Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Dregs of Christmas

What are you supposed to do with the other 11 days of Christmas?

I know, I know. For many people, the only way you know there was ever more than one day of Christmas is from that song with the partridge in a pear tree. For you, Christmas ends with the first serving of turkey or ham, or with the opening of the day's last gift on December 25th. Father Smith at St. Michael's mentioned in his Christmas sermon this year that early in his priesthood he once saw a discarded Christmas tree with tinsel and a few broken ornaments by a dumpster, at 9 AM on Christmas morning. I'm guessing that was a corporate tree, an office tree. Or maybe it was the tree of some divorced parent whose visitation ended with Christmas Eve, and did not want the reminder of a Christmas without the kid lingering in a lonely apartment.

In the retail and secular world, it's the run up to Christmas that matters, the shopping and the music, the decorating and the anticipation. Once the gifts are unwrapped and the food is eaten and the in-laws go home, Christmas is over. Time to take the tree down, put the Christmas music away, and figure out how to use up the rest of the turkey.

But in some Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church USA, the run up to Christmas is the four weeks of Advent. Liturgically, it's about preparing for the coming of Jesus, not just historically but at the end of the world, whatever and whenever that may be. I personally find the whole "end times" concept problematic at best, but the practical side of it is essentially carpe diem. If we don't mess things up too badly and don't get hit by too big an asteroid, and if Jesus doesn't decide to return when everything is mediocre as usual, then our species and our planet may survive for thousands more years. We as individuals, however, won't be there. It thus doesn't really matter at the individual level whether the world ends sooner or later, as long as you don't mess things up for everyone else. (I'm looking at you, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.) My high school boyfriend, Dan Cheney (no relation), was convinced by a Hal Lindsey paperback that the world would end in 1986. He was mistaken, but his personal world on Earth ended in 1978, courtesy of a drunk driver during Spring Break. My take-away from all this: we really don't know when the world will end (and Jesus said as much), and we don't know (in most cases) when our own lives will end. It therefore makes sense to prepare for all possibilities. It's like Gandhi said:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi

So much for my take on Advent. But what comes next on the Church calendar? That would be Christmas. The observance starts the evening before, and runs through the Feast of the Holy Name (January 1, commemorating the christening of Jesus) and into Epiphany (January 6, commemorating the arrival of the Magi). The liturgical focus is on Jesus being revealed to the world - through the angels and the shepherds, those astrologers from the East (whose number is not given in the Bible, and who probably weren't kings), the people at the christening and John and Yahweh on the banks of the Jordan.

So what am I supposed to do about it? In Western culture, you can't completely avoid the story of the birth of Jesus. It's become a stale cliche, and you certainly don't need me to tell you about it. The best I can hope for is to touch lightly on the subject here, and hope I'm not being too annoying.

And while I'm doing that, what else should I be up to? At the moment, the mundane part of these additional days of Christmas involve using up the turkey and washing an endless supply of self-regenerating dirty dishes. There's also the ceremonial using of the gift cards and the purchase of additional gifts were missed in our too-limited Christmas frugality. Gift cards from my godson's family and my friend Kevin got me most of the way to DVDs of Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest and Prince Caspian with all the extras, and I got John the calendars he needs for home and work, at the post-Christmas half-off price. Incidentally, my local Barnes and Noble completely let me down on books from my Amazon wishlist: no Scalzi hardcovers, no recent McCaffrey Pern book, no James Burke at all, no Doctor Who books of any sort, no Patricia C. Wrede I didn't already have, no copies of L'Engle's last book (which I ordered online from another gift certificate) or the audio edition thereof. It's getting to where Amazon is the only place to get anything but current bestsellers or royalty-free classics.

What does popular culture say this time is for? One goes back to the office, right? But I can't do that. Yesterday I turned down my most pathetic lead yet, for a strictly temp job in a position (Accounts Payable) ranked below anything I've done recently, for less money than I was making before I had an accounting degree. And of course I felt guilty about it, but I've got to believe that something better will come along, not necessarily at the level I'm used to or better, but certainly better than that. It's also time to make close-of-tax-year donations (we need to get the old cars hauled away - but then, we say that every year) look back upon the year that's ending (I'm already depressed enough, thanks) and start thinking about New Year's resolutions.

I guess for me, it's time to crack open the accounting books that just arrived UPS, and sign up for one of the online seminars I recently paid for. Jesus is here and Jesus is coming, maybe, and I don't know whether I have one day to live or another fifty. I'd better get moving, preparing for the possibilities.


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