Twelve days leading to Epiphany

Realizing that celebrating Christmas is something we get to do, not something we have to do, I try (within my human limitations) to approach it this way:
After September and October have come and gone with Labor Day and Halloween, respectively, I turn my attention to and enjoy Thanksgiving. Then for most of December, it is Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas, which arrives December 25.

The “preparation” doesn’t primarily mean shopping, putting up decoration, wrapping presents, etc., though it necessarily does include these tasks. I get more out of Christmas with some mental/spiritual preparation. I try to keep that in mind during the logistical preparations. Sometimes it helps to stop a minute, take a breath and refocus.

I think it’s also helpful to remember that Christmas will come whether or not we get all the decorations up in exactly the right places. At our house, we decorate modestly, about a week before Christmas. It’s enough to keep us mindful of the season, without overpowering the meaning. I guess what I’m saying is that the decorations are the means, not the end itself.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can be quite busy for many of us. It’s mostly enjoyable, but still busy. I’ve grown to appreciate how much Christmas is enhanced for me by celebrating all 12 traditional days. No, we don’t give gifts everyday, though for families such as ours, there may be additional gift-opening sessions on subsequent days of Christmas after day 1, depending on individual schedules. It may not be the 25th, but it is no less a Christmas gathering.

A value of acknowledging all 12 days of Christmas, I’ve come to realize, is that there is more time — even some occasional down time — to stop and remember that it’s Christmas and think about all that truly means. It’s not just keeping the tree up until Epiphany because that is what tradition dictates. It’s walking past the tree and being reminded of — and feeling — the love and joy of Christmas at random times, after the hustle and bustle have subsided.

To the extent I can follow this plan — and I am not always successful — Christmas is less something I have to do and more something I enjoy in a meaningful way.

Happy New Year

Each year during December, some well-meaning people tack on “and Happy Hanukkah” when they say “Merry Christmas.” It’s as if they feel a need to give equal time to their Jewish acquaintances. We hear this a good bit in our Judeo-Christian family, but I also see it other places, such as social media.

But the way to give equal time is to wish Jewish friends “Happy New Year” now.

Rosh Hashanah — Jewish New Year — begins at sundown today, Sept. 29, 2019, thus beginning year 5780.

For those of us who are Christian, Rosh Hashanah most closely corresponds to Christmas. The Church Year begins with Advent, which prefaces Christmas. But more significantly, there are two High Holidays in each religion. The Most Holy Day in Judaism is Yom Kippur; in Christianity it is Easter. Rosh Hashanah and Christmas are close seconds in importance.

There are Jewish festivals that occur near the times of Christmas and Easter, but — even though Easter has a historic link to Passover — Christmas and Easter are comparable to Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, respectively, rather than Hanukkah and Passover.

Comparing Holy Days with festivals is like comparing apples to oranges. Comparing Holy Days to each other is like grapes to grapes, or ambrosia to ambrosia.