It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and it should, because Christmas is almost here. But it has looked like Christmas for a long time, and for some, that rankles. Creeping Christmas. The season has backed up all the way to Halloween, and those who thrive on outrage have lots of fuel.
Christmas is too commercial, they say. It’s all about spending money on worthless items that no one needs. Gaudy decorations put up too early take away from the meaning of the season. The sense of the solemnity of Christ’s birth is lost.
We’ve heard it all, and read it all, online, on television. Maybe we’ve even heard it from the pulpit. I even used to scoff when I saw a tree in someone’s window in early November. No longer.
Maybe it’s because time seems to pass more quickly as I get older, but I’ve been guilty (if that’s the right word for something I feel no guilt about) of beginning Christmas earlier too. I made a playlist on my computer around Remembrance Day: the best of Vince Guaraldi. He is the jazz musician who composed the themes for the Charlie Brown television specials. It so happens that much of his music is from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. I texted my brother Tom and asked if it was cheating to listen to Vince Guaraldi if it includes a few Christmas tunes. He said he’d already been listening to hard core Christmas music à la Virgil Fox.
The music of Christmas warms my soul, and is a direct connection to my mom and dad. It is the sound of Dad finding the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album one year, and how excited we were to listen to it without having to depend on catching it the one time it aired on TV, in the era before VHS recordings. Or the soft dulcimer of Winterfall, a tape my mom and I bought on our last Christmas shopping stop before driving the dark highway home one December evening many years ago. We listened to it as the Christmas-lighted farmhouses could be seen in the distance, in the cocoon of a warm car and our gifts in the back seat. Listening to Christmas music as early as I do feels like welcoming Mom and Dad home in a tangible way.
My daughter Leigh in Ottawa has gotten into the Christmas spirit a little early this year. She and her husband moved to a new home in July and she was excited about having a Christmas tree for the first time. They bought a tree on a mid-November weekend. Leigh’s husband does not work on Mondays and Leigh arrived home from work on Nov. 16 to find that Nohé had set up the tree all on his own. The joyful caption on her Snapchat of the tree was, “Never too early.”
The following weekend we had a family brunch at my son Gerard and his fiancée Sarah’s home, to find that they too were enjoying the soft glow of their Christmas tree and lighted decorations. Catholic tradition dictates that the tree is to be decorated on Christmas Eve and taken down Jan. 7, the day after Epiphany — a mere two weeks. I know of people who honour that tradition and look askance at the early birds. But condescending attitudes do not foster goodwill toward all.
It’s true that our society tends toward impatience. Because of the influence of the Internet and social media we have been conditioned to expect instant gratification — we don’t like to wait, even in the season of Advent where it is hoped that we can practice patience and self-control. But the season also coincides with the darkest time of the year, and darkness is unsettling. We turn to something that calms, and maybe even imparts a sense of hope: the tree, and Christmas lights.
The feast of Christmas is observed by religious and non-religious, with differing traditions across the entire spectrum of backgrounds and beliefs. I don’t believe a November Christmas tree corrupts any more than a Christmas Eve tree is virtuous. It’s the heart behind it that counts and most of those hearts are just looking for a little light. At this time of year I like to quote from my favourite Christmas book, John Shea’s Starlight: “Among spiritual seekers Christmas may have a mixed reputation, but it also has unlimited potential. Can a feast that strings lights over the entire world not have the power to illuminate the dark spaces of our souls?”
We put new siding on our house this summer and Russ had no intention of stapling cords of lights to it (we could get clips but that would be too efficient). Instead, we bought a lighted moose. You might ask what a moose has to do with Christmas. All I can say is that a moose is a hulking, homely, awkward-looking solitary creature and if he had attended Christ’s birth he would have been as welcome as the donkey and the lambs. Because that’s the spirit of Christmas — all are welcome at the stable, and sometimes the stable is lit up not only by stars, but by the lowly mooses of this world.