Savoring Christmas

There is a relationship between the ways we celebrate Christmas and where we live. That seems obvious, but one of the gifts of my life has been a career-long friendship with a colleague who lives in Australia, where the seasons are reversed from ours. Christianity developed and expanded in the northern hemisphere and our celebrations reflect the changes of season that go with particular times of the year here in the north. Lent, the season which occurs in the spring gets its name from the lengthening days. In the southern hemisphere, the days are getting shorter at that time of the year. Epiphany, the celebration of the visit of the Magi, is filled with images of light and life and reflects ancient ceremonies and traditions celebrating the period that follows the shortest days of the year. On the other side of the globe, the shortest nights of the year are starting to give way to a period of shorter days and longer nights. This phenomenon hasn’t stoped Christianity from being relevant and meaningful in the southern hemisphere. In fact there are areas in Africa and South America where Christianity is growing at a much faster pace than many northern locations such as Europe and the United States.

While I understand these concepts in my mind, my experience is so firmly rooted in the place where I live that I have a hard time thinking of the world in a different way. I don’t really know what it feels like to live the cycle of the seasons in the southern hemisphere. The only substantial time I’ve spent in the other hemisphere was a month in Australia in 2016 during the winter in that place, while it was summer here. Our visit included a trip to the south of Tasmania and a trip to see the tiny penguins south of Melbourne, so we experienced a bit of Australian winter and felt a little cold during the season that was summer at home, but our trip also included a visit to Uluru and Alice Springs, where the weather was warm and similar to our summer temperatures. And a month is too short to get the feeling of the flow of seasons.

It is hard for me to distinguish my feelings about living through the cycle of the Christian Calendar with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost following one another in a cycle that repeats every year from my feelings about the cycle and flow of the seasons with their changes in weather.

I have loved living in a place where we have four seasons. Having recently traveled to the West Coast where the weather was a little chilly, with some skim ice forming on shallow water to our home, where just a few days ago a major blizzard shut down travel reminds me that I like the winter. I didn’t mind having to get out the snow blower to clear out the driveway. I like seeing the artful curves of the snow drifts that show evidence of the strong winds that moved around the snow during the storm that we missed. I’m comfortable with t being winter where I live. I know that the snow isn’t forever. I get a reprieve from weekly lawn mowing at this time of the year and I am grateful for that break. The garden is resting under the snow and doesn’t need my care and attention. It is a gift, just as it will be a gift when spring invites me to return to the soil and do some planting.

This year Easter lands on one of its later dates. The date of Easter can vary by more than a month, landing between March 22 and April 25. It will fall on April 21 this year. It will be a bit earlier in 2020, landing on April 12. Since Pentecost is 50 days after Easter, its date moves around the calendar as well, so it lands on June 9 this year and on May 31 in 2020.

Just as each year’s weather is unique, so is the experience of the season of Epiphany, which is a different length each year. This year we get 104 days between Epiphany Day and Easter, which seems like a good amount and allows for a slightly slower pace for all of our celebrations than in years when we cram the same number of events into a season that can be nearly a month shorter.

I know, however, that the time will seem to fly by. Here at the beginning of the calendar year, when it is traditional to make resolutions and set goals, I am, as usual, ambitious in thinking about what I can accomplish. There are a lot of things that I want to occur in the coming seasons and I know that it is likely that I will succeed in some of my goals and fail in others. I’ve gotten to the place in my life where i do not expect radical changes in my personality or appearance. I know that meaningful change takes time and that slow changes are often the most lasting ones.

So here we are as we celebrate the final days of Christmas. It is neat that Epiphany Day, which is always January 6, lands on a Sunday this year. We’ll celebrate worship in the morning with the Christmas Tree and then take it down, the final of the Christmas Decorations to be put away for another year. We have just a few delicious days to enjoy it and to revel in the season before moving on.

In some ways Christmas has been defined by our travels in the last two years. Spending a week of Christmas with our grandchildren has been a delightful experience both years. Coming back home after the visit is a bit like ending a season even though there are still a few days of Christmas left. My emotions are tuning to what is coming and I am looking forward.

Today is a good day to take a breath, relax, and enjoy the glory of this season before I push forward toward all that is coming.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

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