Mark your calendars: 2018. This is the year that nothing stopped an even earlier Christmas from coming. In years prior, jokes and snide remarks have been made about Christmas being pushed back sooner and sooner. However, Thanksgiving always acted as a tacit barrier in U.S. culture. Shops might put up some trees early, but there was an understanding you couldn't go "full Christmas" until after the turkey was eaten and Thanksgiving night was upon us.
Here are just a few things I've noted in just a week of travels:
Columbus, GA had a Christmas fair November 2nd - 4th
Car companies are already advertising Christmas specials as of November 1st.
Coffee companies have put down their Autumn flavors and have already brought in the 'peppermint' flavors as of early November.
Grocery stores, craft stores, outlet malls already have out Christmas trees and Christmas songs fill their aisles in the first week of November.
Savannah, GA is having a "Christmas made in the South" on November 16th-18th
Christians everywhere are planning Christmas parties in the first or second week of Advent
This is not to hearken to some nostalgic sense of Thanksgiving being a meet and right beginning and a necessary requirement for Christmas. In the Catholic Liturgical life, it is Advent that acts as the proper barrier to Christmas coming too soon. Every Feast is prefaced by a Fast. So it is that the Penitential Season of Advent prefaces the 12 day Feast of Christmastide. Thus Advent is a season where we prepare and make straight a highway for our God in our hearts before his first coming. The logic is that a fast helps us to keep a worthy Christmas. Fast in your bodies that Christ may come to dwell in your hearts. There is an internal logic to The Church's Kalendar that is based on more than mere 'holiday preferences.'
An Uncreative Secularism
How was coming early of Christmas possible and what does it mean?
Secularism is uncreative. Insofar as it is a consumer producing culture, its citizens can only devour, but they cannot create. Think about what characterizes every secular holiday: food, fornication, and quasi-sentimental ideas about family. Christmas is food and family, Valentine's day is food and fornication, and Easter is food and family. The Fourth of July and Memorial day are food, drink, family, and patriotism. Halloween is about food and fornication, just think about the costumes our businesses try to sell to young women. At the heart of the secular calendar is our appetites. Thus, it can only consume away in displeasure, and has no ability to create, only to destroy.
Thus the secular calendar can only drain holidays of meaning like so many vampires. They cannot come up with other holidays that are exciting or fun. This is unlike The Catholic Church who has slowly added Solemnities and Feasts over the millennia. The fervor of Easter, (30 AD), Christmas (126-200'ish AD), Advent (480-580 AD), or Corpus Christi (1247 AD) were all products of The Catholic Church. When Corpus Christi was created it became such a huge hit that within a century or two it was the most popular holiday after Easter and Christmas; people spent months preparing for a large procession around a town that was to be decorated by law. Now that's a festival.
Compare this to the weak attempts by Google to celebrate a secular innovator, scientist, or poet. Nobody is biting on that idea. Nobody goes home and says, "It's Hind Rostom's 87th birthday! Buy a turkey, pull out the wine, invite our friends over!" Today we add a secular holiday and it isn't celebrated within 40 years, and they almost never are celebrated in ways that Catholics have been able to. The world will forget Google's Ordo Kalendar within a century, and the daily "Google Saint" will be forgotten within a day. But children all over the world put their shoes out on December 6th to commemorate the man who saved young girls from the streets by putting gold dowries into their shoes for Christ's sake (St. Nicholas).
In other words, Secularism has become a parasite. It can only feed on what is legitimately instituted, but it lacks the ability to propagate, renew, or refresh itself. Because it has no imagination, it can make no spiritual children that can give it an imagination. It can and will only devour the world in search of meaning. It's no wonder existentialist novels, shopping outlets, and buffets are popular in the same place that tries to celebrate Christmas two months early. There's an inner logic to the whole order centered around one's own consumptive appetite that can never be satisfied.
Thus, Secularism can only stretch out Christmas further and further. What's better than 12 days of Christmas? 25? 35? 45? Doesn't all that Christmas "cheer" get exhausting? Are human emotions made to function that way?
We all know The Invisible Hand of the Market drives the Christmas season for the Secular realm. When the grocers put out the trees, music, and snacks, we accept the time has changed. Why do we fall for it? Because we're given images, propaganda, and our sentiments are played upon by the picture of a crackling fire with hot steam coming off a coffee cup, a sleeping dog on a mat by the fire, and a lit Christmas tree next to a hearth ornamented with a green garland. We think by having all of it right now, we'll somehow be happier. But we all know it just makes you tired of Christmas by the time it arrives. It's like trying to eat more chips to feel full -- at some point you put the bag down, realize you feel sick, not full, and wish you had just waited for a real meal to begin with.
Imagine what this form of life does to our little ones.
Harmony between The Church and the Home
As I mentioned in The Redemption of Time, Christ has come to save time and space, the whole created order. This literally happens by participating in The Liturgical Calendar. Don't over-spiritualize this one, just celebrate the fasts and feasts!
If it was Lent in the parish but Easter in my home, do you think it would be odd? What if at Mass every week I heard a collect about conjuring up sorrow for my sins and doing fitting penance, only to return home where I was celebrating by eating chocolate eggs, dyeing eggs, eating turkey, and singing joyful songs about Jesus' Resurrection? There would be a stark juxtaposition right? Would you say Mass was outpouring into my home and my Christian life or that I was ignoring the Life of the Church and trying to make up my own form of Christianity in the home? What if celebrating Christmas in our homes while Advent is being celebrated in our parishes is just as odd as if we were celebrating Easter in our homes while the parish is celebrating Lent?
Likewise, what if we went to Mass together during Advent and heard the words of a wild, untamed man in the desert crying for us to "Repent!" What if we heard of Final Judgment, the Return of the King who will 'smash heads and heap high the corpses,' of our Lord who will come to us like a thief in the night and that we, therefore, ought stay awake, keep vigil, and fast as if we were coming at any moment -- only to return home to Christmas Trees, Magi, lights, and snowmen? Wouldn't the juxtaposition between Mass and our homes, our ecclesia domestica (CCC 2656), be starkly different? Wouldn't an outsider watching our lives find this odd?
What does Mother Church say we should celebrate?
107. The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times; their specific character is to be retained, so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Christian redemption, and above all the paschal mystery. If certain adaptations are considered necessary on account of local conditions, they are to be made in accordance with the provisions of Art. 39 and 40. -Sacrosanctum Concilium (This Sacred Council); Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Solemnly Promulgated by His Holiness St. Pope Pius VI on December 4, 1963
In 1963 The Church essentially said the character of liturgical seasons like end of Ordinary Time, Advent, and Christmas have distinct practices and should be practiced in accordance with their own nature. This is part of the faithful's role in the salvation of time. It is also how you baptize a culture. It finishes by saying "local conditions" can make such provisions. Who is that you ask? Why the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). They took Vatican II up on the opportunity and three years later wrote the following in 1966. [My emphasis added]
5. Changing customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished popular appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had.
6. Zealous Christians have striven to keep alive or to restore the spirit of Advent by resisting the trend away from the disciplines and austerities that once characterized the season among us. Perhaps their devout purpose will be better accomplished, and the point of Advent will be better fostered if we rely on the liturgical renewal and the new emphasis on the liturgy to restore its deeper understanding as a season of effective preparation for the mystery of the Nativity.
7. For these reasons, we, the shepherds of souls of this conference,call upon Catholics to make the Advent season, beginning with 1966, a time of meditation on the lessons taught by the liturgy and of increased participation in the liturgical rites by which the Advent mysteries are exemplified and their sanctifying effect is accomplished.
8. If in all Christian homes, churches, schools, retreats and other religious houses, liturgical observances are practiced with fresh fervor and fidelity to the penitential spirit of the liturgy, then Advent will again come into its own. Its spiritual purpose will again be clearly perceived.
9. A rich literature concerning family and community liturgical observances appropriate to Advent has fortunately developed in recent years. We urge instruction based upon it, counting on the liturgical renewal of ourselves and our people to provide for our spiritual obligations with respect to this season.
-Pastoral Statement on Penance and Fasting A Statement Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops November 18, 1966
It would seem then, that the supernatural buffer to Christmas is Advent, not Thanksgiving. The natural order has failed here. Surprise, surprise, we shall need grace to even worship God rightly. What's more, if we celebrated Advent in its full penitential sense, sentimentality and consumerism would not have such a steel grip on our lives.
What's at Stake?
What's really at stake here is that a Secularist Christmas threatens to sweep away the noble patrimony of The Catholic Church's rich liturgy. It is by celebrating these that we whereby we participate in the life of Christ, suffer with him, add our sufferings to his body, and are merited the great gift of being co-workers in God's labor of saving the universe. And it all starts with The Liturgy, The Mass, and then it pours out into our homes. The Liturgy is the key way in which God's Kingdom spreads. To eliminate it's practice and replace it with sentimental, secular liturgies is to do anti-missions, anti-evangelization. Liturgies form followers -- so we'll either follow Christ or our own appetites.
Some might think I exaggerate, or think we can surely participate in Advent and do secular Christmas. But on the ground our youth have largely never even heard of the word "Advent." I get blank stares when I ask about it [as a theology teacher at a Catholic school]. In similar fashion, phrases like "suffer one's passions" seem strange to them. For children raised in the liturgy, this is the Catholic Patrimonial tongue, a normal way our people speak.
Secondly, we actually can't celebrate both, for if I am feasting and fasting at the same time, that I'm actually not fasting. If I am practicing Advent virtues like silence, meditation, and vigilance, then my home is quiet. But if I'm rejoicing with Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas," then my home is full of noise. The two simply cannot coexist at the same time in me. I'll love one and hate the other, or vice versa. This doesn't mean Catholics are supposed to be boring, it just means Catholics have a reason to feast and a reason to fast. Secularists all consuming reason is always "because I want to." One made in the image of God is rational, not bestial. The cultural question here is how we want citizens shaped: rational or bestial, like Christ or like dogs.
What season are we actually in then? In Trinitytide 24 (Ordinary 32). We are weeks away from Christ the King Sunday. Our thoughts at church, at work, and in our homes, is thus turned to Final Judgment. St. Aelred has a Mass on Christ the King Sunday, November 25th at 3:30pm in the St. Joseph School Chapel.
[EDIT: 2020, we are now located at 4951 Macon Highway and Mass is at 10 AM on Sundays. We are also now in the Weekdays before Advent, gearing up for Advent. This year Christmas broke through Halloween in some ways.]