Have Yourself a Very Retro Christmas

For a couple of years, I have been returning our family to the liturgical calendar for Advent and Christmas. It is the antidote to Christmas commercialism.

Compare the popular and liturgical calendars. The pop calendar for the politically correct holiday season gives us months of consumer anticipation and pressure—do not get me started on that blasted Elf—which all cumulates in a one day binge.

The liturgical calendar flows from a day of thanksgiving to a period of reflection and patience, followed by a 12-day celebration. After Canadians and Americans give thanks in November for all we have been given, we have the season of Advent that spans the four Sundays before Christmas. Christians are supposed to ponder the gift that God has given to us, his Son, but religious or not, the rhythm of the liturgical calendar works for everyone. We can move from a day of being thankful for the things we have to considering how to share our gifts with others. Then we can celebrate the end of the year and the promise of a new one.

The traditional calendar makes more sense and dovetails nicely with other holidays. And frankly, for all of the commercialism we complain about, I’m surprised that the “evil-corporations” forgot that Christmas actually lasts 12 days. I think we the people forgot first. We got hooked on the anticipation, binge, and letdown. Break that cycle, and the sellers of goods will follow.

When I decided upon this path of popular resistance, a total change seemed daunting. So I opted to change something each year. First, I redid our family’s Advent plan, moving from asking the kids what they wanted for themselves to asking them how they could do for others. Then, I moved our many celebrations—we are a party house—to the days between December 26th and January 5th. The next year I added a Twelfth Night event. I copied the modern Irish tradition of a ladies night out. From my how-to do article two Christmases ago:

Instead of an Advent calendar full of chocolates and little surprises, I make an Advent calendar of service. Before anyone objects that December is too busy, that the gravitational pull of culture is too strong to possibly add another task—I cheat. I turn things we already do into Advent tasks by calling attention to the service to others and preparation to party aspects of the tasks. …

When I discovered that the 12 days of Christmas were an actual season, [I grew up Baptist] I started spreading Christmas out.  Just like Advent, I didn’t add much. I just distributed what we already did and added a touch of festive flair….I had a large basket that I decorated it with a felt nativity ornament set that had lost Joseph to our dogs. After we have cleared away the Christmas Day debris, I put this empty basket under the tree. Each morning of Christmas, the children find the day’s gifts in the basket. I keep it simple. I don’t even wrap the items. (Less pre-Christmas wrapping!) The basket under the tree each morning is fun enough….Our family has always played games over Christmas, so Day 2 I give the kids fresh decks of cards or a new board game. Day 3 is usually Nutcracker tickets and a new nutcracker that my mom gives us every year.  I place new PJ’s under the tree the morning of the cousin sleepover…

The Irish Little Christmas tradition caught my attention. It started out as a women’s tea party, the little cake and sandwich kind. The women socialized after leaving the men at home to do the housework and childcare for the day. In the modern era, it has turned into a women’s night out to celebrate the end of the busy Christmas season.

Last year took reclaiming Advent to social media with an #Adventword campaign. I participated, once I found out about it, and plan on doing it again. This year, I’m adding Bless Friday, which is a day of service instead of Black Friday shopping. Team Loftis will be restocking the stores of the Thankful Leper in Houston.

Bless Friday® originated from a homily given by Father Dan at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Houston on the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2009. Chuck Fox, who takes his father to mass there each Sunday night, heard the sermon about how we in the United States are losing sight of why we celebrate Christmas. Chuck was convicted by the message and decided to help change the culture. That week he went back to his home church, Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, talked with his pastor, Dave Peterson and organized some service opportunities for the next year, 2010.

I’ve been shifting us for a few years now and am pleased with how the season has gone since.

And finally, this retro-holiday schedule can have consequences beyond the holidays. We often talk of cultural breakdown, lack of communication and real connection, even while computers seem to allow us to be more connected than ever. Fixing this disconnect between actual reality and virtual reality has to start with reconnecting with each other. The easiest way to jump start that is to throw a party—not some complicated affair, but a house party, the kind that the New York Times thinks has disappeared. Personally, I think Christmas time is a great time to show up the New York Times, so I offer my house party how-to as well. There are, after all, 12 Days of Christmas. Plenty of time for lots of parties, and perhaps a New Year’s Resolution to keep it up.