December 25, 2020

The beginning, not the end

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:12 pm by chavisory

In some ways I started saying it as an excuse. For why I didn’t want to take my tree down yet, or for cards or presents that were almost certainly not going to arrive in the mail by December 25. “Christmas lasts until January 6. It’s still Christmas until then.” As long as a card or a letter or package arrives before then? It’s not late! It’s still Christmas!

And it’s true, even though that’s not really how most of us celebrate or think about it anymore, but Christmas is a 12-day festival that lasts from December 25 to January 6, when Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi to greet the baby Jesus (which I think most of us had explained at some point after being confused for a portion of our childhoods at the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”).

But over the past several years, in all honesty, learning to think about Christmas this way has actually helped me appreciate it more for what I think it’s supposed to be, rather than always being overwhelmed and exhausted leading up to it and then having it be over before I know it while I was too tired to truly enjoy it.

I wish that as a society, we’d bend back towards a 12-day celebration of Christmas.

It’s helped me not feel like Christmas is just one more project or production that I’m not going to have done in time, another endpoint or deadline, rather than a period of time in which I get to exist in the world differently. It takes a lot of emotional pressure off the day to be the perfect fulfillment of the Christmas season, to be everything possible to everyone. It makes it a lot harder to “ruin” Christmas, if Christmas isn’t just one day. It’s harder for the entire preceding month’s work to feel like a waste if Christmas isn’t over at the stroke of midnight on December 25, but only beginning, if the day didn’t go as planned. It helps make room for large, scattered, blended, and messier families. Between divorced parents, grandparents, step-family, and siblings who now have their own and their spouses’ and partners’ families, it is virtually impossible that I get to see everyone on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But Christmas gatherings spread out over the days after the 25th don’t have to be considered late or of diminished importance. Usually I wind up having Christmas with my mother and siblings on the 28th or so, after whatever traveling we’ve all had to do to see family elsewhere.

…And I think it could really, really cut down on the temptation of retailers and radio stations to start playing Christmas music a few days after Halloween. There is going to be plenty of time to actually enjoy that music–during Christmas. There’d be no need to keep pushing the commencement of the Christmas season earlier and earlier into the year to make sure we wring every possible drop of enjoyment out of it, if we just took advantage of the holiday as it actually exists.

A longer celebration of Christmas says there will be time. To listen to all the damn Christmas music we want. To see everyone we need to see even if it can’t be all at once. To rest and enjoy everything we worked so hard for. It says things take as long as they take, and that’s okay. The doing is part of the celebration.

Writing Christmas cards, I took a deep breath to remember, busier this year than it should be possible to be without a job, isn’t about getting them done and in the mail “on time.” It’s something I’m spending my time leading up to Christmas doing because I appreciate my friends and family, and am deciding to spend this time this way because I wanted to and enjoy doing it. If they get there after Christmas Day, someone still knows I’m thinking of them and wishing them well.

And I wonder even if those realities of modern life–that Christmas likely means travel to multiple family gatherings over several days (at least, not in a pandemic year), and snarled mail delivery, might start leading us to expand how we think about Christmas again. There’s too much to do in one day. And there’s actually no reason at all that we have to.

The Christmas story didn’t unfold in one day and the celebration of it doesn’t need to. Jesus said “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

We don’t have to accept a false scarcity of time during Christmas. Christmas Day is the beginning of Christmas, not the end of it.

This year especially, I’m finding it reassuring to consider Christmas a period of time set aside for a reason, to find joy and rest, and not as an event that I’m missing out on. Christmas this year is going to be quieter and lonelier than I wanted, but it will also still be these things. I’m having dinner with my neighbor from across the hall, watching the Muppet Christmas Carol and The Lion in Winter. It turned out to be impossible to buy candied fruit mix anywhere in NYC this month (which honestly feels like a fitting end to a year in which it was at various times impossible to buy milk, bread, flour, breakfast sausage, frozen pizza, pasta, hand soap, or toilet paper) to make my great-grandmother’s fruit bars, a Christmas tradition in my mother’s family, so instead I’m taking some time to experiment with making Nantucket cranberry cake, and a friend’s lemon cookie recipe. I’m not going to get to go to church, but reading, writing, and hiking.

My present from my mother didn’t get here in the mail in time for this morning, but it’s fine, because it’ll still be Christmas tomorrow.

For those of us who are separated from our families and friends this year, who aren’t having the Christmas we wish we were, I hope we can at least find it a time of rest and restoration, today and over the next eleven days, and a way to see it as the beginning of a return to better ones.

Image is of a small rock, which someone has painted with yellow and white stripes and the word “joy” in red and green letters, and left amid fallen leaves, on the rocks by our waterfall in Central Park.

3 Comments »

  1. Sharon Fargo said,

    This is beautiful.

  2. Carolyn Cook said,

    Happy second day of Christmas! When I was child, we decorated the tree on Christmas Eve and celebrated for 12 days. These days, we put the tree up a little earlier, but still leave it up till Epiphany. Thanks for this eloquent post about the value of Christmas as a season, not just a day.

  3. chavisory said,

    Update on that cranberry cake I was going to make!

    This is the recipe I used: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/nantucket-cranberry-cake-recipe

    In one last grocery shopping misadventure to close out the year, there were no walnuts to be had at my local store, so I used chopped pecans. Also I belatedly realized I somehow had no vanilla in the house. I was about to substitute bourbon, but then I remembered the St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram I had and used that. I also had no coarse sugar so I just sprinkled regular white sugar over the top before baking.

    All of these alterations worked out perfectly fine.


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