How many times have you heard that greeting since December 26? My bet is not very often. I recently read an article about how the idea that there was a “war on Christmas” got started in conservative evangelical Christian circles. As I read, I was reminded that those who exhort us to “say Merry Christmas again” don’t appear to be very interested in the theological meaning and liturgical timing of Christmas! Instead they are much more focused on the trappings, on consumerism and materialism (presents, lights, decorations, prominent Christmas-only displays), and starting as early in the year as possible — way before Advent, way before Halloween, in fact. Our president has been saying “Merry Christmas” since October! But by the end of Christmas Day, it seems like no one is the least bit interested in saying “Merry Christmas” anymore, and the decorations are already starting to come down.
And yet, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, the feast of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ, doesn’t actually begin until Christmas Eve. We then have the twelve days of Christmas, what we call Christmastide, culminating in the feast of the Epiphany on January 6. (At Holy Apostles, we’ll transfer the feast to the next day, Sunday, January 7.) Epiphany was originally the bigger feast day than Christmas, and since it is the day we remember the Magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus it has traditionally been an even better day than Christmas for gift-giving.
I’m likely starting to sound like a grumpy Episcopalian by now — but my intent is actually the opposite: to encourage us to keep saying “Merry Christmas” a little longer, during the whole twelve days of Christmastide until Epiphany. And to not just say it, but to continue to celebrate it! In the old days, the twelve days of Christmas were when all the parties were held (rather than our tradition of pushing them into Advent). It may feel a little late to be planning parties, but we hope you will celebrate with us at the Epiphany Party here at Holy Apostles on the afternoon of January 7! And there are surely many other festive things we can do during the twelve days of Christmas. But most importantly, we can make sure that we find something, big or small, to take joy and delight in every day of this Christmas season.
And so, I say to you again, Merry, Merry Christmas!