When do you take down your Christmas tree? Is December 26 too soon? Is January 17 too late?
Really, I'm asking "When does Christmas end?"
I hope to let Christmas linger. I don't want the season and celebration to end. I'd like for the special things of Christmas to last all year: the generosity, the willingness to make peace, the push to connect and celebrate with others. But those feelings often don't linger long enough, do they? (The lights can stay, too!)
What is Christmas?
At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus entered the world. It is a time of beginning. In church world, we'll spend the next several months recounting Jesus' greatest hits before we relive the amazing story of Easter. This journey begins in Christmas, and throughout this narrative journey we are reminded what Jesus' presence means. It means God loves humanity. It means that we are not lost. It means the world has not been given over to evil. It means hope.
The birth of Jesus was the beginning. But the journey was not fully realized until the events we celebrate at Easter. What we celebrate at Christmas has just begun!
I don't say this as a recommendation to leave the tree out and the decorative lights up. While those are nice ways to mark the season, they're not integral to the meaning of the holiday. But in recognizing what God has set in motion at the first Christmas, there are probably some aspects of Christmas we can allow to linger--or even encourage and nourish. After all, Christmas was the not the full the realization of Jesus' ministry. It was the beginning of Jesus' presence with us.
What aspect of Christmas would you like to encourage and nourish? Perhaps it is a quest for peace. Perhaps it is the together-ness the Christmas season fosters. Perhaps it is the generosity we seek to express. Perhaps it is the grace we extend to the people around us.
When does Christmas end?
One of the stories we regularly reflect on through Christmas time is the story of the Magi – those gentlemen who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Just as we can't be sure what Jesus' actual birthday is, we similarly can't say how long after Jesus' birth the Magi actually showed up. Some scholars suggest they finally found baby Jesus two years after he was born. That's a long Christmas celebration! For them, drawing close to Jesus was not an immediate and quickly celebrated act. It was a journey – a journey that began at Christmas.
Perhaps we, too, can adopt a mindset of beginning a Christmas journey – a journey where the Christmas holiday starts us moving deeper into Jesus' presence.
What kind of reminder would be helpful to stay on the journey? Is there something you keep around from the Christmas season to keep you moving closer to Jesus?
Ryan Dunn lives in Nashville, TN. He is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as the Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications.