I turned on my favorite Christian radio station today and was surprised to hear standard music again.  There were no carols playing and no songs of Jesus in a manger or presents under the tree.  As I write this I am celebrating the 7th day of Christmas, but my family and I feel a little alone here.  In the malls, Christmas has been diminished to a discount rack and paper snowflakes fill the seasonal displays. 

What happened?  Is it over?

We've all seen the neighbors who leave the lights up all year.  Sure, it saves time on setup, but after a while it can get kind of old.  I'll be the first to admit I would rather avoid the work, but keeping them lit is another issue.  You can probably gather I'm not promoting the eternal celebration of Christmas; however, the spirit of the season should remain in our hearts and actions all year.

My concern lies with the materialization of Christ's birthday in our society.  I come from a retail background and know firsthand how important it is for the public to be encouraged to buy for the next holiday.  This year, the retail industry made a conscious effort to start Christmas marketing earlier than normal because of the recession. From the day after Thanksgiving we're increasingly overwhelmed by the festivities. We get fed up before the 25th even comes.   

I get that every holiday has its marketability -- that's not entirely wrong.  People have to make a living, and who doesn't love to give gifts and celebrate? The issue I have is how much we get caught up in the day instead of the reason… and the speed at which retailers pack up the Christmas merchandise on the 26th demonstrates how little focus there is on the true season of Christmas.

Last year we had just about the greatest Christmas of all time.  We exchanged more gifts than I could count, and we included friends and family we've never sent anything to before.  God blessed us financially, and we were overjoyed. 

This year played out completely opposite.  My siblings pulled unused toys out of their closets and gave them to my boys.  My wife and I painted homemade ornaments and printed cards for the closest of family and friends.  We awaited the most wonderful UPS shipment from the grandparents. From the world's eyes we had a desolate holiday.  From the words of my wife, "I've never enjoyed Christmas or anticipated the coming of Christ quite like this year."  Removing all the extras and material things truly revealed the reason behind it all.

And the best part? The gift exchanges may be over, but Christmas doesn't really end on the 26th. On Sunday, my family and I will go to church.  There will still be poinsettias and a manger scene.  The beautiful red candles will be lit in the windows, and hymns of His precious birth will be sung with joy.  This will continue until the Epiphany on January 6th, a conclusion of the celebration of the twelve days of Christmas, when we commemorate the coming of the Magi. In some Christian traditions, the Christmas season lasts even longer. 

Since the end of the third century the Christian Church has recognized the Epiphany as one of the most important times of our liturgical seasons, as it marks the manifestation of Christ to the world.  The period of time between the Nativity and the Epiphany is traditionally called Christmastide, made known remarkably by the carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  It's very funny to me how that song is played for an entire month and then stops dead on the 26th - only the 2nd of the twelve days for which it was written.

I sit here on the 7th day of Christmas, and ponder the gift of this holiday; yet to the rest of the culture it seems as though nothing ever happened.  New Year's is here, and we must set aside enough festivities for that. 

But what about the new beginning of our hope for salvation?  Just as there are seasons of weather, so are there seasons of our Christian faith.  My hope is that others haven't let the Christmas season - and the Christ Child - slip from their memories just yet.  It's possible many of us are holding the merriment in our hearts so that we can blend into society.  I can admit I've done that most of my life, but this New Year, my resolution is to keep alive the birthday celebration of the most important person in the world for at least twelve days. And pray the truth of his birth sticks with us throughout the year.

December 31, 2009

Ben Derrickson lives in South Carolina with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at themusicloverman@live.com.