I didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition. But through my experiences with The Book of Common Prayer I am slowly learning the ropes.
But as a neophyte I still make a lot of mistakes. For example, I tend to mix up Advent songs with Christmas songs. I sing the Christmas songs during Advent. Which drives liturgical purists crazy.
But by far the hardest thing for me to get used to, liturgically speaking, is the fact that it's still Christmas. Christmastide lasts from the Feast of the Nativity (December 25) to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). These are the proverbial "Twelve Days of Christmas."
Growing up we just had "Christmas Day." Thus, Christmas was over on December 26th. And I'm finding this to be a hard habit to break. I keep thinking Christmas is over. So I have to remind myself, almost daily, "It's still Christmas. It's still Christmas."
What makes this hard, as I remain in my non-liturgical tradition, is that everyone around me has moved on. Friends keep apologizing for still having their Christmas trees up. And I keep saying, "No worries. It's still Christmas! The tree should stay up until Epiphany." I think I'm being helpful in pointing this out. But mainly I just get strange looks.
That said, I think the biggest culprit in this truncating of Christmas is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Smack in the middle of Christmastide is this other "holiday." Though it isn't, in fact, a holy day at all.
Still, as the "next" celebration New Year's Eve causes us to truncate Christmas. The Christmas tree might stay up on December 26th, but it many Christian homes the tree doesn't make it past January 1st.
This is sad and problematic for two reasons.
The first reason is this. We all lament the commercialization of Christmas. But what few Christians realize is how we unwittingly enable this trend by restricting Christmas to a single day. If you restrict the celebration of Christmas to a single day you strengthen the association between Christmas and opening gifts. The point of Christmas becomes the shopping for and opening of presents. In fact, for many I'd say that Christmas is officially over once the presents have been opened. Christmas isn't really even a whole day. It's a few hours lasting from the time the kids get up until the presents are all opened. In many Christian households Christmas lasts about an hour, roughly from 6:00 am to 7:00 am. Christmas is over before lunch on December 25th. No wonder the opening of presents has come to dominate the celebration of the Incarnation.
The celebration of Christmastide, the full Twelve Days of Christmas, can help push against all this. Christmas isn't an hour. It isn't a morning. It isn't a day. It's a twelve day season.
So let's resist the cultural push to be productive and "get Christmas put up" as soon as possible. Leave the tree and the Nativity set out. Let's slow down and prayerfully linger. Yes, well into the New Year. Let the kids learn that Christmas cannot be reduced to the one hour when they opened their presents. Christmas isn't over. We're still in the middle of it.
A second problem with Christmas ending early due to New Year's Day is that we are allowing secular time to trump liturgical time. Which defeats the whole point of the liturgical calender. Our lives are governed by the clocks of the world--the punchclock, the appointment book, the federal "holidays." The whole point of the liturgical calender is to create a "sanctuary in time," similar to the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. Here is Abraham Heschel describing how Jews view the Sabbath. Read it and think of the liturgical calender, Christmastide in particular:
The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography. To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept its premise that time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space; that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own...Again, I think Heschel's observations apply to the Christian liturgical calender. We learn to free ourselves from the slavery of the "To Do list" and the punchclock of modern economies to move within a "holy time," a cathedral in time set apart for worship and renewal.
Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.
Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals...
The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things in space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
But we can't celebrate these cathedrals of time if we rush through celebrations like Christmas. Especially so if we are allowing secular time--the change of a calender year--to trump liturgical time. To allow New Year's Eve to truncate Christmas is a symptom of the very disease the liturgical calender is trying to cure.
So let's keep the celebration going.
It's still Christmas.