So, Advent is about to begin. In my household, the week of Thanksgiving–that American holiday wherein we celebrate the Puritan conquest of North America–it usually falls upon me to bring down about ten red and green boxes from the attic containing Christmas decorations. Also, my quest beings to search for C6 and C9 Christmas light bulbs. Thank you, Congress, for trying to outlaw the incandescent light bulb–one of the stupidest things to ever happen in Washington. (I do despise LED Christmas lights.)
In any event, this is usually how the Advent season begins for Protestants. At least in my neck of the woods.
I was thinking of the difference between Catholics and Protestants in America. For we Catholics, the season of Advent begins slowly. Our carved pumpkin and turnip jack-o-lanterns have all rotted away. We’ve eaten up the soul cakes, the Hallowtide candy, devoured the Martinmas goose. Perhaps we’ve had our hunting dogs blessed on St. Hubert’s Day–or we simply went out to the range for target practice. Bonfire Night is over–the fireworks are spent, and the Anglicans burned up their Guy Fawkes effigies. Advent time begins now.
And so, if we are traditional, we put up a few decorations here and there, and we might have an Advent wreath on our kitchen table. Perhaps we put out the Nativity scene piece by piece each week. Perhaps we even have a Jesse tree. I know that’s one thing my kids like to do.
Another activity my family enjoys is to wake up on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) to find chocolate gold coins and oranges in their stockings, courtesy of St. Nick. The Krampus likes to drop off a fiendish-looking card to scare the kids with and remind them to be good. Sometimes, on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th, we’ll attend a party where the kids go after a piñata.
But it’s a slow build up. And when the Christmastide begins, we have twelve full days of it. It’s quite fun, and I’m very glad it’s drawn out over those two weeks.
But sadly, my Protestant family does not enjoy this anticipatory process. They do not get the long peaceable build up that Advent offers. For them, Advent is a time of rush, haste, and forced sentimentality.
American Protestants–at least in my region–begin Advent with Black Friday. On this day, people go to stores and violently shove and compete against one another for various deals and sales in the department stores. The most base and coarsest shoppers will come out on this day, and I highly recommend you avoid participating in it. I dared to visit a Wal-Mart last year on Black Friday to get a deal on a TV. It was pure anarchy, and I’ll never do that again. I instead stayed home and ordered it through a website.
But Black Friday is an important day. Intended or not, it sets the commercialized tone for this season. It is a time for commerce and acquisition. And most horrible of all, this phenomenon is wrapped up in a sentiment of happy emotionalism–like a sort of mask.
Christmas-themed commercials are television’s staple. Department stores remind you of the need to buy their merchandise for that special Christmas Day with holiday end caps, holiday-themed aisles, and special department store islands that hint to you: “You must buy this merchandise, or something here, for when Christmas gets here.”
Christmas songs are played quite frequently on the radio. In fact, there is a channel in my city that plays nothing but Christmas songs right up to Christmas Day. But after that–for the rest of the Christmastide–there are no more Christmas songs. There are no “twelve days of Christmas.” It’s just one full-blast day of obligation.
Indeed, all of the nerve-wracking commercialization, the worrying advertisements, the songs that nag you to get ready, the department store fights–it’s all spent on this one single day. After that one day, you are spent, depleted, and drained. The volatile apprehension was for that one, single, 24-hour period, and it’s almost like a test you must pass. The stress is akin to a standardized test. In fact, many people get so burned out from the anxiety that Christmas causes, that they choose not to even celebrate it.
In my place, this is Protestant Advent. Only, they don’t dare call this Advent at all, they call it “the Christmas season.” Sure, most people know that the holiday is reserved for the celebration of Christ’s birthday. But that is a faded fact that is hard to hear over the blaring megaphones of “SHOP NOW, AND GET A 25% REBATE!!!”
So, for all of my Catholic friends out there, I encourage you to take it easy and show these folks how it’s done. Don’t worry about putting up your Christmas tree until the 24th, and wait until King’s Day (Jan 6th) to open those presents. Try to put yourself outside of the fussy, distressing, holiday hysterics, and shoot for a peace-loving demeanor. Maybe someone will notice and follow your lead next year.
One can only hope!