Monday, December 02, 2013

'Tis the Season... For What?

Last week, the United States celebrated the holiday, Thanksgiving. Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, it seems this once-sacred holiday has become, for many, little more than a feeding frenzy before the shopping apocalypse now known as Black Friday. 

With the Halloween decorations, in recent years, sharing shelf space with Christmas decorations, my sons and I started calling the period of time from mid-October to December 26 "Halgivemas"--two months of commercial gluttony abandoning anything remotely resembling the historical origins of the holidays contained within.

Even Halloween, in its inception, had a religious connection. It was the eve of All Hallows' Day, a day set aside to remember the saints. However, my "bah, humbug" is centered, not on the trick-or-treat tradition, but on the decline of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The history books of my school days taught us that Thanksgiving was founded by the pilgrims--a group of highly religious people, the Puritans--as a way to show thanks to God for getting them through the early days and near disasters of their colonization. (Historical revisionists of the Twenty-first Century will critique this on many levels, pointing out the errant ways inherent in the practice of colonization, but that critique does not erode the Puritans' stated intent--to show thanks to God.)

What began as a religious observance, by the mid-Twentieth Century, was beginning to become a time to be thankful, less for God's blessings, but rather to be thankful for family and friends. Sports events and parades begin to take part in the day, giving people something with which to fill the time. After all, a whole day of giving thanks is a long time, right? By the turn of the Twenty-first Century, the religious aspect of Thanksgiving had all but been marginalized. Surely the Puritans would never have imagined that the day of thanks would require some people to have a designated driver to get them to and from the gatherings.

Now, the day after Thanksgiving marks two events--Black Friday and the beginning of what most call Christmas. Before the leftovers are eaten or thrown away, people of the United States have moved on to getting ready for Christmas. Seasonal decorations come out, seasonal music begins to play, and people go into hyper-consumerism mode.

Central to the current celebration of Christmas is the exchange of presents. This exchange necessitates the purchase of presents. Retailers thrive at this time of year, needing, in fact, to hire more people to handle the escalated shopping.

Indeed, many will include church services in their attention to the season. Yet, for many of those who include church, it is second to the parties and the presents.

What is lost starting with Black Friday is that Christmas marks and celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The season starting four Sundays before Christmas (right after Thanksgiving) is actually the Advent season, the period of the year that we look forward to the Christmas season. It is a time to reenact the coming of Jesus Christ. Believers were meant to spend this time preparing themselves for the day when Christ's birth--the incarnation of God into the world--would be celebrated.

THEN for the next twelve days, Christmas season is to be celebrated. But most people in the United States, by the first day of Christmas, are so tired of everything, they take down all their decorations and start making plans to celebrate New Year's Day.

The whole purpose Christmas, the celebration of God's gift to humanity, is lost to the practice of giving gifts to each other. The important sacred moment is lost to the commercial, secular ending of Halgivemas season!

Church historians will tell us that Constantine appropriated the calendar period of a pagan holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ. People were already accustomed to celebrating at that time, so he adapted that celebration to a sacred celebration.

This change reflected the shift, at that time, of society's attitude toward an acknowledgement of the central importance of God in the lives of humanity.

So what does society's attitude shifting away from the sacred to the secular tell us?


The True Meaning of Christmas video:


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