I hope you’re having a joyful Christmas.
You can have a merry one, too, and a happy one, but it isn’t always, and a few weeks back, I said that I would wish for everyone’s Christmas to be “joyful.” I mean that, so, joyful Christmas to you.
And no, this isn’t a column that’s a week late. It’s still Christmas. Despite the number of memes that appeared on Boxing Day that say “ONLY 364 DAYS TIL CHRISTMAS” — often with the super excited face of Will Ferrell as Buddy, the elf — it’s still Christmas.
Technically, it’s a season. If you follow the church’s calendar, Christmas lasts – as a season – until Epiphany on January 6. That’s when we celebrate the arrival of the magi with their gifts and it’s a whole season, too. So, there’s twelve days worth of Christmas, just like in the song. So if you’re not following the church calendar, there’s still the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas.” And don’t forget the traditions that celebrate Christmas on January 6 (Armenian Church) or 7 (Orthodox Church).
Still, some people like to get their decorations up early, do all the partying ahead of time and then take everything down and put it away on Boxing Day. That sounds like a good idea, “boxing” everything. Except that’s not the origin of Boxing Day. It dates from the 1600s in England when servants, trades people and others could expect to receive a gratuity of some kind, usually in the form of a Christmas box containing gifts, food and drink. Since they would likely have worked Christmas Day, they received it the following day. In other countries, the “box” is thought to refer to the Alms Box in churches which collected donations for the poor and sick, some of which was dispensed the day after Christmas on St. Stephen’s Day (remember “on the Feast of Stephen” in Good King Wenceslaus?). It’s a day of gratitude and thankfulness, not just for the day but the year before and the year ahead.
Remember, too, that at the heart of the story of Christmas Day (and we can debate “December 25” another time) is a birth. No matter what traditions, decorations or stories we add to it, it comes down to a story about the arrival of a little baby. So, yes, if you sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus at some point, like we did at least once at our church, that’s appropriate. Thing is, though, despite those who celebrate a “Birthday Week” or even a “Birthday Month” (yikes), we tend to celebrate the day of our birth and, sadly, not the whole year. Why wouldn’t you celebrate you every day? After all, a birth day is just the beginning of a life.
In celebrating Jesus’ birthday, I believe we need to remember that Jesus is alive in each of us the other 364 days of the year, too. All that he taught, all the care and compassion and love that he shared, all of the wonder of life that he showed, all that began in this birth. Don’t wait a whole year to celebrate it.
I know it’s easier said than done. There’s so much happening in the world that can dissuade us, so much around us that can make it difficult to live out what Jesus taught. But in birth is promise. New life brings new possibilities and every day, God invites us to new life in the promise of this child born in Bethlehem.
So, maybe don’t leave your decorations up all year. But maybe have a birthday week or month to remind yourself of the life Jesus lived and the one you live every day of the year. Maybe share that with others.
As Dickens’ Scrooge said “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” Amen.