I went to the store a couple days after Christmas and noticed that the store had pulled down all the Christmas items they had for sale, replacing them with Valentine’s Day gifts and cards. Seeing this was a revelation for me, as it made me realize that all people live according to a certain cycle and that our American consumer culture has its own “liturgical” calendar.
As the Church, we have a liturgical calendar that begins in Advent, then moves to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Thus, the Church’s year begins in Advent with the anticipation of the coming of Christ. During Advent we also anticipate and hope for Christ’s return on the Last Day to complete his restoration of all things. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s incarnation where our God came in the flesh to save us. The Christmas season is the 12 days from the Nativity on Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6, when we celebrate the coming of the Magi, gentiles from the east, to worship Christ as Lord, thus showing that Christ is Lord over all creation and Savior of all mankind.
The rest of the season of Epiphany is focused on fuller revelations of Jesus as the Christ. In Lent, we shift more towards a focus on the work of Christ on the cross to atone for our sins. This is traditionally a time for repentance as we reflect on Christ’s work on the cross for us. In Easter, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death in his resurrection, a victory that we also share in by God’s grace through Christ. In Pentecost, we focus on the mission that Christ gives his Church to go among all nations to proclaim his Gospel. Then the year ends, and we again shift into Advent as we long for Christ’s return.
Thus, for the Church, the entire year is time bound by the work and person of Christ. The year is centered around him: his promised coming, his incarnation, his manifestation, his death, his resurrection, his work through the Church. The Church’s liturgical calendar keeps the focus on Christ year-round. Thus, Christ is not just the “reason for the Christmas season;” he’s the reason for all time!
Contrast this, then, with the implicit liturgical calendar of the American consumer culture. The year begins on New Year’s Eve, with partying and ill-fated resolutions to “do better” next year. Then, the new year is rung in and people take off work to celebrate. We then move to anticipation of Valentines’ Day as the stores stock their allocated holiday shelves with Valentine’s gifts and cards. After Valentine’s Day is over, the stores move out their stock to make room for Easter. This “Easter,” though, is not so much the celebration of Christ’s resurrection as it is an opportunity to sell baskets, cards, eggs, and stuffed animals. Then comes Mother’s Day, then Father’s Day, then the Fourth of July. Then, the shelves are stocked with various summer wares, as if summer was a holiday all its own. Then, comes Halloween, with a couple months of lead-up to the great event of candy and costumes. Then, the stores are stocked with Thanksgiving items. Immediately after Thanksgiving, the shelves are re-stocked with Christmas items. Again, Christmas is not so much a celebration of Christ’s incarnation as it is a chance to sell things, and for stores to become profitable for the year. Immediately after Christmas comes the Valentine’s Day items on the shelves.
So, this entire “American liturgical calendar” revolves around the buying and selling of goods. The holidays are only important in this calendar in so far as they provide a reason for people to buy things. If we wonder why “Christmas comes earlier every year,” it’s because the stores need something to fill the holiday shelves after Thanksgiving is over! As a culture, then, we’ve allowed our impulse to purchase goods to shift the Christmas season from the period between Christmas Day to Epiphany to the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day instead. We no longer celebrate Christmas as the time leading up to the Epiphany of our Lord; instead, we celebrate it as the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, a period from turkey to ham, a period in which to accumulate more goods.
My point is that all people are living within a “liturgical calendar,” whether they realize it or not. The Church has a liturgical calendar, centered around Christ. Our American consumerist culture also has its own liturgical calendar, centered around the stocking schedule of retailers. As the Church, we should be aware of this and help each other remain centered in Christ, even when everything else seeks to pull us away from him. He is the one in whom all of creation is “time bound,” because he created all things, came to restore all things, and is returning to complete his restoration of all things.
[Image in public domain via Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMenalogical_icon_for_year_(c._1900%2C_Russia._Priv._coll.).jpg)]