One of the more popular things to complain about these days (other than airport security) is how quickly Christmas showed up in commercial life once Halloween was over. I, like so many others, get crabby when Christmas commercials begin on television before Thanksgiving, or when I happen to stop into a craft store earlier in November, only to find the store overflowing with Christmas craft kitsch and cheesy pop versions of otherwise nice Christmas songs playing over the loudspeaker.
There is part of me that rebels against such early Christmas-ization on the grounds that, liturgically, December is about Advent, which is a season of preparing for Christmas-the-season rather than Christmas-the-day. I have yet to experiment with finding a way to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas (yes, as in that repetitive and pretty annoying Christmas carol), but I plan to try it one of these years. And so this is the part of me that scowls at commercial efforts to celebrate Christmas earlier and earlier.
But there is a part of me that wonders if I am getting crabby about the wrong thing. Perhaps all of the early Christmas-ization is less about celebrating Christmas early, and more about stretching out the season of preparation for Christmas. There seems to be a message being sent that people have to start planning and preparing for Christmas starting November 1 if they ever hope to put together successful Christmas celebrations. This could be a nod to our society's increasingly busy schedules, where we have to start planning and preparing earlier and earlier in order to accomplish all of the Christmas events and traditions we want to experience. It could also be a nod to a set of unrealistic expectations about the holidays - feeding the idea that holiday celebrations need to be big and extravagant and picture-perfect. If we are over-busy and we yet plan on lots of fuss for the holidays, then we need to start preparing for Christmas - albeit a very different sort of Christmas - much earlier than Advent.
But what if we took a step back and resisted the urge to start Christmas plans too early? What if we let Thanksgiving be its own holiday, setting the tone for the rest of Advent and Christmas? What if we began the holiday season by noticing, appreciating, and acknowledging with gratitude all of God's gifts? We might find that a spirit of gratitude could take a lot of the unnecessary fuss out of November and December, and lead us to more meaningful experiences of these holidays.
What if we imagined a holiday season without excess?