SO - HOW LONG IS CHRISTMAS?
Or - Did the GRINCH steal Christmas or did the culture let him in!
By Bishop Keith L. Ackerman
I think it should not surprise us that in spite of the fact that the Christian Calendar (Kalendar) has a much longer history than the evolving, innovative Secular American Calendar, the Secular Calendar is winning. In fact, not only is it winning in the “secular world” (a redundant phrase) it is winning in Christian Churches with little sense of historicity who have eliminated the Calendar of the Church and replaced it with the “Christian Light” Calendar: Christmas (which has 12 days before December 25), Easter (which includes Good Friday) and Mother’s Day. While one might argue as to what is right or wrong, the reality is that most modern denominations and so-called “Bible Churches or “Non-denominational Churches” have eliminated virtually all Christian Feast Days. In areas where these types of churches predominate, we should not be surprised when our own people seem to be surprised to learn or remember what have been the Traditional Festivals/Feast Days of the Church. Sadly, whenever Feast Days are eliminated and the Liturgical Seasons are eliminated, we are met with a cultureless Christianity. Unfortunately, that means that secular “holidays” have replaced religious holidays or religious holidays become secularist versions of what they were instituted to be. Religious sociologists have coined the phrase “civil religion” which in our context means that when the Church drops festivals and holy days, the culture establishes something to fill the void. I will not burden you with “Christmas Break” and “Easter Break” versus “Winter Break” and “Spring Break.”
So........how long is Christmas? The Secular world, which has dragged some modern churches with them, seems to have Christmas begin either right before or right after Thanksgiving. There is no opportunity to focus on savoring the taste of the Thanksgiving meal, and enjoy family - because a new secular feast is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, called “Black Friday.” It’s Christmas everywhere. On one hand, not unlike the birth of all children, we do spend the last month making preparations for the birth - it’s just that the expectant mother is not really up to celebrating parties that month. She is much too busy for the event - called “the birth.” Traditional Christians call that last month preparing for the Birth of the Baby Jesus - “Advent.” It is after the birth that friends and family come to celebrate the birth of the child. Sadly, for many who see the secular calendar as “official,” including modern churches, on the day after Christmas Day - it’s over! For traditional Christians, it has just begun, and for at least Twelve Days - it continues, with Holy Days (holidays) almost every day. Traditional Churches follow the Biblical pattern: Jesus is born, Jesus is circumcised and named on the 8th Day (January 1) and the Wisemen (sometimes called Kings) arrive bearing their gifts on January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany. Of course, “enlightened people” will tell us that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and that the Wisemen took years to complete their trek, but that type of person apparently does not understand the difference between observing important events versus writing a substantial paper regarding historicity. If one were to take that reasoning to a conclusion, then we should only celebrate Christmas every 33 years. Likewise, Good Friday and Easter - every 33 years, since most historians believe that Jesus’ birth, death and Resurrection took place within a 33-year period. It would be like saying that there is only one birthday for us - the day we were born, that every year we celebrate the anniversary of our birth and that we should NEVER celebrate that day except on the precise day at the precise time. Many people do not enjoy birthday parties at 2 A.M. but generally speaking, babies and parents do not always have a consultation before birth about the most convenient time for the mother. Moreover the “enlightened people” who are convinced that they have the inside track on Biblical generally offer no alternatives for observing these Biblical Feasts at the “historically correct” time.
So..............is January 6 - or its Eve (Sundown on January 5) the last day of Christmas? Yes and No. Certainly the Twelve Days are the Traditional Days of the Christmas Season, and technically, most Traditional Christians do not take ANY decorations down until the Epiphany - but, Forty Days after Christmas Day - again followed by traditional Christians - it is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which involves the Blessing of the Candles to be used that year in churches, as we sing the Song of Blessed Simeon, “To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the Glory of thy people Israel.” Indeed - Epiphany proclaims by virtue of the Adoration of the Magi who are from Gentile lands, that this Messiah, awaited for by the Jews for centuries, is for ALL people - Jews and Gentiles, and on February 2, St. Simeon once again proclaims that reality. Ironically many Americans who trace their heritage from Spain or a number of Hispanic countries have a traditional Cake served on Epiphany. In the cake is placed a Nino (baby figure) and the “winner” who finds the Christ Child in his or her piece of cake must now make and serve Tamales on February 2 - yes, the Feast day mentioned above.
So.....how long is Christmas? Well......in one sense - all year- since every Mass that is celebrated is a “Christ” Mass. In another sense, it is Twelve days long, and in yet another sense it is 40 Days long. But by then it is time for St. Valentine’s Day (no this saint did not shoot arrows at peoples’ hearts) and St. Patrick’s Day (no he did not drink green beer.) But there it is. For Christians we have a choice - simply go with the flow - do what the crowd does - or claim and reclaim our heritage. After all there is no law that mandates either (St.) Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe it is Hallmark that determines what is and what isn’t a Feast Day? Can we take a day off from school or work because “I’m tired” but would never take a day off for Good Friday? In the end the questions is - did “they” take our Christian Calendar away or did “we” simply allow it to be taken? The same principle can apply in terms of our Faith. If attending a church on Sunday were suddenly “against the law” as it is and has been in several countries, would attendance decline in adherence to the law or would it increase because “no one is going to tell me what I can and can’t do.” If Christians were more firm in their Faith, much of the above would never have had to be written because all of the aforementioned observances would have continued since “it is what we always have done at all times and in all places” for over Two Thousand years.
