If Thanksgiving were a person, it would be a pitiable fellow. Halloween is anticipated all through autumn with lots of decorations, costumes, and candy. Then society rapidly shifts focus to preparing for the “holiday season” which obviously begins with Thanksgiving, but everyone knows is really all about Christmas. Ever seen “Happy Holidays” written in brown and orange?
Seriously. Every year the Thanksgiving turkey is hardly cool by the time many retailers open for shopping in anticipation of the next major holiday. I’m talking about Black Friday. Thanksgiving barely gets 24 hours, then it’s on to the next thing. But whereas the Christmas season is celebrated around the world, we Americans tend to forget that our Thanksgiving is a purely American holiday. Besides, the date of Thanksgiving is essentially a random selection anyway. President Franklin Roosevelt even tried to change the date to allow more time for shopping.
Getting good deals is one thing; jumping headlong into Christmas is another. There’s lot of good to celebrate about Thanksgiving. We should take time to give thanks for all our blessings. But too often we use Turkey Day as a deep breath before the plunge into the frenetic activities of Christmas. As pitiable as it is that we don’t take more time to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s even more pitiable that we don’t slow down and prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ more appropriately.
The Church even gives us a season: Advent. And although Advent is intended to be somewhat of a penitential season – reminiscent of Lent but less strict – the liturgical calendar has many reasons to celebrate during Advent and the month of December. So, here are some ideas for welcoming the season along with the Church in a more moderated, less hasty fashion:
- The Season of Advent always has four Sundays. In many years it just so happens to work out that the First Sunday of Advent falls on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. However, in years like this one (that’s 2017 in case you’re wondering. Things live forever on the internet, so who knows when you’re reading this.) the First Sunday of Advent is not until December 3rd. That means we have an entire nine days between the American celebration of Thanksgiving and when the Church officially begins its annual preparations to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. In other words, you have plenty of time to get those decorations put up outside. Don’t rush unnecessarily!
- It’s important to remember that the First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Church. Catholics get to celebrate the New Year twice in about six weeks! The First Sunday of Advent would be the perfect occasion to turn on your outside lights for the first time of the season and wish your neighborhood a Happy New Year!
- The Feast of St. Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, is celebrated on December 6th. Catholics have traditionally left out a shoe, or a stocking, in anticipation of his feast. What better reason to put up your Christmas stockings by the fireplace!
- The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by the Church on December 8th. With this feast we recall and celebrate how Our Lady was preserved from the stain of Original Sin. Use this date to host a party (even an ugly Christmas sweater party as a reminder of the ugliness of sin) and pray the Rosary with your friends.
- Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated by the Church on December 12th. This feast recalls when Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego and asked him to pick roses to show to the local bishop as a sign. On this feast, put out your red garland and other decorations in honor of Our Lady, the Mother of God, and her miraculous sign given to Juan Diego.
- The Third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday” because “gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice” and is the first word of the entrance antiphon, or Introit, in the Mass that day. On Gaudete Sunday, the priest wears rose colored vestments for Mass. If you have an Advent Wreath, the rose colored candle is lit. This would be an excellent occasion to put up and decorate your Christmas tree.
- Traditionally, one of the weeks of Advent was known as an “Ember Week.” The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week were kept as days of prayer and fasting, but also “to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.” The ember days of Advent always occur after the feast of St. Lucy on December 13. This season can be so busy that we can lose sight of what’s important. Why not use these days to volunteer at a food pantry, visit Our Lord in adoration, or engage in fasting during this season of plenty?
- You know that song about the Twelve Days of Christmas? Contrary to some modern notions, it’s not a countdown to December 25th. Technically, the Christmas season doesn’t even begin until Christmas, so, while the rest of the world is discarding the decorations and taking down the tree, you can leave yours up at least until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th.
- If you really want to drag out Christmas as long as possible, leave up your decorations until the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. This is technically the end of the Christmas season, a full 40 days after the celebration of birth of Our Lord.
As you can see, the Church’s liturgical calendar actually gives us the formula to appropriately prepare for and celebrate Christmas, though too many Catholics ignore it. The calendar is important, and we should pay more attention to the liturgical calendar than the secular American one. The Church’s calendar is universal. It helps us to celebrate in union with Holy Mother Church and her members around the world.
If nothing else, remember that Christmas does not start the day after Thanksgiving. So enjoy more turkey, stuffing, and football. You have plenty of time to enjoy the “holiday season.”