Twelve Days Long

Tom Scott

AS AN EPISCOPAL priest, I’ve lived for more than 40 years with two calendars for every December.

The first calendar is widely recognized. It begins on Thanksgiving Day, with the arrival of Santa Claus in the Macy’s parade, and runs through Christmas Day, with all the celebration that’s entailed.

These few weeks are a huge feature of modern life in America. Businesses depend on a good season. Extra work and part-time jobs are available.

A vast amount of charitable giving is invited and people are hugely generous, which is good because grief, loss, poverty, illness and homelessness don’t observe the holiday. Conflict and disaster take no time off, either. Americans are often said to be the most generous of people. This world needs all we can give and more.

Meanwhile, the arts and cultural resources dedicated to seasonal themes and much beloved stories are a well-spring of joy and encouragement as the daylight hours shorten and winter sets in (at least in the northern hemisphere).

Although we don’t often think about it, not everyone regards this time of year the same way. Jewish people, and many others, have other celebrations—some religious, some not—during this time. Depending on how you count them, there are at least two dozen other observances, even as much of society counts down to Christmas. It really is true that the most polite and generous salutation at this time of year is, “Happy Holidays.”

I live in the midst of all of this, as we all do, and there’s much for me to enjoy and participate in. Who doesn’t love Messiah sing-a-longs and holiday cookies? Who isn’t pleased to be more generous than usual, and delighted to see others be so as well? With grandchildren to think about, I join the online crowd and the throngs in shops, and look for presents and stocking stuffers, just as I did for my children long ago.

All of the Christmas preparation ends with the great celebration on Christmas Day, with lots of food, football and piles of discarded wrapping paper. The morning after brings the “after holiday” sales, gift exchanges and returns, and post-holiday clean up. The Hallmark Channel stops its 24/7 Christmas and Hanukah movie marathon, and the local Christmas music station goes back to regular programming.

But I and others have a second calendar at this time of year. It’s for the season of Advent, which usually begins in the last few days of November and runs until Dec. 24.

For those who keep this season, our Christmas Day preparations are deliberately left at the door of our places of worship and our homes, and there we take a break from the seasonal hubbub. Advent provides an oasis of peace, quiet and reflection on the themes of the season: hope, joy, peace, love. The four weeks end on the night of Dec. 24 with what we call the Feast of the Nativity. While Dec. 25 is a celebration indeed, for me Christmas Day is just the beginning of the happy times, because the season is 12 days long.

There are some advantages to keeping two calendars at once. As people get busier and more stressed, I’m much less so. Many people have a hard time emotionally, psychologically and spiritually at this time of year. I’m available to listen and sympathize, and offer help because I don’t have to have all card and gifts gotten, wrapped, sent and so on in time for the big day, because Christmas is 12 days long. I don’t have that huge pressure of a Dec. 25 morning deadline, because Christmas is 12 days long. People don’t have to get and give things to me by that time, either, because Christmas is 12 days long. So, Dec. 25 is a celebration indeed. But for me, Christmas Day is just the beginning of the happy times. The season is 12 days long.

For the world outside my door, Christmas Day is the culmination of long labor brought to fruition. It’s the happy pinnacle of the holidays, and its rather sudden endpoint. But for me and others, we’re just getting started.

Tom Scott is a retired Episcopal priest. He and his wife live in Evanston, Illinois. They love retirement because they get to see more of their children and grandchildren, and they can spend more time at concerts, the opera and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Check out Tom’s earlier articles.

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