Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
December 17, 2001
The 12 days of Christmas
After the rush, the true season of Christmas is often forgotten
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — It was only the second week of Advent but Michelle Jones was rushing to West Edmonton Mall to catch good choices of on sale items that would complete her list of presents for Christmas.
Jones had finished shopping for her family about a week earlier. This time she was specifically shopping for the party that her circle of friends organized two weeks before Christmas.
"I'm always good with my shopping. I mean I do them earlier but this year I was a bit late," Jones told the WCR. "It is something that you wanted to do before the rush catches you."
What she said seems reasonable because this holiday is the busiest of all. Jones is a Christian and believes Jesus is Christmas' most important reality.
However, Advent and Christmas do not ring a single note of difference for her.
"Christmas is Christmas, you've got to prepare for it really well," she said.
When the WCR asked her what she and her family do after Dec. 25, she volunteered, "It's time for Boxing Day. Then, you get a little bit of rest to get ready for the New Year."
Jones' holiday practices are familiar.
Shopping, cooking, decorating, partying and travelling occupy people's time during Advent, a season to prepare for Christmas. That's why, when the big day comes, people are tired and eager to see it end so they can get some rest before going back to work.
It is no doubt that Christmas is a high season for Christians. But it is also fair to say that most Christians cram Christmas and Advent together, a practice that distorts the celebration.
Like others, Sister Donna Kelly, director of the National Office of Liturgy, believes "consumerism has greatly affected our way of celebrating Christmas."
The shopping spree is rooted deep down in people's behaviour, some motivated by the spirit of sharing their abundance with others. Sharing is not a bad practice after all.
Dec. 25 is just the beginning of the Christmas season. But usually on Dec. 26, people start to store the presents they have received and some even start putting away their Christmas decorations. Others return to the mall to exchange presents they received for something else that they would prefer to have.
Historically, Christmas was not the main feast for Christians. Easter was and still is the mother of all Christian feasts.
Because Easter was such a huge event for Christians, a preparatory season was added, which became the season of Lent.
Later, our ancestors in faith decided it was also important to celebrate Jesus' birth. This, among other reasons, like counterbalancing pagan practices at the winter solstice, gave birth to Christmas.
It was only in the fourth century that the Church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus and observe it as a holiday. Celebrating Christmas caught on so well that a preparatory season was added. Thus, Advent became an important season before Christmas.
The focus of our celebration is the mystery of Christ's incarnation and this is not highlighted until the birth of Christ, which means that the 12 days of Christmas are far more important than the four weeks of Advent, which is a prelude.
Kelly, the liturgist, said people are "better in preparing for the big celebration than in celebrating the actual season."
"It's the same with Easter, we're better in celebrating Lent," Kelly said.
People love rituals because through them they are able to express themselves and celebrate.
During Advent, it has become customary for people to have an Advent wreath and light a candle each week of the season. But when Christmas comes, people are accustomed to fewer rituals.
"That's why we've got to continue to sing the Christmas carols even after Dec. 25 because they are really intended for that season," emphasized Kelly.
For Kelly, singing the carols is one ritual that people can observe during the Christmas season.
"Let the manger stay the whole Christmas season, because that is a reminder of whose birth we are celebrating - Christ's," she said.
In 1996, Pat Bray, liturgist of Antigonish Diocese, collaborated with her daughter Linda MacPhee to prepare a manual for celebrating the 12 days.
The manual was never published as the market for a book on the 12 days of Christmas was judged to be too limited.
However, Bray told the WCR that they used the scriptural readings for the season as the backbone of the manual. They wrote prayers, which were based on the readings, for families to share.
"It is important that we reflect on the readings for the 12 days of Christmas because they give us a strong and profound message," Bray said.
Liturgist Blair Gilmer Meeks asked and offered an answer on "Why celebrate the 12 days of Christmas?"
God's people from everywhere long for the evidence of God's appearing. Thus, celebrating the 12 days recalls God's gift in the incarnation and foretells God's coming in glory, Meeks said.
Christmas is not over on Dec. 26 because there is a need to continue reflecting on the news that God joins human vulnerability and human joy, said Meeks. "Our ancestors in faith well knew that Christmas is not complete without the 'Twelve Days.'"
With that conviction, Meeks offered a calendar for small groups and households to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas:
Meeks' prayers and detailed instructions for celebrating the 12 days of Christmas are published in the journal Liturgy: The Twelve Days, by The Liturgical Conference, vol. 12 no. 3, 1995, pp. 19- 25.
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