First of all, there's no time left for your holiday shopping. There's still time for your Christmas shopping.
Don't get me wrong. If you want to wish me a Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy Yule, Blessed Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, or Festivus for the Rest of Us, I'm happy to receive it. I'm inclusive. I don't even object to Xmas. (For the uninitiated, "chi" is the first letter of Christ in Greek, represented by a Greek letter that looks an awful lot like an "X". Christians have been using it as written shorthand for as long as Christianity has been around. It's freaking ancient.) And I hold that while it is most certainly a religious celebration, it's also a secular one too. You don't have to love Jesus to put up a tree, exchange gifts, have a nice meal with the family, sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and hang up stockings for Santa to fill. If you prefer to take the Christ out of your Christmas, go ahead.
Dude, it's all GOOD. Rock your celebrations, my friends.
But let's face it: if you celebrate Hanukkah or Solstice with gift-giving, you're late. You're out of time. Your particular holidays are over, and I hope they were lovely. What you do have is a few days left until Christmas arrives, so let's just say it already. Don't be scared. Just because "not everyone celebrates Christmas" is no reason to not mention it. It's getting to be like the elephant in the room. We all know it's there, but no one dares to speak it's name. Come to that, maybe it's like Voldemort. The Holiday that Shall Not Be Named. The Holiday Formerly Known as Christmas. Maybe the religious and secular holidays need two different names so no one gets offended. (Like that would every happen! Ha!)
But in as much as I'm inclusive and love holiday traditions in a very ecumenical way, I object strenuously to the event I'm beginning to think of as Consumas. This wretched event started weeks before Halloween and right now is in full-frenzied mode. Buy, buy, BUY! Spend, spend, SPEND! Countdown to Christmas! Get it now! Get her what she really wants this year! Don't be a Scrooge--go SHOPPING!
If you celebrate Consumas, and I feel bad for you if you do, your time is short. You don't get a grace period, either. If you don't have your cookies baked, your tree up, your house decorated, your gifts bought and wrapped, and your cards already in the mail, you are royally screwed. It won't be Christmas without...well, whatever it is, if you forgot it, you SUCK. And you better start early next year, Mister, to avoid that kind of disaster.
There are three days left until the 25th. That's when Christmas is, or if you are Catholic like me, it's when Christmas begins. It doesn't start until sundown on the 24th. It doesn't start before Halloween when the decorations hit the store. It doesn't start the day after Thanksgiving. That's the Holiday Shopping Season. That's Consumas comin' for ya, bearing down on you earlier and earlier, breathing down your neck like a crazed wildebeest.
Shopping closer to Christmas rather than early like the commercials commanded me to doesn't make me a procrastinator. I'm not a Grinch because my house doesn't look like the Christmas section at Walmart threw up. And don't label me as a Scrooge because it only takes me about three hours to pick up all the presents I'm going to put under the tree.
Am I lacking in Christmas Spirit? Certainly. I have the Advent Spirit. And not the advent that's marked with a wee bite of chocolate hiding behind a perforated cardboard door as a mere taste of the bacchanalian orgy to come on the 25th. Advent is actually a quiet time. A dark, cold time. It's a time of watching and waiting and being aware of what Christmas really means. A savior. A redeemer. It's a time for faith, and for hope.
On December 24th, after the children are nestled all snug in their beds and "Santa" fills their stockings and puts their wrapped gifts under the tree, I'll put on a clean shirt, warm up my voice, and at 11:30 p.m. I'll be in my seat in the choir area behind the altar. The lights will be on low, the evergreens lit with thousands of white lights, and red and white poinsettias will engulf the altar. Candles flicker and dance as people come in from the cold and the dark to the warm glow of Christmas. They smile, they greet each other with hugs and handshakes and come together to celebrate the Light that has come into the world.
And from the first notes of "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" to the last strains of "Joy to the World" Christmas will fill every inch of me. Yes, it's late at night. Yes, it's a long Mass. And yes, my kids get up too freaking early on Christmas morning. But that glow will fill and sustain me through the eight days of Christmas and the rest of the Christmas season. Our tree will be up and lit until January 9th when Christmas ends. When everyone else is saying they're sick of looking at the tree because it's been up for weeks already, it will be fresh and new to us. Where others have been singing Christmas carols for weeks, we've just been getting warmed up! Because we waited and didn't let the retail industry tell us what to celebrate and when, Christmas has changed in a profound way.
So I'm not full of the Christmas Spirit. I'm still waiting. I'm still preparing. And I have a couple of days left pick up the last three gifts on my list.
I like to think of it as a Grace period.