One of the frustrations we’ve had as parents over the years is with the issue of holidays at school. Claudia has written letters and/or spoken to teachers at the elementary schools every year. Mostly the conversations are around Halloween, but we do also mention that we don’t do the Santa Claus thing. Why we don’t do Santa is a different subject, we just don’t. These notes and conversations don’t do any good. The kids have still spent time coloring pictures of Jack O’ Lantern’s, black cats, and the like. They have learned a variety of secular Christmas songs, and learned about Santa and some of the way’s in which Christmas is celebrated in other cultures (as well as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.). The biggest problem has been that what they are taught about Christmas is entirely secular. In other words, it has nothing to do with the actual Nativity of our Lord.
During the same time frame as our older children were experiencing this, we grew increasingly irritated with the fact that so many people around us were busily celebrating Christmas before Christmas even arrived. As AngloCatholics at the time, we knew full well that we were in Advent – a penitential season. By the time Christmas actually arrived, most people would remark that they were glad that Christmas was finally over. In actual fact, Christmas had only just arrived, and would be around for the next 12 days. This, too, was very irritating. Once we became Orthodox, with the Orthodox Church experiencing a 40 day fasting period known as the Winter Lent, the frustration only grew.
Finally, this year, in part after reading a blog entry by Molly Sabourin, it dawned on me that we were actually talking about two different holidays. One was the Christmas of the secular America. This holiday was frankly rooted in the Evangelical/Protestant side of America. Especially with Evangelicalism, the loss of any sense of penitential behavior, meant that Advent itself was lost. No longer did people prepare for the incarnation of God, and that allowed for the introduction of parties throughout the preparation period.
Over time, market forces took control of the “season,” spending massive amounts of dollars to convince people to do likewise. With the advent of “Santa Claus,” the Coca Cola marketing ploy, the new holiday began to take its final shape. The point of the holiday had become the giving and receiving of presents. What had been the giving of a few gifts in recognition of the gift that God gave us (or the gifts of the Magi, depending on how one views it), became a holiday to celebrate the giving of presents in and of itself. It has become a holiday that completes a month or more of over indulgence. It has, in many ways, become fairly Bacchanalian, which is antithetical to the Christian life.
The other holiday, our holiday, is known in the east as the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas being a Latin construct, the name doesn’t exist in the east). This is the feast of the ancient Church. Marked by a period of fasting beforehand, and followed by 12 days of feasting, we celebrate the great and awesome mystery of the Incarnation. Western Christianity has, in many ways, forgotten that the incarnation is more than a means of providing someone to hang on a cross. I could be mistaken, but I think it is this loss that has ultimately led to Christmas (vs. the Nativity) becoming a secular holiday.
So, from our perspective, we can just let this secular holiday continue on being a secular holiday. We’ll celebrate ours in our way. I think at times, that it would be better if we were on the old calendar, in which case Christmas would be on January 7th. It would drive the kids a bit nuts, but it would make things abundantly clear that we are, in fact, celebrating a different holiday.