I'm going to make a confession here. Christmas is NOT my favorite time of year. I suffer from seasonal depression and pretty much everything between Halloween and St. Patrick's Day takes effort for me to be fully present in much less enjoy. This used to bother me. Then I found out a few things about myself and about Christmas and now it doesn't bother me so much anymore.
Contrary to what the "christian world" seems to believe based on the way we carry on about people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" December 25th is NOT Jesus' Birthday. We don't know precisely when Christ was born but most responsible scholarship agrees that it was not in the middle of December. December 25th is a pagan holiday co-opted by the Catholic Church hundreds of years ago. Which is not to say I think celebrating it is a bad thing. I am all for celebrating the coming of the light of the world, especially in the dark part of the year that makes me so irrationally sad. I simply refuse to get caught up in the guilt machine that has grown up around that celebration. Its just that this preparation time isn't exciting to me. But then again neither are the last few weeks of pregnancy. Perhaps that is the point of Advent. The waiting isn't supposed to be the main event. The waiting is just that. Waiting. Preparing. Nesting. Getting ready. And just as the last few weeks of my pregnancy made me tired and grumpy, well, so does this part of the Holiday season. And I am finally OK with that.
Last year was the first time I consciously slowed down enough to observe these things about myself. What I found was that for me the feelings that I hear others wax poetic about regarding the Christmas season don't seem to come before the day itself. There are exceptions. Hanukkah for one.
A few years ago we added a basic observance of Hanukkah to our holiday celebration. Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight. There is some scholarship that indicates that the Christ was conceived during Hanukkah, the light of the world entering the womb of the virgin during the festival of lights seems to me like the sort of poetic thing that God would do. Adding this observance has helped me a great deal. It brings focus that the light is coming again. The darkness will not last forever. Advent does this as well but sometimes that observance can become as much a burden as a blessing with all the alms calendars and church events that we seem determined to fill up the waiting with. Our Hanukkah observations are simple. We light the candles, we play dreidel, we eat chocolate. We read about the miracle of the lights. I have been criticized for this practice because we are not ethnically or religiously Jewish. I am not attempting to be. I am simply observing a festival that the Christ himself likely observed and allowing it to bring joy to a time that for me is not usually joyful.
Christmas itself is a time of certain obligations. They are family obligations and not burdensome but they are obligations still. We are expected to travel. We are expected to spend the entire day and evening primarily with the extended family. We are expected to exchange gifts. We are expected to juggle the schedules of over 2 dozen people so that no one gets slighted. Its a lot of work. Worth it? Yes of course but it is still work. This year, with finances tighter than they have ever been, it is hard to generate the enthusiasm of previous less lean years. It is two weeks until Christmas and not only is the tree not up but the embroidery machine is in the spot where it is supposed to go. And I have work to be done so moving the machine is not yet an option. There may not be a tree this year. If there is it may not go up until just before we leave for the holiday.
My husband and I commented often over the past decade when most of our Christmas vacations included a 3 day youth trip called "Breakthru" that it really didn't "feel like Christmas" until we arrived at Camp Summatanga. We noticed last year, when Breakthru was no longer on the schedule, that what finally "felt like Christmas" to us was the annual reunion of my classmates from High School that always happens within a day or two after the holiday itself. From that observation came an accidental celebration of the "12 Days of Christmas" that has become hugely meaningful to me and that is what I am truly looking forward to this year.
The 12 days of Christmas isn't just some strange song. Its a period of time in the church year between Christmas Day and Epiphany (January 6th) and it, not the days of Advent which were more for reflection and preparation, is when the holiday part of Christmas was observed. I'm still learning about the associated traditions but for us what it is becoming is the time that we get to celebrate the season free of anyone else's expectations of us. It also helps with the "post Christmas let down" that some of my more conventional friends seem to experience. My husband typically takes vacation for a couple of weeks right here at the end of the year. We have the luxury of time that we don't normally have in his workaday world. Our "bonus children" are usually home from school so it is an ideal time to spend celebrating with them. Most of the holiday stuff in Memphis stays up and open until New Years at least but the crowds are much smaller after the big day than they were before.
Its two weeks until Christmas. We're in the waiting. I don't like waiting. On December 25th the party really begins. On the first day of Christmas.