Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day 2

In most other Christian countries (even if lamentably now mostly post-Christian), this "Second Day of Christmas" is still a holiday - whether referred to by its liturgical title (St. Stpehen's Day) or, as it is called throughout the British Commonwealth, "Boxing Day." Here in the U.S., of course, it just an ordinary workday - and a big day for shoppers to return or exchange unwanted Christmas presents and get started on the post-Christmas sales.
It is usually suggested that the placement of so many prominent saints' days within the Octave of Christmas is evidence of the late development of the Christmas Octave. Let the liturgical historians argue about such matters! In any event, the juxtaposition of St. Stephen, the 1st Martyr, with the Nativity seems especially compelling. (If we also add in the Holy Innocents on December 28 and St. Thomas Becket on December 29, martyrs seem to figure quite prominently indeed in this Christmas Octave. Such "coincidences" are hardly insignificant).
Notwithstanding St. Stephen's importance, in our time this "Second Day of Christmas" is mainly, I think, for most of us just a "day after." I remember my father saying how he always preferred it when Christmas was aSaturday or a Sunday, which meant December 26 was a day off. Since school was closed and I had the day off anyway, I didn't care much about that, although now I can appreciate his thinking much more. (My own particular preference has always been for Christmas on a Monday, because it means the shortest possible Advent).
The dynamic of our modern American Christmas calls for a long (and getting ever longer), renzied "holiday season" building up to the big day, then a sudden let-down on or immediately after December 25. When I used to visit my family on the West Coast for new Year's, I used to find it sad how the public Christmas decorations (still in place when I would arrive soon after Christmas) would mostly all be gone by New Year's. And even in New York one would start seeing discarded Christmas Trees by the curb sometimes as ealry as December 26. As a culture, I think we find it a challenge to keep things going. That seems to be true about a lot of things. Our contemproary newsmedia tends to fixate on one issue or event for a while, as if nothing else were going on in the world, but then at some point it becomes old news and might as well be ancient history. The pre-Christmas frenzy and the immediatley post-Christ let-down seem to fit that pattern.
There is not much to be bone about that, of course, but those of us whose responsibility it is to keep celebrating Christmas until after Epiphany just have to keep doing what we're supposed to do. For the few who come, the festive Masses each day of the Christmas Octave and the daily repetition of the Gloria and of the special insertions in Roman Canon convey the sense of religious fesitivity continuing in spite of the surrounding secular let-down.

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