We may be taking down our decorations and seeing off the last of the mince pies but we should carry Christmas with us, and treasure its promises into the weeks ahead, through Epiphanytide to the pre-Lent season, says the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh
“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”’ This is surely one of the most memorable lines from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The words make me wonder why we are always in such a hurry to remove all evidence of this festive season by midnight on January 6th– or Twelfth Night as it is also known, as if we were in a hurry to get back to the winter Mr. Tumnus is describing.
Some people take their Christmas tree down on New Year’s Eve. I find this haste to get back to workaday normality sad, not just because I’m sorry to say goodbye to the good memories, and the lights and cards, or even because it’s time we finished the Christmas cake, but because it deprives the season of its true meaning. It diminishes the joy of anticipation that we have already known, and cuts short the possibility of hope for the weeks and months ahead. Right now, we are very much in need of that Christmas hope.
Of all the seasons, Christmas is the one we most joyfully anticipate. Advent is a joyful season of preparation, and not only one of fasting and self denial. Christmas begins in a hope that is realised through a promise fulfilled, the coming of the Messiah, and in the giving of gifts that signify the fulfilment of yet more promise, his welcoming of the gentile world. So why are we in such a hurry to tidy it away?
I would dare to suggest that what appears to be our need to be done with Christmas has something to do with the difficulty we experience, both as a Church and in our individual lives, with the receiving of gift. We sense this difficulty in the way we exchange gifts under the Christmas tree. It has become a contractual exercise. There are expectations and wish lists to be met and fulfilled. This creates an atmosphere which makes it hard to be genuinely grateful for the gifts we receive from others, which in turn diminishes our joy in receiving them. Where contractual thinking begins, gratitude and reciprocity end. But the gift of Christmas itself carries no such expectations, only the hope that the Giver will be loved for His own sake, as he was loved by Mary, his mother.
The love between Jesus and his mother is also an invitation to us to be part of that reciprocal love. We are invited to ‘treasure’ the real meaning of Christmas as she treasured the memories that surrounded his birth. We are to carry Christmas with us, and ‘treasure’ its promises into the weeks ahead, through Epiphanytide to the pre-Lent season. With Mary, we treasure the surreal moment of gift giving, as three wealthy foreigners kneel and worship the Child in the house he is living in – or in the stable, depending on how you read the timing.
The mismatch of facts and information concerning these and earlier seminal events in no way diminishes their significance, or their truth. The truth of them endures and enriches our lives because it is made manifest in the context of the people around us, beginning with our own Church family. Christmas was never a private event, so the Christmas story endures and acquires greater meaning to the extent that we go on living it together and receive the Christ Child in one another with unfeigned gratitude. What better place to begin than the Feast of the Epiphany?