Checking Out Some Christmas Anecdata

Many of us lament the premature arrival of Christmas decorations in stores. You can buy Christmas trees and lights from CostCo just days after Labor Day. Things start to heat up even more by mid-November, and by the Friday after Thanksgiving, it is ON.

I don’t have anything concrete to back this up, but it seems even worse this year. Christmas is popping up everywhere, to the point that Thanksgiving won’t be the beginning of the Christmas season, but instead a holiday within it.

This is to be expected on some level. If the economy is still pokey, then stores are going to want to hasten the arrival of the shopping season. It is to their advantage to create a sense of urgency, and to make the season as long as possible. And don’t misunderstand me—I think it’s problematic to get sucked into that.

But what I’m especially interested in is the arrival of Christmas in individual homes. I have a number of friends who have already begun the Christmas season. Their tree is up. They’re listening to Christmas music. Shopping is well underway (though perhaps that’s nothing new—some of us just like to get it done early).

I say this not to judge. I’m just curious about it, and wonder if others have noticed this. It’s purely anecdotal stuff. But if I’m right, it makes sense. The country seems depressed to me. Someone said to me today, “Obama has not done a good job as Cheerleader in Chief.” And this is someone who is very supportive of the President generally. You can argue that that’s not his primary job—maybe it’s our job as members of a community. Maybe it’s my job, and the job of other spiritual leaders.

But we are in need of some cheer.

And maybe the longing for Christmas is wrapped up in all of this.

It won’t surprise you to hear that I’m not an Advent purist. I get the point of Advent, and agree that spiritual preparation helps us not get carried away in a wave of kitschy detritus and overconsumption. There’s something nice about not jumping the gun. There’s something lovely in letting the moment ripen.

On the other hand, I think when we the Theologically Correct insist on purity (no Christmas music until X, no tree until Y), when we hold Christmas back with a whip and a chair, because it’s good for us, darnit!… then we are missing something. I agree with Tom Are of Village Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, who said a few years back, “I just don’t think any more that the church gets to tell the culture what time it is. That just doesn’t connect with people.”

If what I’m noticing is a larger trend, it would seem that we need a little Christmas… right this very minute.

And if that’s the case… then is a slavish adherence to Advent prophetic, or just out of step with what is deeply needed?


19 thoughts on “Checking Out Some Christmas Anecdata

  1. Grace says:

    I go both ways on this. I think you make a good point … but in times like these, I feel like what I need is a little Advent, not a little Christmas (in large part because Advent is more meaningful to me because it hasn’t been commercialized and despoiled). So I see part of my job as doing my best to present Advent as something life-giving and meaningful, so that people realize they have other options for hope than the commercial Christmas.

    • MaryAnn says:

      And that right there is the issue. I don’t like “Christmas has been spoiled, but Advent is still pure, so let’s do that.” Which is at the root of a lot of Advent observance.

      Let’s not give up on Christmas because it has been commercialized. Let’s reframe Christmas as something that is so much more than what it’s often understood to be.

      The Lord IS come. Right now on Veterans Day. If that’s when the world needs him to come.

      • juniper says:

        I totally totally agree and I’m putting my comment here because I lvoe what you say here about Christmas. The Lord is come, indeed!

  2. Matthew McKibben says:

    I agree that the Christmas season seems to be coming sooner than last year and year’s prior. I hate hate hate hate HATE Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving. I’m a purist through and through and Christmas season does NOT begin until you see Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is fact. There is no need to debate the subject. Halloween then Thanksgiving then Christmas.

    The Christmas season is unique because it’s a season. There is no 4th of July “season.” About as close as you get is Easter “season” being about a week long or so. But with Christmas, you get from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And what I like about that month or so is that it’s a “feel good” month. You walk with a little bit more of a hop in your step. You actually don’t mind the cold weather because it fits the narrative. But for me, I don’t think that it’s sustainable for anything longer than the month between Turkey Day and Christmas Day.

    If you’re doing Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, you’re probably half assing it. All that this really is is the parental equivalent of not being able to wait until Christmas to open your gifts. It’s all sex, no foreplay. The fun is in the waiting.

  3. Teri says:

    I like Advent because I feel like we need a space where it’s okay NOT to be cheery, particularly during a season when cheer is everywhere and yet grief is more potent than many other times of year. Sometimes the Christmas Cheer feels oppressive and we just need a space where minor keys and deep purples set the tone instead of muzak frosty and twinkle lights.

    For me that’s not about purity but about offering space for a variety of experiences. Even churches are often very upbeat and, frankly, difficult for people who aren’t feeling cheer (at any season) and this is one of those times when we can let our guard down a little, I guess, and stop the fake smiles and greetings punctuated by more exclamation points than even I can type.

  4. anne says:

    as i recall my movie history i think seabiscuit helped to give the country a needed boost during the great depression. i hadn’t thought about Christmas being able to do the same in this season of national malaise. i’ll have to ponder that one.

    Seabiscuit (May 23, 1933 – May 17, 1947) was a champion Thoroughbred racehorse in the United States. From an inauspicious start, Seabiscuit became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during the Great Depression. (wikipedia)

    and on whether our president is failing in his role as cheerleader-in-chief, i’m old enough to recall when carter was president and he failed miserably in this role. (there were things he did well, like try to get us onboard w/ energy conservation, but cheerleader—NOT.) as i recall after his crisis of confidence speech we just all wanted to stick our heads in the toilet. we do need a cheerleader!

    finally, this year my extended family will gather at thanksgiving rather than near Christmas as we usually do. i’ve decided NOT to decorate for Christmas until after that gathering, but we will share gifts then—that way we won’t have to ship stuff

    yesterday i framed beautiful copies of ephesians 3.14-21 which my mom had labeled in her Bible ‘a prayer for our children.’ that will be one of our gifts to each household. the other gift will be soil from the old family farm—good earth from which the roots of our family grew. soooo i’ve done my shopping for the extended family—beautiful paper for the Bible passage, 10 frames, and 10 cloth bags for the good earth. not the most practical gifts, but i’m sooo excited to give these gifts! will these gifts change the national psyche? of course not, but i hope it will be helpful for our family’s psyche.

