The signs are everywhere. Houses and yards are adorned with twinkling lights and plastic snowmen. Stores festively display Christmas decorations and the latest must-have items of the season. Mailboxes are bursting forth with invitations to gift exchanges, tasting parties, and other holiday festivities. At long last that magical season is upon us! But wait! It's mid-November! I still have fall leaves in my yard and a pumpkin on my porch. I haven't even planned our Thanksgiving meal yet? How did it get to be the Christmas season already?
That's easy. The retailing powers that be decided long ago that the more shopping days there are in the holiday season the more people will shop. The lines that begin forming outside some large chain stores before the pumpkin pie is even off the Thanksgiving table prove that the retailers were right.
Of course, Christmas is not the only holiday to have been tweaked by corporations. After all, we live in a country that celebrates its veterans and great presidents by buying mattresses on sale and purchasing furniture and automobiles with no money down. We charge the malls in search goodies for our Easter baskets. And we shower not only our true love, but also our friends, family, and co-workers with Valentine's Day cards and candies. If it's a holiday, there's a corresponding gift, card, or purchase to go with it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't enjoy festive treats, shop or purchase quality bedding at drastically reduced prices. But the fact that some Christians are bothered by whether or not their Best Buy clerk says, "Merry Christmas!" just goes to show how much we have come to associate the birth of our Savior with a new Xbox.
Of course, retailers know this. Since the holiday season is the time of year that they do their best business, they have a vested interest in dictating exactly how Christians celebrate the incarnation. They want us to prepare for one of holiest events in human history by shopping and shopping and shopping and shopping and shopping!
There has been a lot of hubbub in recent years about The War on Christmas, but there has never been a war on Christmas. Retailers don't give two hoots about what we do December 25. The war is on Advent.
Actually, that's not true either. To say there's a war implies some sort of struggle. But instead it seems like many Christians have simply been led like sheep to a Door Buster Sale.
We've forgotten how Christian's have traditionally prepared for the birth of the Lord. We are too busy looking for the next great deal to proclaim his coming, and then become indignant when our Wal Mart greeter does not proclaim Him for us.
But maybe, just maybe, the best way to prepare for our Savior's birth involves more than just wearing a Keep Christ in Christmas button to the mall. Maybe we need to prepare for Christmas by taking Advent seriously and restoring it to it's rightful place in the Christian calendar.
Historically Christians have spent the days of Advent preparing themselves for Christ's coming, both as a baby in a manger and for His second coming at the end of time. Parties, gorging on fudge, sappy movies, and shopping are not actually longstanding Christian customs. On the contrary, to prepare for the coming of Christ, Christians traditionally spent the days before Christmas in somber reflection and prayer.
Unfortunately, it seems as if these days most of us are too busy decking the halls and storming the malls to spend much time in somber reflection. But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves? Perhaps we are rushing Christmas.
If Christmas is a celebration of Christ's coming, shouldn't we wait until He comes to start celebrating? It seems rude to start the party before the Guest of honor has arrived. Yes, He is always with us, but Christmas should be a time for celebrating Him in a special way. Instead sometimes we seem more like spoiled, impatient children who demand to open our presents long before our birthday.
It isn't necessary for Christians to spend the days of Advent in sackcloth and ashes. It isn't even necessary to shun all Christmas trappings before December 24th. But we should realize that Christmas has not arrived, and it won't arrive until Christmas Eve. Everything we do between now and then, no matter how fun or festive or somber or serious, should all be just preparation for the true Celebration. During the days of Advent we should keep a mindset of preparation rather than just celebration. Perhaps we should even strive to incorporate Advent traditions into the season like a Jesse Tree or an Advent wreath. Other ways to keep the spirit of Advent could include shopping locally or with fair trade merchants, seeking out ways to serve the needy, or reading from an Advent devotional book. Advent is a the perfect time to reflect on the year behind us and to prayerfully consider ways to be better in the year to come. What better way to prepare for Christmas than to look for ways to be be holier and more prayerful?
In the days to come, there's no reason for Christians to bristle when greeted by the expression "Happy Holidays!" These are indeed Holy Days -- for Christians and for people of other faiths too. And the more we strive to keep the spirit of Advent, the holier Christmas will be and the more we can truly celebrate.
An original version of this post appeared on charmingfarming.com