On the 8th day of Christmas, a reminder…

The floor contains the remnants of torn wrappings, boxes, and bows. The
stockings hang lifeless from the mantel, empty of all their contents.
Leftovers are all that are left of holiday feasting. Wallets are empty
and feelings of buyer’s remorse begin to descend and suffocate. On the
morning after Christmas, thus begins the season of let down.

It’s not a surprise really. For many in the West, the entire focus of
the Christmas season is on gift-giving, holiday parties, and family
gatherings, all of which are fine in and of themselves. But these things
often become the centerpiece of the season. Marketers and advertisers
ensure that this is so and prime the buying-pump with ads and sales for
Christmas shopping long before December. Once November ends, the rush
for consumers is on, and multitudinous festivities lead to a near fever
pitch. And then, very suddenly, it is all over.

In an ironic
twist of history, Christmas day became the end point, the full stop of
the Christmas season. But in the ancient Christian tradition, Christmas
day was only the beginning of the Christmas season. The oft-sung carol
The Twelve Days of Christmas was not simply a song sung, but a lived
reality of the Christmas celebration. In the traditional celebrations,
the somber anticipation of Advent — waiting for God to act — flowed into
the celebration of the Incarnation that began on Christmas day and
culminated on “twelfth night” — the Feast of Epiphany.

For
twelve days following Christmas, Christians celebrated the “Word made
flesh” dwelling among them. The ancient feasts that followed Christmas
day all focused on the mystery of the Incarnation worked out in the life
of the believers. Martyrs, evangelists, and ordinary people living out
the call of faith are all celebrated during these twelve days.

Far from being simply an alternative to the way in which Christmas is
currently celebrated or an antidote to post-Christmas ‘let down,’
understanding the early history and traditions of Christian celebrations
can reunite the world with the true focal point of the Christmas
season. ”The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld his
glory…and of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace”
(John 1:14-16). Far more than giving gifts or holiday feasts, the joy of
Christmas is that God came near to us in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation
affirms that matter matters as God descends to us and adopts a dwelling
made of human flesh.

Living out the mystery of the Incarnation is a daily celebration. The celebration began on Christmas Day.

(Margaret Manning)