As a Catholic believer, our church calendar is clear.
The Advent season prepares us for the coming of Jesus and his birth on December 25. We celebrate Advent the four weeks leading up to Christmas (for the most part, the four Sundays in December before Christmas Day). We light candles and make preparations. We prepare our souls and many even choose to go to confession during this time to make room in their hearts for Christ’s birth. We sing Advent songs like “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” and light a candle each Sunday – symbolizing the expectation and hope of His coming. The Advent season is very important as it helps us find time to be still, and to listen, and to wait.
Then on Christmas Day, the Christmas season actually commences – yippee!
From December 25 through January 5 are the 12 days of Christmas. You know the song! What you may not know, is that each day is a celebration of a different saint’s feast day. There’s quite a bit of history surrounding the 12 Days of Christmas. Then on the last night of Christmas, there’s a traditional 12th Night Feast (on January 5) or the Epiphany celebration which is celebrated on January 6. This is where us folks down in Cajun country chow down on a King Cake for this is when we, and many other Christian believers, celebrate the three kings bearing gifts to baby Jesus. It also marks the start of Mardi Gras season in South Louisiana.
Because I have always enjoyed this history and look to the church’s liturgical calendar to mark my Christian holidays, I have always kept my Christmas tree up at least until January 6.
If you are Catholic, you will notice that church parishes do not adorn the church with Christmas decorations until the completion of Advent, and they keep the decorations up throughout the Christmas season based on their liturgical calendar which concludes on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord on January 13.
Finding a tree, the pinnacle of Christmas symbolism, is one of my favorite traditions, but it almost did not happen this year.
Now, I will admit, I was a little late in getting our tree at our local tree lot. We got dressed in plaid and the little guy wore overalls just in case we could snap a few outdoorsy, rugged photos of the family Christmas tree purchase, but the backdrop I imagined did not pan out. Yes, it was December 17, a mere week before Christmas Eve, but many lots were already sold out or closed for the season. We lucked out and picked through a few sub-par selections at Lowes that were probably definitely rejects. It brought me back to the Christmas with the Kranks movie where they had to pay top dollar for a tree last minute and even tried to steal a neighbor’s tree (luckily we did not have to resort to theft). The outing was less than picturesque, so I feel quite silly donning our lumberjack best for nothing. But here we are, one step above Charlie Brown, with a few needles still holding on strong.
The big question now is, how am I supposed to actually celebrate Christmas with a tree still in tact for the duration of the ACTUAL Christmas season?
Of course, there is nothing wrong with planning ahead and preparing for Christmas’ coming, which is what we do throughout Advent. But my tree is dry, losing needles by the second, and we have yet to enter Christmas! Now many of you are probably thinking I am disillusioned and crazy, but when did people start decorating so early? When did we lose site of the old traditions, the 12 feast days following Christmas day that continue the merriment and joy of actual Christmas and the birth of Christ? The celebration of the Epiphany with the magi bringing Jesus gifts on January 6, or even ending Christmas as late as the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord on January 13 – yes the 13th!
Call me old-fashioned and a traditionalist, but I’m holding fast to these unique festivities and the core purpose of Christmas. I will continue to wait and listen throughout Advent and celebrate throughout the actual Christmas dates. Even if my tree turns Charlie Brown on me on December 26, it won’t be tossed to the curb until Jesus has come and has been praised relentlessly.