By Deborah Larmour
During the 6 weeks of the pre Christmas Fast beginning on the Feast of St. Phillip, we are encouraged by the Church to prepare our hearts for the great feast of the Nativity by making a concerted effort towards increased prayer, delaying gratification of our desires (especially for food and drink–also known as fasting), as well as almsgiving—increasing our attentiveness towards those in need. This is no easy task when our culture begins to celebrate around the time we begin this time of preparation. However the flip side of our call to have a ‘counter cultural’ Christmas is that in our world the celebrating often ends very shortly after our time of Christmas feasting begins. So we find ourselves living in a world that suggests that we should pack up Christmas, at the latest in early January, when in fact, Liturgically, we continue our celebration until the 2nd of February, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple.
So in the real world how do we keep the Christmas Spirit alive in our hearts and homes despite how countercultural it may seem? What follows are 5 fairly easy ways to keep the Christmas spirit alive until the end of the feast:
- The first is perhaps the easiest—don’t put everything away. While you may want to take down your Christmas tree and stockings hung for St. Nicholas, you might want to consider continuing to have some extra outdoor and indoor lights to give your spirit extra cheer during the short cold days of January. My personal tactic is to decorate slowly for Christmas (often beginning with the Feast of St. Nicholas) and to slowly do the takedown so that our Domestic Church remains somewhat in sync with the retention of the greeting of “Christ is born!” and the singing of Christmas Carols until the 2nd of February.
- Continue singing and playing Christmas Carols in your home. (This will be easier if you have not overplayed or sang these before Christmas—sometimes this is easier said than done. My tactic is to try and buy some new Christmas music after Christmas. The bonus is that often I can find Christmas music on sale.) The words of both our Ukrainian Carols, as well as some of the traditional English Carols do not just sing about Christ’s birth but about the wonder of the Incarnation and God’s plan for our salvation. Consider verse 3 of Hark the Herald Angels:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings Mild He lays His glory by Born that man no more may die Born to raise the sons of earth Born to give them second birth Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King!”
Another thing to consider is adding some Christian music to your year ‘round musical repertoire. You can find it in just about every genre. Music (and singing) is a great way to keep your spirit bright–especially when we are sing praise to our God!
- Consider sharing the continuation of Christmas with others, so join up with a group and go caroling or receive carolers in your home in January. Perhaps you can lift someone’s post-Christmas blues, or just the often-felt isolation and loneliness of the long cold winter. Remember how good it felt to do nice things for people before and at Christmas? Let’s keep it going. Alternatively, make time to see or get in touch the people you were not able to connect with over the pre-Christmas/ Christmas season. It is never a bad time to reach out to someone. You never know how that act of kindness and friendship could help them. This is evangelization in action.
- Remember and celebrate the Post-Christmas Feasts:
Dec. 26, Synaxis of the Blessed Theotokos
Dec. 27 St. Stephan
Jan. 1 Circumcision of our Lord/ St. Basil
Jan. 5/6 Vigil and Feast of Theophany
Jan. 30 the Three Holy Bishops
Feb. 2 Feast of the Presentation
- Perhaps pick another saint or two to give you a reason to celebrate between January 6th and February 1st—Consider learning about and celebrating the following (… or other saints of your choosing. St. Nicholas, who though popular for good reasons, is not the only holy one in heaven who should give us cause to celebrate.):
- Tatiana (January 12) Tatiana is significant not just because she is female saint and martyr recognized by the Church (and we often forget these great heroines of our faith) but also because she is a Patron of students. Many High School Students who are preparing for exams during this period might consider asking for her prayers and other students might ask for her blessing on their new term. As for celebrations perhaps consider honoring the students in your family on the feast of St. Tatiana with some small gift or encouragement for them. Or, consider praying for students and/or making a donation to a scholarship fund.
- Maximus the Confessor and St. Agnes (January 21). St. Maximus is very interesting Father of the Church. He wrote a great deal on sin and how we can grow in likeness to Christ by giving our desires to God and allowing Him to untangle our distortions. St. Agnes is an important female saint who incidentally is a patron of chastity and victims of sexual assault. For those who are struggling to follow through on New Years resolutions to grow in purity, these saints are great prayer partners and certainly deserving of our recognition—particularly in a culture that is cast in the multi-shaded grey shadow of degradation and violence which masquerades as a form of love. To celebrate this feast consider honoring someone who has chosen a dedicated or vowed religious life for the great gift they give the church as men and women who live lives of heroic sacrifice and prayer. Consider giving a donation to a religious or monastic order or to those who work for the healing or prevention, in Christ, of victims of sexual abuse. (NASHI http://www.nashi.ca/home/ or Home of HOPE http://ourbridgeofhope.com are charities which help keep youth out of the sex trade would be ones to consider)
- Macarius of Egypt (Jan. 19) was a holy monk who was shown by God that whatever state of life we are in can be a source of growth in holiness. (So it is not just through the religious life one can achieve sanctity). To celebrate this saint consider having date night on or around the 19th of January or find some other way to honor your spouse and the gift they are to you and your family. If you are not married perhaps find a way to honor a married couple you know who exemplify to you the virtues of holy matrimony.
(Recommended sites for reading about the saints of the day is the Royal Doors Ukrainian Greek Catholic website. As well there is often good information which can be found on the Greek Orthodox and Orthodox Church of America or Wikipedia sites—which though not specifically Catholic sites have some very interesting information.)
I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you and your family in keeping the spirit of Christmas alive and well throughout January, making your home a place to encounter the living Christ.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!