Liberal writer Julia Ioffe was peeved. “People, please stop wishing me a merry Christmas,” she tweeted late on the evening of December 19. “It’s wonderful if you celebrate it, but I don’t and I don’t feel like explaining that to you either.”
Later, the correspondent for Gentleman’s Quarterly wrote that “the omnipresence of Christmas for a whole month is deeply wearying and alienating to some of us who do not celebrate.” She then turned this into a Washington Post op-ed, calling it “impolite and alienating.”
As a practicing Catholic, let me say, “I’m with you, sister.”
I understand most of America spends the entire month of December celebrating Christmas. But in my church, that’s a different season. We call it Advent. Four Sundays before Christmas Day, the new year begins in the Catholic Church’s calendar. For the next 22 to 28 days, while the outside world dons green and red, my Church dons mostly violet, a color of penance. While the popular culture is blasting Christmas carols, we are singing our Advent hymns. Or, I should say hymn—“O Come Emanuel,” is about half of the Advent hymns we sing, and the other hymns have names that sound nearly identical.
Of course, we do celebrate the Christmas season, but that season only begins on Dec. 25.
This war over what season it is plays out in the streets, as even my fellow Catholics who should know better wish me “Merry Christmas” throughout December. But it also rages even in my own home.
I am in a mixed marriage. You see, I entered the Catholic Church as an adult. (I call myself a “revert,” not a convert, because I was baptized but not raised Catholic.) My wife, meanwhile, is a cradle Catholic.
Catholicism, as you may know, tends to accrete traditions (not be confused with Tradition). If you are raised a Catholic, your faith gets seasoned with all sorts of local, ancestral, and even pagan practices. My wife’s family traditions include a celebration in which the children decorate the tree and drink Shirley Temples while the adults drink more serious cocktails after everyone has a dinner of tacos — an homage to Juan Diego, the Mexican peasant to whom Christ's mother, Mary, appeared on Dec. 12, 1531. The Church celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe every year on that day, and my wife believes that’s when a family ought to decorate its tree with festive ornaments, drink festive drinks, and play Christmas carols.
As a revert, however, I prefer a bare tree, purchased as late in Advent as possible, and decorated only on Christmas Eve. I also feel the same way about poinsettias, manger scenes, and boughs of holly. So every Advent, I have to wage my own war on Christmas.
Typically my wife and I strike some sort of compromise. She gets the holly, pine branches, poinsettias, and a tree as early after Thanksgiving as she can. I hide the sign that says “Merry Christmas” and the ball ornaments and bust them out on Christmas Day. And this year, I even scored a partial victory on the tree, postponing the decoration ceremony until the feast of St. Lucy—a fitting day to string up lights, as her name comes from the Latin lux—which is Dec. 13, one full day later than usual.
The battle that starts on Dec. 25 is not at home, but with the outside world. While they think “Christmas is over,” I know it’s just begun. (The topic of when the season actually ends could fill an entire column of its own.)
So if you see me on the streets of D.C. this coming week, I’ll be whistling “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and wishing a “Merry Christmas” to one and all.