This morning, the talking heads on the radio were talking about the early celebration of Christmas and how we needed to do that this year because Thanksgiving is late which means we have less than a month to celebrate Christmas and screw Thanksgiving anyway. (Okay, I may have added that last bit.)
I’ve heard this argument a lot this year as people are putting up their Christmas trees the second week of November. First, Thanksgiving has never been the second week of November, so that excuse is invalid. But yes, we do have a shorter span between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day this year. But may I suggest a different approach to the holiday season, giving both Thanksgiving and Christmas their full due?
First, a defense of the practice of dedicating November solely to Thanksgiving, and not just because it’s my favorite holiday. November can be a respite from the business of fall and the start of school and the Christmas season. Thanksgiving is about gathering together and being thankful; it doesn’t require a ton of extra work and preparation. Decorations are minimum. Yes, you do a lot of cooking, but you have to eat anyway and you get to cook with all your family. Working together can bring people closer than just sitting around talking, and I always enjoy working with my family to prepare the feast. But primarily, you can devote yourself to just being thankful for all you have without worrying about what you need to obtain, accomplish, or create. Also, I really love pie.
I posted some resources for celebrating Thanksgiving at the bottom of this post, and let me add to that the best Thanksgiving book ever, Cranberry Thanksgiving (af). It even has a bonus cranberry bread recipe! Seriously, if you have a child and you don’t have this book, smack yourself in the head and fix that. If you don’t have a child, indulge your inner child and get it. Or at least check it out from the library. It. Is. Delightful.
Let us finish the Thanksgiving portion of this post with my new favorite Thanksgiving hymn.
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I’ve noticed that by the time Christmas day comes around, a lot of people are done with celebrating. They’re over-tired, over-stimulated, over-sugared, just OVER the entire holiday. By January 1, Christmas has become a humbug. I think this is in no small part because of how we order the holiday. Shop, feast, wrap, shop, feast, travel, feast, shop more, feast, wrap, wrap, wrap, FEAST, done. Let’s all take a nap and resolve never to let it get out of control again. Until next year.
I’d like to propose returning to the traditional Christmas celebration as celebrated by various cultures and see if we can make that work for us. December 1 is the first Sunday of Advent. “Advent” means arrival, and it is the season to prepare for the coming of Jesus. For us, that means preparing our hearts through special Advent devotions (either using the advent wreath or the Jesse Tree), and preparing for the feast of Christmas by decorating, buying and making gifts, and general preparedness. We consider the Advent season not a season of celebration, but more a season of preparation. Thus, we don’t feel rushed, because we have a whole month to prepare for the actual celebration. And preparation doesn’t mean no joy or festivities, there is a great deal of fun in the anticipation and preparation of the feast, in decorating and making gifts — yes to the tunes of Christmas carols. Everything has its season, and we don’t need to rush past preparation.
For the celebration itself, I like to observe the 12 days of Christmas, starting with Christmas Eve and ending on the Feast of Epiphany. During these 2 weeks, we celebrate. That’s the time I like to watch all the Christmas movies, visit the Trains at North Park, go see lights, and do all the other Christmasy stuff. For one thing, the crowds are generally smaller because everyone else did those before the first day of Christmas, and we have the 5th day all to ourselves. (Five golden rings!) The other benefit is that our celebration doesn’t hinder our preparation and vice-versa.
We end our celebration of Christmas on the Feast of Epiphany. We have a (very casual) feast with friends, I make a King Cake, and we sing “We Three Kings.” After 12 days of celebrating, we are ready to dive into the new year. We’ve had a month and a half devoted to Christmas with no other celebrations and observations competing for attention.
I love Christmas, and I want to celebrate it. But I think we can fully celebrate each holiday in its own season. I don’t want my celebration to overwhelm Thanksgiving or to frustrate us in its excess. We have just over a week to enjoy the Thanksgiving season, then we will throw ourselves into Christmas preparations. There is a time for everything. We just need to be patient for that time to come.
Of course, this is just one family’s approach to celebration and preparation. There are lots of ways people observe both holidays, and each celebration is as unique as the family who celebrates. How do you celebrate the holidays? Does Thanksgiving get short-shrift? How do you feel on January 4th?