By Fr. Deogratias Ekisa, S.T.D.
When I first came to the USA I was surprised at how early Christmas celebrations began and equally at how soon they ended. Christmas lights and decorations go up around Thanksgiving Day (in some places after Halloween) and so does the singing of Christmas carols. And then as prematurely as the Christmas celebrations began so do they also prematurely end. I realized that this custom of celebrating Christmas early is the secular celebration of the holidays, which, to be fair, does not need to take into account, the liturgical seasons of the Church calendar.
According to the liturgical calendar, the Christmas season begins only on the evening of December 24th. As one of the most important mysteries of our Faith (along with the Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter)), Christmas is really celebrated as an Octave – that is for eight days. The Octave of Christmas ends with the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God on January 1st. Even the Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” refers to the days following Christmas, not the days before Christmas. And so, at least according to the mind of the Church, Christmas celebrations are forward-looking, from Christmas day onwards.
The four weeks which precede Christmas are the Advent Season. Too often, the practices of celebrating Christmas early inevitably lead to skipping over of Advent…
Get a breakdown of the Advent Season in just 2 minutes!
The Jesse Tree
Our spiritual growth is like the growth of a plant, especially a tree. The really strong trees take years, even decades to grow. A tiny seed becomes a seedling; the seedling slowly becomes a plant; the plant then grows a stem with branches; and these in turn grow flowers which become the fruit that we harvest. Of course this plant needs nutrients, especially water and fertilizer. But the plant also needs a change in seasons: the Spring to germinate, the Summer to grow, the Fall to shed its leaves and the Winter to hibernate. And then the cycle starts all over again, as the tree grows taller and stronger. Without the variety of seasons, the tree would remain stunted and would never grow.
When we Catholics skip one or more of the liturgical seasons, we also miss out on the opportunity to be nourished by that season, as we grow in our spiritual life. As parents, we don’t let our Children skip over the meat and vegetables and go straight to the cake and ice-cream; if we did so, our kids would have really big smiles, but would also be quite malnourished. Why then do we skip over the season of Advent and jump straight to Christmas joy?
Unlike Christmas which focuses our attention on the First Coming of Jesus (his birth), Advent also focuses our attention on the Second Coming of Jesus – Yes, the Lord is coming back. That is what the readings, the vestments, the music, the wreath, the lesser solemnity and all the signs tell us; that we are longing, waiting for the Lord. We Christians need such a message of waiting, expectation and hope. Our lives will be lived better, if at least once a year, we are reminded of where we are going. Our journey to God will have direction, if we take time to consider where it is leading. These four weeks of Advent tell us where we are going by focusing on the end-times, so that our present times can be lived well.
There is a campaign with the slogan, “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas.” Let me propose another campaign and with its clumsier slogan: “Keep Advent in Advent.” Please join me in this campaign, the campaign of the Church, by not glossing over these four weeks of Advent or by not turning them prematurely into a prolonged Christmas tailgate, but by letting them help you prepare both for a celebration of the Lord’s First Coming and his Final Coming in Glory.
Fr. Deogratias O. Ekisa is the Vice Rector, Director of Human Formation, Chair and Professor of Sacramental-Liturgical Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. A priest of the Archdiocese of Tororo – Uganda, Fr. Deo was ordained in 1998 after his seminary studies at Notre Dame Seminary. He is also the Director of Seminarians for the Tororo seminarians studying at NDS. Fr. Deo hopes to bring to Notre Dame Seminary the experience of the African Church and culture. Read more about this blogger on our Author page.