Why I am an Anglo-Catholic Bishop K.L. Ackerman
“I AM” has certain remarkable precedence in the Old Testament. It is not a credal statement, but rather is an ontological one. When certain descriptive words follow this statement of being, however, we are faced with not only a diversity of definition, but also an identity which may be subject to change by an institution or by the person who is claiming the word as descriptive of whom or what that person is.
In the late 1800’s to say that one was an Anglo-Catholic was to make a claim that was subject to near prosecution or persecution or ridicule depending upon where the claimant lived. In the immediate pre-1928 period and pre-World War II era, to claim to be an Anglo-Catholic would not always mean persecution, but could mean exclusion, and sent chills through the spines of Bishops who often feared open rebellion in “moderately High Church” settings. And yet, for parishes and Dioceses, which had been formed by the heirs of the Oxford Movement, it always meant much more. It even meant more than incense every Sunday, regular Confession hours, Holy Day Masses, and Eucharistic Vestments. It meant a way of thinking - a way of praying - a way of approaching the Mystery of the Word made Flesh (which was proclaimed daily at Mass at the Last Gospel.) More than that, it meant the Guild of All Souls, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, the Living Rosary of Our Lady and St. Dominic and living a Rule of Life under the auspices of an Episcopal Religious Order with a Spiritual Director. It was not so much being against the majority expression of Anglicanism as it was living out the implications of an authentic English Catholic heritage which sometimes only existed in the minds of some, but more often than not was expressed by the pious faithful in the pews. For this movement was shaped in the trenches in what would be the forerunner of social activism, ministering in exile, as it were, in slums and docks where others refused to serve. Apart from being life filling by virtue of an environment of grace and peace whereby Christ was literally in the center, it was gracious and fun. Countless stories of “how boring church was growing up” were not generally expressed by Anglo-Catholics. From the Asperges or Vide Acqua to the “Last Gospel”, every sense was stimulated. The style was gracious and though often eccentric, the faithful and priest seemed to exude a sense of awe themselves in the “Magnus Mysterium”.
Humor was great because there was so much to laugh about, and if we forgot, we could just read the “Fun in Church” series from Trenton, New Jersey. And one knew exactly “the place to go” when they traveled, because all good Anglo-Catholics memorized the names of those Shrines from St. Mary the Virgin in New York City to the Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco, with marvelous stops in between. There was a type of Anglo-Catholic sub-culture, if you will, in the Episcopal Church, and it was like a family reunion when the American Church Union sponsored meetings, rallies, and missions, often led by the Archbishop of Capetown or the Bishop of Fond du Lac.
In spite of its marvelous eccentricities, and the apathy or disdain of the majority, this sub-culture made an impact on the wider Church. Prayer Book Studies, Liturgical Renewal, and a lessening of Catholic prejudice brought a new age for Anglo-Catholics, who could not believe that the centrality of the Eucharist, Crucifixes, Stations of the Cross, and Ashes on Ash Wednesday were
slowly creeping into the Church along with Icons (pre-computer “Icon” days), Eucharistic Vestments, and Chanting.
Claiming to be an Anglo-Catholic suddenly was not so unusual, and having Eucharistic vestments often became the mark of the “card-carrying member”. And yet, for many AngloCatholics it was not the dawn of a new day. It was a shift in scenery. As new rites and rearranged sanctuaries came, the essence was not necessarily changed, for the piety remained. However for some Anglo-Catholics something was not right. For those who had longed for the day when they could be seen as more than a somewhat credible minority, something was gone. As people left and parishes closed or sought life with a new entity, fun was gone. For many it was like having the rug pulled out, and those who had celebrated a gracious, fun-loving faith felt a new exclusion. It was like sharing a unique gift, and having the recipient forget the giver.
Thus the “tolerated minority” became a “divided minority”. Unfortunately in a Church that suddenly could accept anything, claiming inclusivity, the traditional Anglo-Catholic could not be accepted. Moreover Anglo-Catholics themselves were divided. Which Roman usage should we follow? Should it be Trent (Anglican or American or Knott Missal) or Vatican II (Rite II or the Roman Missal itself). Where should the Altar be? (East or West?)
A new breed of denominationalism even came into being - “Affirming Catholicism,” where a Province can alter faith without consulting anyone else, but can “look Anglo-Catholic”, and can even “vote out” those who maintain what had hitherto been believed in all places, and still is by the majority of Catholic Christianity. “Will the real Catholic please stand up.” This “affirming” expression began to look and smell Anglo-Catholic, but who was at the Altar changed, and what was said from the Pulpit was greatly revised.
No one laughs anymore. People sometimes look out of the corner of their eye to see whether people now bow, genuflect or intentionally do nothing at the “Incarnatus Est.” The new question is: “What is the difference between a “renewed” Anglo-Catholic and a “Low Churchman?” The “renewed” Anglo-Catholic knows why he doesn’t do the things that the Low Churchman won’t do. But it’s not fun anymore.
The joy is gone. The traditional Anglo-Catholic who worked the docks in England, who ploughed the fields in the Biretta Belt, and worked the streets of the cities with the only “white collar” on the block, is now a curmudgeon. The future is fully in the hands of God. There are many, however, who do not look back, but look forward, carrying the gift which they received like a fragile torch on a windy night. These caretakers have never believed that they could change the gift, but look forward to a day that is like the darkened church at the Great Vigil, waiting for the gift. Very few Anglicans ever celebrated the Vigil – just a handful of AngloCatholics here and abroad. These celebrants still gather and await the chant “The Light of Christ.” And as the Light spreads in a darkened church building, in a darkened “National” Church, in a darkened world, we await the words, “Thanks be to God.”
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