December 27, 2021 by Linda Opp
I used to be one of those people who undecorate the house the day after Christmas. The tree was stripped and banished, the manger scene went into its box, the outdoor lights were unplugged until we could get around to taking them down. My battle cry was “pack it up and move it out.” The sense of order restored was peace to my soul. Now I could enjoy that blissful week between Christmas and New Years Day when nothing much happens, nobody expected me to do things, and I could settle in with a good book while I polished off the fudge.
That all changed when I realized that for the early church, and continuing in liturgical churches today, the feast of Christmas began on December 25 and continued until January 5, the eve of Epiphany, the feast of the Magi. These two weeks are the true Twelve Days of Christmas. In reality, what most of us celebrate as “Christmas” leading up to December 25 is actually Advent. The time of waiting.
This means that, according to the church calendar, Christmas has just begun. You may ask what's left to do after all the shopping, rehearsals, baking, and gathering. We're feeling a little deflated and let down anyway, after all the excitement. Isn't it time to move on? Walmart is already in our faces with Valentine's Day. We need to get with the program.
Well, what's left is time to contemplate, savor, and comprehend the meaning of Jesus' birth. Time you likely didn't have during the rush up to December 25.
Bobby Gross, in his book “Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God”, points out that the early church did a lot of contemplating and feasting during Christmas week:
December 26 - The Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. A reminder that the baby
in the manger came to die, and that many Christians have given their lives because of their faith.
December 27 – The Feast of St. John, the beloved apostle who wrote about the Word
December 28 – The Feast of the Holy Innocents, the baby boys killed by Herod in Bethlehem. We acknowledge the evil and injustice of the world.
January 1 – The Feast of the Holy Name, the day Jesus was circumcised and given his name (emphasizing his Jewishness), and the day we celebrate the New Year.
January 6 – The beginning of the Feast of Epiphany, which lasts until Easter. Epiphany means “to bring to light,” and during this season the early church focused on Jesus and the unfolding manifestation of his glory as he lived out his life on earth.
Christmas has more layers than we thought. It's likely most of us won't observe all these feasts. But as I learned about them, I realized that the weeks after Christmas are a time to slow down and keep celebrating. This is a challenge for me, and I suspect for most of us. But we can take time to contemplate the meaning of the Incarnation. Observing at least some aspects of the church year encourages us to do that.
These days the tree, the manger scene, and the outdoor lights stay up for a couple more weeks. The music still plays. All these things aren't in my house for their own sake. They're symbols my eyes can see and my ears can hear so my heart can remember.
Oh, and the book and the fudge? Time for those, too.