First, Happy St. Nicholas Day!
I am excerpting below an e-mail I received with its writer's permission. It occurs to me that several Farmers out there may be having the same difficult feelings, to one degree or another."Dear Deacon,
I am surrounded by neighbors who, by Dec. 1, had installed lights on every bush, tree & plant in sight. Reindeer, sleds, snowmen; Santa & elves dot the landscape everywhere I look. Television & newspaper ads bombard us with buy, buy, buy even more than usual.
I don't see anything 'wrong' with holiday decor or shopping. Those are elements of the "cultural Christmas" that will always be in our midst. But for those who want to celebrate, observe, revere, honor, the Advent season, these features fly in the face of our faith practice at this time. Ironically, because I don't have all the jazzy stuff going on around my house, neighbors regard be as not caring about Christmas ... Also, I think it is so odd to keep hearing the debate over wishing others "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays." Who cares?? Most of the rest of our behavior as a culture this time of the year is hardly in keeping with our Christian faith tradition, so why all the indignation over the greeting issue?
I not only write to vent, but to ask how you negotiate this territory between practicing your faith at Advent and being in the midst of the cultural Christmas? What are your thoughts & feelings on this matter? I don't know how others feel about this. Thanks! G."
First, G., thank you for writing and asking a very good question. I can tell you what my practise is and you can see whether it is a decent fit for your situation.
We are a consumer culture which is still - but much less so - predominantly Christian. What is overtaking the culture is consumerism, not Christianity.
I am someone who decorates for Christmas. Some time after Thanksgiving(but not yet, YIKES!), while it is relatively warm here in the Northeast I string lights up on my Pussy Willow tree, on my 4 small evergreens and my porch. The ONLY reason I do that is because I do not have fond memories of trying to string lights in 10 degree weather after work in the dark and having one blub malfunction. I put the lights UP, but don't turn them ON.
Many of my neighbors (particularly the ones with kids or grand kids) have the fan inflated Santas, snowmen and reindeer plus all the blinking, running and fiber optic lights going full blast on December 1. Interestingly enough, I live 2 blocks from the local Jewish Center and nearly as many electric menorahs are prominent in bay windows.
Now my only decoration is my Advent wreath, one candle per week piercing the darkness of my small dining room. I buy perhaps 7 presents - the rest are baked or hand crafted or painted. I have to start months in advance, but I put love into the creation of each.
I personally wait for December 16th to turn on the lights, the day when - in the monastic tradition - they begin to sing the "Great O" antiphons to the Magnificat at Vespers: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O Emmanuel, O Virgin of Virgins.
On about Dec.20 I decorate indoors: my mini tree goes up, the static cling angels, three kings and Madonna and Child go up on the windows and front door, the wreath made by my dear friend Joyce on the side door, the manger minus Jesus,Mary and Joseph sits in honor on the mantle. Mary and Joseph arrive first with Jesus after church Christmas eve. The wise men and their camel rest on an end table far away.
On the evening of December 23 I lug the weighted Mary, Joseph, Jesus, lamb and donkey out of the garage, dust them off and plug them in. I put them on a timer to light up on Christmas eve. All of my lights AND the Holy Family get lit every night from Christmas eve through Epiphany -- the 12 days of Christmas. I am the only home in my neighborhood with Christ-centered decorations on my property.
In the meantime, of course, my neighbors take down everything on January 1. The menorahs are long-gone as well. At my home things come down on January 7 (or soon thereafter if it's 32 degrees or above).
If your neighbors get joy from their type of celebration, let it be. Attempt to focus on your own tradition. Who knows? The neighbors might even get up the nerve one year to ask why you decorate a certain way and you can tell them - with gentle sincerity - that your outdoor preparation mirrors your inward preparation.
When it comes to the greeting: If you KNOW someone is Christian, Merry Christmas; if you KNOW someone is Jewish, Happy Hanukkah! And so on. Holiday is a cultural term. Holy Day makes your intention clear: in honor and tolerance you wish the person you are greeting to celebrate their holy day in the manner of their religious tradition.
That is what I do and the reasons I do it that way. I put it here as an alternative to what you currently see. There is no doubt that we are challenged to live into our Christianity despite omnipresent commercialism. Holy Days give us road markers in our liturgical rhythm: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost.
Dear "G" and all Farmers, may your prayerful Advent expectancy, reflection and a-cultural faith provide a heartfelt harvest at Christmas!