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Advent, the new Christmas.

2010 December 1
by Gordon Reid

For old-fashioned Christians, Christmas used to start with the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Some lucky children got to  see the Christmas tree and open some presents when they got back from Midnight Mass, but most were made to wait till the morning.

Now, of course, Christmas decorations go up in shops even before Thanksgiving, and even in many private homes. Crooned or frosted versions of Christmas hymns and carols ooze from every Muzak grille from November onwards.

The reaction of some church people is to Tut tut and deplore the whole thing. And, as with so much else, they can make the Christian Faith sound negative and repressive.

St Clement’s is taking the classical Anglican Via Media on this subject. On Sunday, December 5 at 6.30 p.m. our Choir is donating a wonderful Festival of Carols in aid of our Helping Others work. But they will be Advent Carols, not Christmas Carols. They will sing about “the coming feast of our redemption”, as the Collect puts it. This distinction may be lost on some of those who come, but it is an attempt to have something special and Adventish rather than swing into full-throated Christmas yet.

But in other ways, I (and I’m sure many other Catholic Christians) will feel that it is better to celebrate the Birth of Christ with half believers, agnostics and pagans in the weeks before Christmas than to withdraw into a holier-than-thou corner.

I’ll be at many Christmas parties before December 25, and if Christmas Carols are sung, I’ll join in heartily. When people wish me a Merry Christmas in the street before December 25, I’ll respond with “Merry Christmas” (but, of course, if anyone is foolish enough to wish me – in a clerical collar – “Happy Holiday”, my deafness will kick in, and I’ll wish them, very loudly and jovially, “And a very Merry Christmas to you too”!)

My crib will be up long before Christmas, and the Baby will be in it. There is nothing so stupid (and, for you theologians, Docetic) as Mary, Joseph and shepherds gazing adoringly at an empty crib, as though Jesus was going to appear there from a cloud, if they just wished long enough.

Maybe the time has come for the Church to invent a new thing (pause for gasps of shock and horror) and declare that the Christmas Season begins on Advent Sunday, has its climax on December 25 and finishes with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. They could be even more radical and fix the Feast of the Nativity itself on the last Sunday of the year instead of December 25, as it will be next year. And at the same time they could fix Easter Day on the first Sunday in April instead of something to do with the full moon rising over Tel Aviv – but now I’m getting carried away and must reserve that radical suggestion for spring.

Happy Christmas to you all, right now and through to January 6.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Bromartin permalink
    December 1, 2010

    Very interesting. Did I hear you say that, nest year, Christmas Day will be celebrated on the first Sunday of Christmas?
    Love your comments about Advent. It’s about time we jump in and learn about this valuable season (the first of the year), rather than just as a sort of a quiet time, a penitential time, a planning time, etc. as it is all of these, and more!

    • Bromartin permalink
      December 2, 2010

      DOOOHH ! Sorry about that first remark. Of course Christmas Day will be on Sunday in 2011.
      I guess I honestly thought, for a moment, that it might be a regular transfer!
      Hey! Who knows these days?

  2. Little Black Sambo permalink
    December 9, 2010

    Where will you draw the line? “Christmas” celebrations are now common even in November. What you propose is the typical C of E tendency of doing whatever seems to be popular, whether in morals, doctrine or religious customs.

    • Joe permalink
      December 16, 2010

      Oh, come on Father, you’re talking about an immovable feast!

      Distinctions between Advent and Christmas seem trivial when you consider that St. John the Divine hosts a Winter Solstice Celebration every year. Of course, as any devout pagan will tell you, many secular “Christmas” and “Easter” traditions have their roots in pagan traditions, traditions that even many in the Church have kept over the centuries. The word “Easter” is derived from the name of a pagan goddess of the spring, as the Venerable Bede attests. Shouldn’t we stick to “The Feast of the Resurrection,” then? Either way, we’re talking about worshiping the God who “makes all things new.” It’s likely within His sovereignty to take old pagan rituals and reclaim them with the Light and Truth that is Jesus Christ.

      As Fr. Reid indicates in this post, the dates themselves are about as arbitrary now as they were when the Church originally settled on them. And as he’s said before, we ought to be keeping both Christ and the Mass in Christmas.

      Sambo, if there’s anything more relative than Anglicanism, it’s time. Let’s not make the dates holier than the celebrations themselves.

  3. December 13, 2010

    The trouble with any changes to the kalendar is that not everyone will go along with it, no matter how sound the reasoning behind a change. Thus it will end up being but one more variation. I prefer a united front in Christendom (or as least as much unity as possible).

  4. Carys permalink
    December 17, 2010

    Re cribs — the baby doesn’t go in until Christmas day, but Mary and Joseph have to make their way around the house/church (or even town) to get there in Advent and the Shepherds wait on a ‘hill’ above the crib until after the baby is born. Thus the problem of ‘Mary, Joseph and shepherds gazing adoringly at an empty crib, as though Jesus was going to appear there from a cloud, if they just wished long enough’ is avoided.

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