Christmas - How Christians should celebrate Christmas
How Christians Should Celebrate Advent and Christmas
by John Feister
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Did you ever notice that dessert is the first dish in line at many buffet restaurants? Yes, you could eat dinner backwards—starting with dessert, then moving on to the appetizer and main course. In the end you eat all the food, but it’s nowhere near as fulfilling as enjoying each part of the meal in its proper place. Or worse, dessert could fill you up before you eat a balanced meal.

Sometimes we suffer the same temptation with Christmas. Our culture tends to skip Advent and start celebrating Christmas after Thanksgiving—if we’re lucky to make it that far! Then it’s all packed up and stored away by New Year’s. This year, consider returning to the ancient practice of seeing the whole Christmas “cycle”—the period that embraces both the Advent and Christmas seasons—as one unit of joyous celebration. Preparation comes first, then comes celebration extending a few weeks after Christmas Day.

The focal point of the Christmas cycle is obvious: God becoming one of us in Jesus, the Incarnation. All three phases of the cycle—Advent, Christmas and Epiphany—hinge on and celebrate that point. These celebrations help us to name the ways our lives are caught up in the “big story” of Christ. And these feasts tie our lives to Christians throughout history. The tradition of the Church, the living gospel, is the real-life experience of Christians like you and like me, and those who have gone before us.

During Advent, which begins in 2007 on December 2, we emphasize the joy that some would compare to the months before a child is born: excitement, wonder, joy, expectation, even exhilaration at the life that is in our midst right now, yet also a hope and longing, and a carefulness to get things into order.

During the Christmas season we celebrate the wonder of the Incarnation. How wondrously we are made that the Word of God would become one of us! God shows us how to live fully: by pouring out our lives for others. That is what the days of Christmas are all about.

Epiphany and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord celebrate Christ becoming manifest—that is, present—to all peoples. On Epiphany we focus on the three Wise Men symbolizing the many races for whom Christ was born. The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. God’s “Christmas gift” of the Incarnation is a gift for everyone!

John Bookser Feister is the editor of AmericanCatholic.org.

This article is excerpted from Catholic Update, "Advent to Epiphany: Celebrating the Christmas Cycle."


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