Source: Saint Spyridon Orthodox Church
From “MY ORTHODOX NOTEBOOK. Answers to Practical Questions About The Orthodox Way of Life”.
The “Holiday Season”
In place of the Christian Fast before the Nativity of Christ, secular society has developed a generic “holiday season” lasting roughly from Thanksgiving until the secular New Year. Parties, rushing to newly released movies, watching Christmas “specials” on TV which range from the sentimental at best to the outright blasphemous at worst, and a frenzy of shopping in order to buy a long list of presents occupy nearly everyone. Canned cheery music in the stores, “heartwarming” human interest movies (or vulgar comedies depicting how godless people “celebrate” Christmas), parties, and alcohol, are supposed to cheer everyone up and make them feel festive. And, of course, everyone knows about the dark side of the “season”: increased drunkenness, auto accidents, depression, family strife, and suicide.
Celebrating Before the Feast Makes No Sense
The sacred Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity is preceded by a 40 day period of fasting and prayerful preparation. The world, however, in its utter disregard of sacred things and hedonistic lust for immediate gratification, cannot wait, much less, prepare, to celebrate Christmas. Everyone must have lots of “cheer” for weeks BEFORE the actual feast, and by the time Christmas itself arrives (on the new calendar, much less the old calendar), everyone is nervous and exhausted from shopping and social obligations. The very morning after new calendar “Christmas,” one sees plenty of Christmas trees already thrown out on the sidewalk, and everyone is saying, “Whew, thank goodness THAT’s over with.” Their Christmas is over as soon as it began. This makes absolutely no sense.
The Divine Rhythm of the Church Year
In place of this soulless and meaningless season of phony cheer and unnecessary stress, the Holy Church offers us the saving season of the Nativity Fast. In the divinely inspired logic of the Church calendar, we get to enjoy a season of quiet, of fasting, of prayer, of inner preparation, in order to prepare our souls to receive the great grace of Christ’s Nativity, whose sacred season lasts until the Feast of His Baptism. This sensible and natural rhythm of preparation preceding celebration, and celebration lasting throughout a genuine festive season, is obviously God’s plan for how we are to spend our December and early January. Are we willing to cooperate in His plan?
How Are We to Deal with the “Holiday Season”?
As much as possible, simply ignore it. You do not have to plan parties in your own home, drink more than usual, stand in line to see a silly newly released movie, or spend all your time in shopping malls. These things are within our control. Also within our control is to fast, go to more church services, pray regularly at home, and quietly plan for our real celebration of the Lord’s Nativity according to the Church calendar. Go only to the office parties or other social obligations that are absolutely necessary, eat only fasting food at these events, stay only as long as socially required, and keep drinking to a minimum. When the real Feast of the Lord’s Nativity on the real December 25 (the “Old Calendar” December 25) arrives, you will receive a gift of spiritual joy which the world can never give.
What About Shopping for Presents?
Make a short list of close relatives and friends. Do not overload children with presents; kids in our society have too much junk as it is. Consider making home-made gifts, bake cookies, keep things simple. Christians have a serious moral obligation not to turn the sacred Feast of Christ’s Nativity into an orgy of consumerism.
Our Parish Feast-Day
Here in our parish of St. Spyridon, we also have the opportunity to celebrate our parish feast-day during the period before Christmas, especially by fasting, confessing, and receiving Holy Communion. St. Spyridon is, one might say, the “Patron Saint of the Old Calendar,” because his holy feast falls on the day when the non-Orthodox celebrate the non-Orthodox Christmas. Avoiding “Santa Day” activities on this day and concentrating on our dear saint’s feast honors the saint and invites the grace of God to help our parish and us.
The Orthodox Way is a Gift Not a Burden
It is a gift, not a burden, to follow this Orthodox way of observing Christmas, and it is a burden, not a joy, to follow the world’s way. Let us receive this gift willingly, courageously, and clear-sightedly. Year by year, little by little, we will detach more and more from the deadening “holiday season,” and attach our hearts more and more to Christ, Who was born for our salvation and eternal joy.