Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holy Days and Holidays

The term, "holiday" derives from that of "holy days". In their inception and primary meaning they are virtually synonymous. But later in practice they often divide into two separate ideas. Nowhere is this more the case than with Christmas, or, as it is known in the Church, the Feast of the Nativity.

First of all, there is the season of Christmas. For those observing the holiday, that begins roughly around Thanksgiving (unless you're a retailer, then it begins around July) and ends after New Year's Day. It is a time of Christmas music, decorating, baking, shopping, and an endless array of other activities.

Now, the holy season of Christmas begins on December 25th (the Feast of the Nativity) and goes for 12 days, culminating on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. It is preceded by a 4 week period of preparation called Advent. This is not the same as the Christmas season. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. It's purpose is to prepare us for the coming of the Lord at Christmas and at the end of time when our Lord Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Contrary to the busy-ness mentioned above, Advent is intended to be a tranquil and reflective time. It is also characterized by a penitential attitude similar, but not quite as stringent, as Lent. Decorations, if there are any, are kept to a minimum. Instead of feasting, there is fasting. Songs particular to the season focus on preparation and our yearning for the coming of the Lord.

By now you can probably see a great contrast between the celebration of the holiday and the observance of the Holy Day. The problem is that too many Christians are ignorant of their own heritage and are sucked into all the chaos of the holiday and miss the great celebration of the Holy Day. Without an observant Advent, one is not ready to enter into the great mystery of Christmas. Missing that, we miss out on the fullness of peace and joy that God intends for this Holy Feast.

In case you haven't already figured it out, we are currently in the season of Advent, not Christmas. To return to the traditional Christian practice will require a bit of asceticism foreign to our family, friends, and neighbors. It means waiting on Christmas music, cards, baking, and even decorating until much closer to Christmas. Certain things are obviously done to prepare for the Feast, but primarily we are in a time of waiting. The anticipation is intended to further inflame our love and devotion to our Lord.

So are we rank sinners if we are doing things more like the world than the Church? Not necessarily! But we are most likely missing out on wonderful spirtitual benefits which only come by keeping to the wisdom of the Church throughout the ages.

At this time of year everyone is so busy. We need Advent. We need to be reminded to slow down and ponder. We need to prepare ourselves through self-examination and the confession of sin. We need times of prayer and meditation. We may not be able to avoid all the busy-ness, but we can keep ourselves at peace by these means. Christmas is coming soon, and we will be ready to enter into the full spirit of the season if we have been diligent and observant during this holy season of Advent.

No comments: