On the fourth day of Christmas, my Facebook feed is filled with pictures and happy statuses of people who have swept away their Christmas decorations and kicked their trees to the curb. These are also, not coincidentally, the same people who put up their trees two days after Halloween.
I get it. If I’d been listening to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer for two months and trying to work around a huge tree in the middle of my house, I’d be ready to pack it all up, too. But in their rush to skip ahead to the good part, they’re missing some of the best parts.
We spend one (or two) months in preparation and anticipation. There are lists and appointments and so many things to do. And we scramble, scramble, scramble and then BOOM: Jesus was born! Woohoo! Open presents, eat the food! Now pack it all away and kick the tree to the curb. We spend a lot of time preparing for one short, exciting (sometimes explosive!) event. It’s no wonder many people feel let down and depressed after Christmas Day.
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We can also take time to meditate on the parts of the Christmas story that often get overlooked, like Jesus being taken to the Temple to be dedicated and the Holy Family’s encounters with Anna and Simon. Can you even imagine what Mary and Joseph must have been thinking as they heard Simon speak about their tiny baby? “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
We tend to telescope the visit from the Magi in with the birth of Christ, but they arrived much later. Their visit was followed by the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of innocents. We read past that part pretty quickly, if at all, but these are important parts of the story of the Incarnation. And the Incarnation is part of the greater gospel story, pointing us to the cross and our salvation. As Simon said,
“for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Americans in particular are really great at throwing big events: big parties, big weddings, big Christmas day. But seasons without lots of frills and big events tend to throw us. We don’t know quite what to do with Christmas without the pressure of preparation. I understand the need to get back to normal, to use part of this down time to get our houses and our lives back to “ordinary time.” (Our Christmas will probably come down on the 10th day of Christmas.) But there is a blessing and a benefit of pausing to celebrate and meditate on Christmas apart from the trappings of Christmas Day.
When do you take your Christmas decorations down? What do you think about the Twelve Days of Christmas: a season to celebrate or just a pre-December 25 song?