Monday, December 25, 2017

The day after Christmas

Especially in liturgical churches, there's a big buildup to Christmas. Four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve. Lots of seasonal hymns, carols, and anthems. Sermons and lectionary readings on that theme. Some churches have Christmas concerts and/or Christmas pageants. Festivities that culminate in a Christmas Eve service, followed by Christmas. 

Any hymns and carols about the day after Christmas? No. A big build up followed by a big let down. Day after Christmas, life returns to normal. Back to humdrum. Vacation ends. Employees return to work. Kids return to school. 

This is due in large part to the fact that Christmas is backward-looking celebration. It commemorates a unique, unrepeatable event. There's only one Jesus, only one Incarnation. 

Although it's all important to remember that pivotal event, where do you go from there? It's about something that happened. What lies behind us, not ahead of us.

Of course, the Incarnation is permanent, and it has unending reverberations. In addition, each new generation discovers the Christmas story anew. What's old is new again for a new audience. 

The message of Christmas is a message of transcendent hope. We're not encased in a snowglobe. The world has a backdoor through which God sends angels. Sometimes departed saints (e.g. Moses, Elijah). 

And, greatest of all, God himself came to us through that backdoor in the person of his Son, and continually comes to us in the person of his Spirit. 

Christmas is repetitious, and over the course of a lifetime, a cradle Christian may attend 80 Christmas services, give or take. Year after year, he participates in that annual celebration. Yet that's a tiny fraction of the thousands of repetitious things we do in the course of a lifetime, day after day, and week after week. 

At first his parents brought him to church. Maybe his grandparents attended. In time they pass away, and he continues to attend in their absence. And he brings his own children to church.

As he passes through the lifecycle, the personal significance of Christmas may evolve. He no longer has parental faith to lean on. Now he must carry on without them, following in the footsteps of those who went before, while he leaves an example for those who come after. 

By contrast, Easter is both backward-looking and forward-looking. Unlike the event which Christmas commemorates, Easter has corporate as well as individual dimension. The Resurrection is a foretaste. The dead in Christ will rise in Christ. 

In that regard, Easter has an ongoing significance in a way that Christmas does not. A more directly future-oriented import, looking ahead to the world that awaits us. 

A serious omission in the traditional church calendar is the absence of a day that celebrates the return of Christ. 

The walk of faith is a lifelong journey over hills and valleys. From the valley, you can't see ahead. Your view is blocked by the next hill. You never know in advance which hill will be the last. As you surmount each new hill, you see from the summit whether there's another hill in the distance, or if you are standing, at long last, on the final hill, as Emanuel's land stretches out before you, just beyond the river of death. 


  1. Oh, I dunno about your initial framing vis a vis the day-after letdown.

    My family celebrates 12 days of Christmas and one of Epiphany, so that's 13 days of celebration rather than one. Granted, I know of no other family that does this, but still.

    Also, the Lutheran (LCMS) church we've been attending these last few weeks will have a Lessons and Carols divine service on the Sunday nearest Epiphany so they don't have an abrupt let-down either. We're not Lutherans (long story), but there you have it.

    1. One can sing or listen to Christmas music throughout the year, but I'm referring to music *about* the day after Christmas.

    2. Any song about St. Stephen is music about the day after Christmas. Hence, Good King Wenceslaus counts, and I think one can count "The Son of God Goes Forth to War" as well because of its reference to "The martyr first, whose eagle eye could pierce beyond the grave." But if you balk at that, you'd have to stick to Good King Wenceslaus, which really is *about* the day after Christmas and a fictional story happening on that day.

      But in general really strongly liturgical Christians don't start celebrating Christmas until sundown on the 24th and then celebrate throughout the 12 days. Also, there are several other liturgical feasts that crowd into those 12 days, as though to make them special, besides the Feast of St. Stephen: The feast of John the evangelist. The feast of Holy Innocents. The feast of the Circumcision.

      Another thing is that all of the carols about the Wise Men can be seen as *about* the day of Epiphany, which is January 6, with a season to follow. We never sing anything about the Wise Men in my church until Jan. 6. And one of the most famous Wise Men carols, "As With Gladness," has a strongly heaven-looking theme to the words.

    3. Another thing is that both the Feast of the Circumcision and Candlemas (in early February) are about *historical* events following a certain number of days after Christmas. Candlemas is about the presentation in the Temple and the purification of Mary after childbirth.

    4. Oooooh. I guess I missed that point.

      Well, I guess what you'd want are some carols about the wise men visiting the family (we have some). Or Herod's murder of the children (grim). Perhaps the family's flight and sojourn in Egypt (thin textual detail).

      Barring these, it seems like virtually every other hymn has content about the day after Christmas or the day after the Jesus's resurrection.

      Your post, unless I am still mistaking it, reminds me of a comment by one of my wife's friends after she had reached the end of Mel Gibson's Passion movie. It ends at the resurrection with a very action-oriented final shot. Her comment was, "I wanted to see what happened next!" My reply at the time, which I still think apt, was, "YOU'RE what happened next."

    5. Lydia beat me too the punch but if the timestamps are to be believed, not by much. >:^D

    6. Yes, there are some feast days in-between Christmas and Easter, and that's good to have. But those are anticlimactic compared to Christmas and Easter.

    7. I think of Epiphany as pretty important in and of itself, and also forward-looking. I can see calling the feast of the circumcision kind of anti-climactic, but not epiphany. It's important not to let the surrounding culture define this stuff. The entirety of American culture knows nothing about Epiphany, ignores the twelve days of Christmas, knows nothing about the second coming aspect of Advent, stops singing carols or expressing goodwill abruptly on December 26, and so forth. But that's merely a cultural decision to pack everything into Christmas and to have a somewhat tedious and saccharine build-up beginning the day after Thanksgiving and then stop abruptly afterwards like a truck running into a wall. The liturgical calendar isn't really like that.

    8. Several of the Epiphany collects in the BCP are particularly great.

  2. No carols about the day after Christmas?? Let us not forget Good King Wenceslaus!

    "A serious omission in the traditional church calendar is the absence of a day that celebrates the return of Christ."

    In the Anglican liturgy, that is the whole of Advent. Quite a few of the specific Advent hymns (e.g. "Hark, a Thrilling Voice is Sounding") are about the second coming, as are several of the collects.

    1. Technically, advent season blends both the first and second advents, but Advent is celebrated as the introduction to Christmas, so it's directly associated with the first advent of Christ.

  3. Some mockingly or in a tongue-in-cheek way celebrate "Rapture Day" on May 21st on account of Harold Camping's revised date of the rapture that was supposed to happen May 21st 2011.

    Other more serious believers in the Bible (both orthodox and cultic) see in the Jewish Feast of Trumpets a type of the return of Christ. Usually, they are Pre-Millennialists. They are not limited to any one view of the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation (i.e. they can be Pre-Tribulationists, Mid-Tribbers, Post-Tribbers, Partial Rapturists, Pre-Wrath Rapturists etc.).

    I'm no longer a dogmatic Pre-Millennialist (leaning more toward Amil or Postmil), but I do still think the Feast of Trumpets is a type of Christ's return. Though, I doubt whether there's any universal agreement on how to calculate the date every year. Messianic Jews and Evangelical Christians generally agree on the annual calculation of the date (the latter submitting to the former's calculation), but various cultic denominations probably have different ways of calculating it (and the other various Jewish feasts they might also celebrate).