Don't forget about Advent
There is a giant Christmas tree that I pass most nights on my walk home from work. It is quite lovely: Multi-colored lights and large globes decorate its branches. There is, in fact, an entire life-sized Christmas Village surrounding the tree, and one particularly cold and blustery evening, I was passed on the sidewalk by Santa Claus and his wife, both decked out in all their red velvet glory.
Then, when I get home to my building, I am greeted in the lobby by not only a decorated potted plant, but also cheery holiday music playing over speakers that are not used during any other season of the year.
So it happens every year. The calendar turns from November to December, and suddenly the whole world gets bedazzled.
Of course, accompanying these transformations from mere winter to winter wonderland are the voices of those who like to take up the cause every year on the War on Christmas. This ominous-sounding name refers to "Christmas" being replaced with the word "holiday," and apparently "Christ" gets taken out of "Christmas," as if that were even possible.
But I have a different concern from the War on Christmas. My concern is with Advent, because liturgically speaking, we haven't actually reached Christmas yet, giant bedazzled trees notwithstanding. In particular, I am concerned that Advent is disappearing, and that, to me, would be much more spiritually detrimental than any "Happy Holidays" banner ever will be.
See, Advent is season of solemnity and preparation. It is a season of hope, but not yet joy. It is the season when we sit with the pregnant Mary, awaiting the birth of a long-awaited but still mysterious child.
But the festooned lobbies and loudspeakers declaring "Joy to the World" skip that step. We jump right into the Christmas season (which technically begins on Christmas day and extends for 12 days until Epiphany), emphasizing the gift-giving over the waiting; the glitter over the preparation. It is for me a symptom of a larger problem, which is that, as a culture, we have become so enamored with instant gratification and so used to noise that we cannot stand to sit in silence for a few minutes and wait, even when it is waiting for the greatest joy that could come to us.