 6. That day, meant to mark the adoration of the Magi and the giving of gifts, is the basis for our contemporary tradition of frenzied holiday shopping. It’s just that Dec. 25 fits into fiscal year-end strategies better than Jan. 6.

In Eastern Christian traditions that include Orthodox churches, Epiphany is even considered a higher-ranked feast than the Nativity. So why do we move on to January and winter’s deepest depths so quickly?

Christmas doesn’t end when the wrapping paper is stuffed into the dumpster. It is only beginning. Christ has come into the darkness of winter. A star shone in the night, guiding the way to Jesus. So leave the lights up on the house.

The Christmas tree might be finding ways to be even more dead than it already is, but those dried-up needles on the floor symbolize hope for the world and, ironically, everlasting life. That isn’t refuse on the carpet. It’s a devotional.

As Edgar Stoesz notes in “Good News for the New Year,” not all is darkness in the world. That is all the more reason to make the season bright, both after the big day and into the new year.

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