Living in a post-Christian world means that often our cultural calendars are in conflict with the church calendar. One such example of this happens every year after Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving most Americans begin to celebrate Christmas or the Christmas season as it is often called. You hear familiar carols in the mall, sales and advertising are in full swing, and gatherings of friends and families and co-workers abound. Then December 26 comes and all the decorations and Christmas talk are put away until next year. This is how we generally celebrate Christmas in our culture.
This is not how the church celebrates Christmas. Christmas on the church calendar begins December 25 and runs for 12 days after that. Think here, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” Now you know where the 12 Days of Christmas came from – the church calendar. During Advent, we anticipate Christmas, we expect it, hope for it, long for it, then we realize it and celebrate it, but only after it comes. Easter is the same way. We prepare during Lent and then Easter comes and we celebrate it on that day and then for the next 50 days after it.
It’s funny how our cultural calendar and our church calendar are so different. The culture celebrates Christmas in a way the church doesn’t recognize and vice versa. What is not funny is how we are better versed in our cultural practices and calendars than we are in our church calendars and historic Christian practices. What is not funny is how our faith is often more shaped by our cultural calendars than by our church calendar.
I offer no suggestions whatsoever about what to do about this. It’s a difficult thing, because, as I have written and talked about elsewhere we are citizens both of our culture and of the Church. One thing I think we can take away from this is that clearly our culture has drifted away from the church’s calendar. We are no longer a culture that takes historic Christian practices seriously.
The colors of the seasons tell us something about the difference between Advent and Christmas. You have noticed that our bulletins are blue. Sometimes Advent is celebrated with the color of purple. That’s fine. We have chosen blue to set Advent apart from Lent. But that purple is used in some communions as it is used during Lent reminds us that Advent is a time of preparation and expectation and repentance. The colors of Christmas are either gold or white, regal colors rich with celebration.
All of this to say, Advent is not Christmas or the Christmas season. That’s still a couple of weeks away. Advent is Advent.