During a recent trip to the mall my houseguest cocked his ear towards the general unknown, looked at me inquiringly, listened again and finally said, “I’m not hearing Christmas carols. Am I?” Yes you are. “In October?” Er, since September.
Every year I write about this because every year it grates. The minute September rolls in, out comes Christmas. In September. I don’t even want to eat out anymore because I don’t like hearing Christmas carols in September. Not even in October. Nope, not even in November.
There is an alarming materialism in the air. I refer to the general attitude towards life that shows gross disrespect for nature and its seasons. Our festivals happen during specific times in the year for a reason. One need only look at what is happening outside–the days getting shorter, the nights longer–to get a clue. It is no accident that the Christ incarnated during the darkest time of the year and I feel it a grave injustice to fast forward the festival in the interest of what? Joy? Shopping?
If I had my tree up in September, by the time Christmas rolled in, my children would cease to look at it with awe or wonder. Their sense of anticipation and building up towards something would be long gone by Advent. The tree would simply be a tree. They would have lost the connection between the meaning of the season and their inner life, which would make all the difference in the way they receive and celebrate Christmas now and through their adulthood. These once-spiritual symbols of Christmas would cease to represent anything special.
Children (if we haven’t bombarded them with technology) still feel these connections deep within. They know when the time is right to celebrate. They will sense that something is off when these things are done prematurely. This is why mine look at me inquiringly each time they see Christmas displays so early in the year. I just tell them it’s too early and at home we celebrate when the time is right. For now, this simple reminder is enough for them.
I don’t proselytize. I don’t give them long sermons about what happened and what everything meant and how things ought to be because I know that deep within them they feel what it’s about and look on us for confirmation and guidance. This is why I try to have a true, living relationship with our festivals, even if I don’t quite understand them fully. But I carry the changes of the seasons and my deep questions quietly, and hopefully with a consciousness and respect that will later on be their way into understanding and living the seasons with meaning. For them I strive to keep the season pure and uncluttered by honoring, first, when it is truly celebrated.
It is a fact that Christmas is not in September. The “ber” months do not signal the beginning of Christmas, but only the changing of the seasons and the journey towards the end of the year. If we would only live a little more mindfully, so much would be revealed to us about why things happen when they do.
Nature tells us many stories. As I write I feel the unmistakable chill that says the end of the year is near. By December, I know my children and I will be wearing sweaters and jackets daily. This cold from the outside forces us to create warmth in our homes and on our tables. The weather will change even more in December and the smells of the earth and the trees along with it. What do all the changes really tell us? What happens inside us as the world outside becomes colder? That we feel cut off from the seasons so much that we can ignore that September is way too early for Christmas, is an indication of how we far we have separated ourselves from the heavens. We feel more connected to things manmade: iPods, laptops, cell phones. One click and we can have anything right at that moment. Thus we feel that other things are easily commanded as well. September: Boom! Christmas is here. Let’s begin the countdown.
A friend recently remarked that she isn’t a big fan of Christmas. Halloween is more to her liking. Christmas is sad. Everyone in the room laughed knowingly because we recognize that this sadness is part of Christmas. It comes with the quality of darkness that accompanies the season, that begs us to enkindle light within. All the Christmas stories and movies have the theme of separation, sadness, forgiveness, hope and reconciliation in them. Every plot carries a grain of what is really being asked of us at Christmas. Every effort to heal wounds and make amends authentically, every effort to be better, creates an inward light.
The Christ entered into the material world during a time of deep darkness. It was his mission to be that light. Since his death, this possibility awakened in every human being. Our light can shine brightly for humanity at the point when the blackness is at its peak. Every light borne out of human striving would illumine the world. It happens. But not in September.
We must come to a renewed relationship with the Christian festivals again and at least begin to ask questions about why they happen when they do. We can begin to discover what these festivals mean and what they ask of us. Yes, Christmas is a sad time but it is also looked upon with festivity and joy. Why? Perhaps because of the light and lightness that comes from authentic renewal. We keep trying to create this light and joy outside of ourselves and keep coming up short because we do not make the effort to do it inwardly. Fast-forwarding Christmas does not fix this. It only highlights the emptiness.
Christmas is a special and profound time of the year. Let us not diminish it by ignoring when it was meant to be celebrated. By paying attention to what the seasons ask and bravely meeting them where they are, we may yet awaken to the true gifts within us.