While working many, many years ago as a pastoral musician, I became accustomed to the idea of structuring my life around the secure predictability of Roman Catholic liturgical feasts. Decades later, I’m still a bit of a stickler for liturgical accuracy, especially regarding the features that distinguish liturgical Christmas from secular Christmas. It’s fair to say that most of my liturgical-season nit-picking involves the much-loved Christmas Tree. While the Tree should not usurp the Season of Advent earlier than the 22nd-ish of December, it also should not linger unnecessarily long.
Ideally, each year’s Tree should retire somewhere between the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a movable feast celebrated on the Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany, and the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, or Candlemas, on February 2nd. Nevertheless, I recognize the difficulty of “de-Christmas”-ing the house: the desire to hold on to Christmas as long as possible. Indeed, I am looking at my Advent Wreath as I write this. Because I traveled over Christmas, I did not bring a Tree into my home, but I did put a Christmas angel on my Advent wreath and call it a done deal. I will remove the candles and the greenery from the wreath, put the reusable components of the wreath in the box marked “Christmas Decorations,” and return the box to the closet before Candlemas draws to a close. While this observance of liturgical boundaries will doubtless bring a sense of intellectual satisfaction, this “de-Christmas”-ing of my house will also doubtless bring a sense of sorrow.
Strings of sparkling lights, candles, tinsel, ornaments that catch the light softly and bounce it to another dimension of experience, a star or an angel atop the tree (or in the center of a wreath) are all gentle and lovely. Who wants to abandon the gentle and the lovely? Fresh, clean greenery and pinecones offer cheerful sparks of color and life and the promise of spring in a winter world. Who wants to abandon the cheerful, the colorful, the lively, and the promise of spring?
But is it the gentle and the lovely that we abandon when we retire the Christmas Tree and its companions? Is it the cheerful, the colorful, the lively, and the promise of spring that we abandon when we bid our Christmas decorations farewell? Rationally, we know, of course, that we’re not really shutting the door on the gentle, the lovely, the cheerful, the colorful, the lively, and the promise of spring when we box up the symbols of Christmas and put them in a closet until next year. We know that symbols of hope, of joy, of love, of gentleness can be found everywhere and always. But Christmas makes these feelings so tangible that it’s hard to let go of Christmas.
The difficulty in letting go of Christmas is no doubt compounded by the realization that we can be those tangible symbols of gentleness and joy and hope throughout the year. But it’s hard work to be the tangible symbols of Christmas. It’s hard to be gentle when you’re stuck in traffic or you find yourself explaining the same thing for the umpteenth time to the co-worker or student or customer who never seems to understand. It’s hard to be lovely when you’re tired and hungry and too hot or too cold and your calendar is full of things you’re not sure you want to do. It’s hard to be cheerful and lively and full of hope when the ordinary and the unappealing and the dismal bombard us every day in the form of yet another war, yet another death, yet another violent act, yet another brother or sister fallen into poverty or despair or both.
It is hard to be the symbols of Christ in a distinctly un-Christ-like world.
It is hard, indeed, but only until we remember—all ways and every where—to humble ourselves and seek the Holy in all ways and every where. By both seeking the Holy and seeking to be conduits of the Holy for others—even for that co-worker or student or customer who never seems to understand—we, too, like the Tree and its Christmas companions, become the tangible symbols of gentle, hopeful joy.
Courage to all those who are “de-Christmas”-ing today, and blessings to all in seeking both to find the Holy and to become a humble conduit of the Holy for others.
-Lori Randall, on Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation
Click here for a song to inspire you as you seek both to find and become a conduit of the Holy.