Advent is here, and has been for three months according to my local supermarket, which put its mince pies and choc-filled stockings out in early September. I suppose sooner or later the whole year will be Christmas, except the 12 days themselves, which will be our recovery period. The original Christmas holiday will be a holiday from Christmas...In every congregation in which I've served, I've found resistance to my insistance that carols, pagaents, greenings and other Christmas customs not begin until December 24. This year's plans have been made more difficult by the Fourth Sunday of Advent being shared with Christmas Eve.
...It's an emblem of the contemporary west - we don't do waiting. Where our parents used to save up for a big purchase, we buy first and save later. For our grandparents, a wedding night might well have been a first; it may find us in triple figures. Technology from microwaves to the internet and cashpoint machines encourages us to expect instant everything. So why leave decorations and cards till Christmas Eve (postal service aside) as they did?
I am not lamenting the spiritual deficiency of the modern west, how we have lost the benefits to the soul of regular abstinence now that we have forgotten how to fast. What I am concerned about is that we have forgotten how to feast. It seems to me that, for all our hedonism, our fasting forebears enjoyed their revelries more than we do, because they had to wait for them. We are like kids who peep through the wrapping paper...
At home, I have been accused of "not getting into the Christmas spirit" because I do not decorate or put up a tree until late in December. Over the years I've compromised, to some degree. We place a wreath outside the church when the Methodists do. The ECW hold their Christmas dinner in mid December. At home, I put up blue and white lights outside a week before the 25th. The tree goes up when the need to store the presents somewhere becomes self evident.
What I've learned over the years is that if you take something away and leave a void, some will develop resentments. Instead of a void, there are a number of Advent traditions that can be utilized. Anglicans Online provides us with an excellent list of resources.
The word "Advent" comes from the Latin word for "coming." We speak of the return of Christ in three ways; past, present, and future. First, Advent refers to Christ coming as a child in a manger. Second, Advent refers to Christ repeatedly coming to us in Word and Sacrament and in the fellowship of the Church. Third, Advent is a time to prepare for Christ coming again at the end of time, the Second Coming. In many ways, we can see Advent as a season of darkness, as we wait for the light.
Even though our culture has surrounded us with the sounds and signs of Christmas, it is important that the Church not cave in to this attempt to commercialize this season. The meaningful observance of Christmas depends on the full observance of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting, preparing and hoping. Christmas music, Christmas pageants, and Christmas decorations can make us lose this important season. So, we hold these things back until Christmas Eve. To observe Advent is to keep clear the meaning of Christmas.