How does the song go? "God rest you merry, gentlemen / Let nothing you dismay / For Jesus Christ our Savior / Was born upon this day"? I think that's how it goes. The song lies of course; Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas (assuming the song only makes sense if sung on Christmas). Nobody knows when Jesus was born. I suppose he could have been born on Christmas, but it seems unlikely, given all of his other options. In Russia, Jesus was born in January.
And according to that other
song, there are twelve days of Christmas. (Someone told me not long ago
that people have calculated how much it would cost to buy all of the
gifts mentioned in that song. The answer: some ungodly amount.) I
honestly had no idea why Christmas had twelve days or what that was all
about, until a few minutes ago, in fact. I'd always kind of assumed it
was some sort of expectant waiting period leading up to Christmas Day,
kind of like Advent, except set to a catchy tune. And I suppose
Christmas Day, December 25, is really Christmas, but in my family that
has always seemed (to me at least) more true of Christmas Eve. By
evening on Christmas Day we're tired of celebrating.
So anyway, I
had always thought the twelve days of Christmas ended with Christmas
Day, and I expect most Americans do too. They actually begin with
December 25 and end on January 5, AKA Twelfth Night, the day before
Epiphany (January 6). It pains me to try to expound on what any of these
dates mean, since they mean different things to different churches and
in some cases don't even fall on the same days. I can tell you that the
most important event in the liturgical calendar of the Eastern church is
without question Pascha (their name for Easter). I don't know where the
Nativity ranks in the hierarchy, but I've always found it amusing that
eight days after Christ's birth the Eastern Orthodox celebrate his
circumcision. On the other hand, there are Christian churches and
denominations out there that do not observe any of these holidays
because they're not in the Bible.
I suppose there is value in a
community gathering together to expectantly await the commemoration of
an event of great import to us. I just wish it wasn't a month long.
Christmas today is a bloated colossus of consumerism. I'm also slightly
intrigued by the question of when or what Christmas is. About a week and
a half ago I said it was Christmas, and my friend Alex told me I was
wrong. But was I? To some extent the celebrations had already begun. And
how do our ethical obligations to our fellow man change around
Christmas, if indeed they do? Christmas is a time we take to be extra
nice to people, to visit family and friends we don't normally see, to
buy gifts and send cards. Charities appeal to be compassionate because
it's Christmas. But there's never a time when you can excuse yourself
for being a jackass by saying, "Well, it wasn't Christmas." And what is
Black Friday all about? Why do those early-bird sales start at, what,
five in the morning? Wouldn't we all be happier if we all made some kind
of collective agreement - a social contract, if you will - to sleep in a
few extra hours on Black Friday? But then again, what do I know about
shopping? I've never worked retail.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: Jesus is going to be born in a couple of days. I hope he likes my sweater.