December 1, 2014
Some people wonder why priests are not in favor of putting up the Christmas tree on December 1?
First of all, it’s not that he’s a small-hearted, Grinchy Scrooge type of guy who wouldn’t know Zu-Zu’s petals if Rudolph’s red nose lit them up like …a…um… well, a Christmas tree.
Secondly, even if your priest fell to the temptation to say, “Jesus wasn’t born in a forest; he was born in a barn!” You shouldn’t judge him harshly. He might get the question a lot, and is casting around for an answer that is direct and to the point.
Hopefully, you already know that Advent covers four Sundays before Christmas. During this “little Lent,” the best sorts of decoration for the season are more penitential. There are some good traditional Advent songs, though the French seem to have a corner on the jaunty-Advent-song market with “O Come Divine Messiah.”
Some good Advent traditions for the home are Advent wreaths (which began as a household celebration), calendars with chocolate in them, and Joshua trees. I have been working on ornaments for a proper Joshua tree, with each ornament part of the story that leads up to the birth of the Messiah. I have a folk-art Ark, a nice tall lighthouse to represent Babel, and a large-mouth bass for the great fish to swallow Jonah. For the tree, I use an unlit evergreen.
While it’s true that conifers with lights on them are not, strictly speaking, a liturgical symbol, they do have symbolic connections to life in the dead of winter and light in the darkest part of the year. Thus, they are connected not with Advent but to the prologue of John’s gospel, which we read every Christmas day.
Christmas is not just a day, but also a season that continues through an octave of days and past Epiphany to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I want to save the lights, the stars, the angels, the carols and the baby in the manger for the season of Christmas.
Look at it this way: Let’s say that your favorite part of Christmas is Christmas goose with all the trimmings. Since that is so, why settle for just one Christmas goose? Why not train the stomach and the palate for the marvelous sensation of Christmas dinner by eating goose, stuffing and figgy pudding every day from now ‘til Christmas? Most of us would get to Christmas Day and say, “Figgy pudding, again?” It’s best not to come full to a feast. Or, as Proverbs 27:7 says, One who is full, tramples on virgin honey; but to the man who is hungry, any bitter thing is sweet.
I understand why stores want to start putting Christmas items out on All Hallows’ Eve: they want us to be prepared for the season that’s only two months away (and sell stuff). Unfortunately, that’s also why I never get to turn on the radio to my favorite Christmas songs during the Christmas season. Everybody else is already stuffed with goose!
One final reason that Christmas trees shouldn’t be put up very early: sometimes the reason we want to put them up early is that it’s just easier. In an age of convenience, Christmas is a season that celebrates great inconvenience. God spent ages preparing fallen humanity for the Messiah, Joseph almost broke the betrothal because of the Annunciation, there was no room at the inn, the magi had to ask for directions from Herod, and the infinite God was incarnate in a manger. Emmanuel came when it was time because we needed Him. Some things we shouldn’t just do at our convenience.