This column was originally published on Jan. 5, 2011
ON THE SECOND day of Christmas, my neighbors dragged their naked tree out to the curb, to be hauled away with Monday’s garbage. I reluctantly disassembled my own tree, because I wanted to bring my kitties back home from their Christmas visit with relatives and knew they would disassemble it themselves — along with my own peace on earth — if I did not. The rest of the decorations remain through today.
On the third day of Christmas, I awoke to the sound of a “Morning Edition” host ridiculing the grocery stores that were still — still — playing Christmas music.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the first three installments of Rick Noble’s 12 creches of Christmas arrived in my in-box, along with a couple of messages that concluded with “Merry Christmas.” Maybe I was overstating this American rush to sweep the celebration of the Incarnation out into the bleak midwinter, I thought, as I selected a Christmas column to run on the next day’s Commentary page. Mr. Noble, who runs First Steps in Richland County, told me people seem to like the extended celebration offered by the pictures from his collection of creches. Then he took the opportunity of our conversation to pitch a column he was working on.
On the fifth day of Christmas, I fielded calls from a couple of readers who considered it outrageous that I had run a Christian op-ed in the morning’s paper. I probably was projecting when I imagined them thinking: “Isn’t it bad enough that I have to put up with this hokum during Christmas ? Do you not realize that was last week?” I confess the thought made me smile.
I arrived at work on the sixth day of Christmas to a barren atrium, the 20-foot tree packed away for another year. I threw out the holly and magnolia fronds that decorated the entrance to the editorial department, because I feared they were becoming a fire hazard. Our artificial wreath remains through today.
I went grocery shopping on the seventh day of Christmas; the folks at NPR would be relieved to know there was no Christmas music to be heard. Outside the grocery store, I ran into state Education Department spokesman Jim Foster, who complimented my Christmas attire and asked, “How much longer can you wear that?” When I said, “Until January 5,” he repeated my answer, but with a question mark at the end.
During the first seven days of Christmas, people indulge my extended celebration. But by the eighth day, you’re expected to move on; it’s a whole new year. Out with the old. So it was a relief to spend that day with fellow Anglo-Catholics. My friend Suzi Clawson lamented that even most Roman Catholics consider Christmas over on Dec. 26; her husband, Robert, who just finished two terms as president of the governing council for the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, said he long ago had accepted the fact that our society wasn’t going to acknowledge days two through 12, adding that most people think the 12-day celebration begins on Dec. 14.
I used to be among them. The first I heard of Epiphany — the commemoration of the Christ child’s revelation to the Gentiles — was from my ninth-grade French teacher, a native of old Orleans who had us bake Three Kings rings as a class assignment. Much the way many Americans celebrate Christmas , I took up the whole 12-days thing for not-exactly religious reasons: After college, it gave me an excuse to keep the first Christmas tree of my very own up past Dec. 31; it also gave me longer to wear Christmas sweaters.
My priest, Father James Lyon — who, in a fit of understatement, reminded us at midnight Mass that he tends to be “protective” of Advent — has been working on me for a few years now. This year, he finally converted me. Oh, I still put the tree up in late November, and the Christmas wardrobe came out of the closet well before Christmas — but later than usual, and more out of tradition than conviction. And when I drove to almost-Virginia on the fourth Sunday of Advent for a pre-Christmas Christmas visit with my sister’s family, I found myself switching stations every time a Christmas song came on the radio; it simply wasn’t time for that yet.
Once it was time, I got one day. And then the rest of the country moved on.
It’s quite fashionable to complain about retailers imposing on Thanksgiving and even Halloween with their Christmas merchandising. Even more fashionable in some circles is complaining about all the politically correct (one of the very few correct uses of that hackneyed insult) talk of “holiday trees” and “holiday cards” and the “holiday break.” I don’t disagree with either complaint. But how many of those same people join in the secularization, trampling over Advent — which historically has been and for some remains a penitential season — and ignoring all but the very first day of Christmas?
We sang Christmas carols at Mass on the ninth day, surrounded by the creche and Christmas adornments and other reminders that Christmas still was very much with us. I was pleasantly surprised to see the state Christmas tree was still up, along with the street decorations on Main Street and in the Vista — although I realized this probably just reflected vacation schedules. Out running errands, I came across two Valentine’s displays.
On the 10th day, a colleague fretted that she had not gotten her decorations down by New Year’s Eve; when I told her it was only the 10th day of Christmas, she thought I was making a joke. I contacted Susan Wilds McArver, who teaches church history at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, to ask why our society ignores the last 11 days of Christmas. She reminded me that many of the first settlers came to America to escape the “excess” of my own Church of England, and said that while South Carolina, Virginia and a few other colonies were quite friendly to the Anglican/Roman Catholic/Orthodox tradition, several colonies banned any celebration of Christmas; Connecticut even outlawed making mince-meat pies.
James Cutsinger, director of undergraduate studies at USC’s Department of Religious Studies, suggested that in addition to the fact that the nation is mainly Protestant, and non-liturgical, “The ever-increasing commercialization of the holiday means that virtually all the emphasis is placed on a lengthy build-up — beginning not merely with Thanksgiving but even Halloween — and all that’s left afterward are the after-Christmas sales and New Year’s Eve parties.”
On the 11th day of Christmas, I finally got up the nerve to step back onto the scales. They suggested that, at least as far as my diet was concerned, I might want to leap right over Epiphany — perhaps even skip the last couple of days of Christmas — and dive straight into Lent.
On the 12th day, I wish you all a Merry Christmas . And a blessed (early) Epiphany.
Editor’s Note: In the six years since I wrote this column, I have fully converted: no Christmas decorations or Christmas clothes before sundown on Dec. 24.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.