In addition to the oft-bemoaned retail practice of filling shelves with Christmas goods as soon as Halloween is over, I have noticed that regular folk are putting their Christmas decorations up earlier and earlier—before Thanksgiving in some cases. And this bothers me. Not only because it overshadows our celebration of Thanksgiving, which is such a lovely holiday in part because it is so not commercial, requiring no gifts or cards or elaborate decoration. But also because by the time the Big Day arrives on December 25, we’re all holidayed out. Our jaded and weary selves have stopped oohing and aahing at the most beautiful or over-the-top light displays in town. We’re bloated from weeks of noshing on cookies and snack mix. The dried-up needles from our weeks-old Christmas trees and wreaths are tracked throughout the house. Once the actual day of celebration arrives and departs, we’re overeager to be done with Christmas and its too-muchness.
There are few things I find more disheartening than the sight of a naked Christmas tree on someone’s curb on December 26. Or turning on the radio on December 26 to the station that has been blaring Christmas carols nonstop since the day after Thanksgiving, only to find Jason Mraz crooning a decidedly non-holiday tune.
The abrupt end to Christmas cheer come December 26 is not only jarring, but is also utterly wrong for those who consider Christmas to be a fundamentally religious holiday. For Christians, December 25 is the first day of Christmas, not the one and only. And while the shortest and darkest day of the year happens a few days before Christmas on December 21, there’s still an awful lot of cold and dark ahead for us once Christmas passes—cold and dark for which twinkling outdoor lights, evergreen-scented homes, and low-key days filled with crackling fires, family time, and holiday music can be effective antidotes.
I’d like to propose that, instead of breaking out the Christmas decorations and music as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers are tucked into their tupperware (if not before), we hold off on Yuletide trappings until a week or so before Christmas …and then continue celebrating Christmas at least until January 1, if not through the twelfth day of Christmas on January 6. Leave the tree up. Leave the lights up. Keep reading Christmas stories to the kids at bedtime. Keep the Christmas playlists in rotation. Attend church the Sunday after Christmas so we can belt out a few more favorite carols. (Yet another reason I am grateful to be an Episcopalian: We strictly follow the liturgical calendar, not the secular calendar. During Advent, we sing Advent hymns and light Advent candles. Christmas decorations don’t go up until Christmas Eve, and Christmas carols are sung for the full twelve days…and not before.) As much as possible given work and other demands, maintain the slower, family- and home-focused holiday pace that produces such an appealing hush on Christmas Day. While we have little control over how long that hush lasts in the wider world, we can nurture it in our own homes and lives.
We can’t tell the local radio station how to do their holiday programming. But we can decide when we put up and take down our lights and tree. We can choose when we send our Christmas cards. (See? This proposal has practical benefits too! If you don’t send out your cards until after Christmas Day, you’re not hopelessly behind…you’re celebrating Christmas on an appropriate timetable!) We can continue greeting friends and strangers with the extra dose of cheer and warmth that comes with the holiday season. Rather than getting up on December 26 to shop the sales or de-decorate the tree, we can choose to spend another quiet day at home, eating leftovers, doing a big jigsaw puzzle, asking our kids if we can join them in playing with their new toys, or reading in front of the fire.
So who’s with me? Instead of complaining about how much earlier Christmas prep happens every year, who wants to try putting off their own preparations until Christmas Day is in sight, and then extending the holiday, as much as it is in our power to do so, beyond midnight on December 25?
We may not be able to change our culture’s approach to Christmas. But we can save a few Christmas trees from being kicked to the curb before their time.