On the rest of the world’s calendar, Christmas is over. The presents have been opened. The wrappings and boxes have been disposed of. For the Church, however, Christmas day begins the little twelve-day season that we call the festival of the nativity or the festival of the incarnation. These days take us up to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6. (If you are looking for a reasonable time to take down your Christmas decorations, Epiphany is a good starting place. Although, according to long honored southern tradition, it is also appropriate to leave some of your decorations up until Elvis’s birthday on January 8. If it’s good enough for Graceland, it’s good enough for me.) Just about the only time we hear about the twelve days of Christmas anymore is in the old song, which ends with a partridge in a pear tree.
Luther himself said that it is not necessary for everyone in every place to commemorate the same festivals at the same time, so if we join the bandwagon on December 31 and switch to “Auld Lang Syne” instead of “Joy to the World,” I think we will be none the worse for wear.
The timing of celebrations has not always been so laissez-faire. Once a giant argument called theQuartodeciman controversy had to be settled at an equally giant meeting. The argument was about when to celebrate Easter, and it was settled at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. This same meeting, which also settled a few other disputes by writing the Nicene Creed, decided that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox. (Of course.) The council’s purpose was to once and for all establish the day when all Christians around the world would celebrate the resurrection. The problem, of course, was that the Churches in the East didn’t use the same calendar and so although they still do the full moon thingy, they end up with a different Easter. (They also didn’t like three words of the Nicene Creed. That was called the Filioque controversy. We can talk about that some other time, but the end result is we have an asterisk in our hymnal.)
However important it might be to have a general agreement about when to show up to Church, surely what is most important about our celebrations is not when but how. Wrangling over the right thing to celebrate when must surely serve only to obscure the fact that God has indeed called us to celebration. To celebrate rightly, in the truest sense, must be to celebrate the good things of God with joy and with generosity, no matter what the calendar says. There is no reason to limit our celebration of God’s goodness to a few days a year, however important those days may be to jog our sometimes frail memories as to the wonders of God’s love.
So, whether you are recovering from Christmas (Day), gearing up for New Year’s, Epiphany, Elvis’s birthday, or dreading the coming of Easter when you will once again be expected in worship, remember that there is no time like the present to give thanks to God.