Sunday, December 20, 2009

Know any good Advent songs?

We are almost to that time of Christmas but the purists among those devotees of the Christian calendar remind us that it is still Advent. We are supposed to celebrate Christmas after the holidays. Yet, year after year, that message doesn't seem to be sinking in. Hey, when Christmas decorations go up in stores before Halloween, it seems like an uphill struggle. It is more than because we are shallow commercialized zombies who don't know how to embrace the waiting of Advent. Okay, maybe some of that is true, but there are deeper dynamics as well.

The most important dynamic is that the Christian calendar has the major holiday start the given season. The season of Christmas follows Christmas. The season of Easter follows Easter. The season of Pentecost follows...and follows...and follows Pentecost. Makes sense.

The problem is that in contemporary western society, it is the polar opposite. The season ENDS with the holiday instead of beginning with it. We we don't celebrate the 4th of July after the Fourth. When the fireworks end, Fourth of July is over. We don't continue celebrating Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving--turkey leftovers notwithstanding. Part of it is that we spend so much effort preparing for the holiday that the preparation almost becomes the actual celebration with the holiday day being something almost of an anti-climax. I've long felt that the crescendo of Christmas is not Christmas morning but Christmas Eve, the ultimate time of expectation and candlelight services for Christians and the tracking of Santa for the secular world. New Year's day really is the anticlimax to the build up on New Year's Eve. At midnight, it is pretty much downhill except for those looking forward to the football games. It is ironic that the week between Christmas and New Year's, which hypothetically could have been the ultimate frenzy of holiday activity, is one of the quietest, even somber times of the year, a time of exhaustion and saying "it's over" before one last final push to finish New Year's and get on with things.

Moreover, we tend to celebrate holidays that have things to do, say, eat, etc. Here is the contrast between Advent and Lent. Lent at least has defined activities, such as fasting, attending Wednesday evening services etc. It starts with Ash Wednesday with a particular set of rituals that Advent does not. In some traditions, like the Eastern Orthodox, there are even special foods--based on what cannot be eaten--to mark the holiday. Thus Lent does not have the bleed in from Easter that Advent does with Christmas.

Think about it. Other than O Come, O Come Emmanuel, what other popular advent song is out there? What are the distinctive Advent foods? It has fewer traditions, lighting the Advent wreath and having the Advent calendar notwithstanding. There are relatively few Advent rituals so, just as nature abhors a vacuum, the energy from Christmas fills the space.

Advent, of course, is not the only holiday to face challenges. Pentecost is supposed to be a major holiday and season in the church year. Talk about a holiday with skimpy traditions! Other than wearing red, I can't think of other Pentecost traditions. Certainly can't think of too many Pentecost foods or hymns. If there aren't rituals and practices involved, forget about the larger society really embracing a holiday. Just ask the devotees of Labor Day.

I guess, my advice is if you want to keep Advent, either accept the reality that we end seasons with holidays and start Advent earlier in the fall or come up with more do to/eat/say, etc.

Thoughts welcome on this Advent season!

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