  5. Sue says:

    So – what does it mean then that I listening to Christmas music as I waited in line at the Michaels to pay for the new Advent wreath for the church 🙂

  6. sko3 says:

    I like Advent. I like Christmas. I draw a strange little line of my own. Decorations and music begin after St. Lucia Day (the 13th). We’ll see how that changes this year with a 4 year old who is more culturally aware than last year. I like Advent on Sunday morning but don’t mind Christmas creep outside of worship.

  7. Becca says:

    What I dislike about the earlier and earlier Christmases is that then neither Christmas or Advent seem to me to get their full due. I’d love to see a resurgence of “The 12 Days of Christmas” (not the song, *gag*) where Christmas as a season doesn’t begin until Christmas Day and then lasts until Epiphany.
    Do I love the twinkle lights and cheery music? You bet. But if they begin so early, they loose some of their specialness before the big day. The evergreens begin to droop, the 227th hearing of “Silver Bells” begins to grate on the nerves, the lights just start to look tacky. By the time the church season of Christmas rolls around, I’d just as soon tell it to kiss off.
    I don’t want to tell people not to be of good cheer during Advent, but let’s at least wait until Advent, folks!

  8. Meg says:

    So many thoughts to ponder… I love the Christmas season! Birth, renewal, hope, wonder and the joy in a child’s eyes. We begin to decorate the house Thanksgiving weekend… we are all together and usually it is a fairly slow weekend plus it is often the beginning of Advent.

    For me, Christmas isn’t what is in the stores and the larger world around me…. it is in the sacred stories, the time spent building relationships with those around us and in the time spent growing closer to God.

    I will say that I do not mind seeing the Christmas items in the store early… I like to try to get my Christmas shopping completed early. Much to the retailers dislike, I would prefer to NOT spend my December in the mall…. and this is coming from someone who use to work in retail. 🙂 With four kids, December is a super busy month… school activities, home from college time, extra activities at church, Nutcracker and more. If I can get some of the extra things taken care of earlier so that I can be less harried and enjoy more fun with my family, then I am all for earlier. 🙂 Also since I like to try and make some of our gifts, having the Christmas supplies available earlier is a big help. When I do get a chance to Christmas craft in the “off season” I will often play Christmas music. I don’t find that I am get tired of the music…there is such a wide variety of beautiful holiday music to sample…from the giggly fun songs that we play while decorating gingerbread houses to the inspirational songs that will bring tears to my eyes.

  9. MB says:

    I think it’s about both/and…

    The idea that a ‘pure’ observance of Advent is out of touch with the culture is right on. However, part of the work of the Church is to connect with humanity on a two way street (not a one lane road.) Hmmm… that may sound a little heretical if you extend that metaphor too far – but maybe not. 🙂

    I would love to incorporate a respect for cultural traditions *with* an embracing of traditions of the Church *with* a creation of new experiences which together might bring the focus to relationships.

    God reaches toward us and we reach toward God. Somewhere in the mix we reach for each other – maybe that’s where the both/and happens.

  10. Megan says:

    “Right this very minute” is exactly what our culture is telling us. We are unhappy or depressed as you say because what we want we can’t have right now. (stable economy, healthy home prices, low unemployment numbers, etc.) And as much as we want the kingdom to be fully present on earth, it is not. For some reason, God is making us wait.
    That is the message that the church needs to proclaim during the Advent season. Some things are worth waiting for…love cannot be hurried…be patient.
    It seems that we as a country need that message more than ever, and the church has the opportunity during Advent to live into that.

  11. […] November 12, 2010 Posted by MaryAnn in Uncategorized. trackback The great discussion on the previous post spurred some additional thinking. I started to comment there but it got too long and well, […]

  12. Jan Lorah says:

    I have recently been attending a non-traditional church where the liturgical calendar is non-existent. I have to admit that I miss very much the honoring of such; noting the liturgical seasons has been so ingrained in my life that I feel “cheated” w/o them. I’m not opposed to carols, candles, trees, lights before Christmas — but as was said earlier, I like to go to church and light an Advent candle. I love the anticipation. Teri said, “Even churches are often very upbeat and, frankly, difficult for people who aren’t feeling cheer…” Unfortunately, I resonate w/ these words. This little non-traditional church I’ve been attending will not tolerate anyone who is down-in-the-dumps; they believe we have to be cheerful to worship our Lord. It may be the sticking point that sends me back to the search. I absolutely love Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ, but as a single person it makes me so very heavy. I miss the hoopla and excitement of family more at that time than any other. Let’s face it: Churches cater to families, and holidays are centered around family gatherings. SO, last year I didn’t even put up a tree; I’m going to do better this year — but still abhor the commercialism that has consumed our society. Whew! I think I dumped a lot of mixed feelings into one writing; sorry.

  13. […] advent, christmas, hymnody, music, post-christendom, worship trackback I’ve already written here and here with some theological reflections on celebrating Christmas in the midst of Advent. Here […]

  14. […] I detected a genuine longing for Christmas, beyond some grabby-greedy-gimme kind of consumerist thing, and […]

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