In today’s Britain, Christmas begins in October and ends on Boxing Day or, at a stretch, on New Year’s Day. Schools return before the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas have run their course – a tendency reinforced by bringing forward celebration of the feast of the Epiphany to the nearest Sunday. This year I am holding out. I am keeping the Christmas crib in church until 2 February.
In the pre-Vatican II calendar the feast of the Presentation marked the end of the Christmas season; a season that only begins with Evening Prayer on Christmas Eve. Last year the crib in my house survived until Shrove Tuesday. Am I being counter-cultural or just bloody-minded? Prophetic or obstinate?
I enjoy Christmas. It is my favourite time of year. And the season of Epiphany traditionally embraces not just the visit of the Magi but also the baptism of Jesus and the miracle at Cana in Galilee when Jesus ‘let his glory be seen’. On the feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, the words of Simeon celebrate the light that dominates Christmas and the Epiphany: ‘My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.’
If we follow the market and dump Christmas after Boxing Day, we lose the richness of these grace-filled weeks when the promises we longed for in Advent are realised. Left to itself, January returns to darkness. It is a joyless month, a secular Lent. And it needn’t be. Why make it worse by abandoning Christmas so soon?