Monday, January 7, 2008

Christmas decorations

It is now the second day in the octave of the Epiphany, and our decorations are still up. I wonder when most Christians take down the decorations, if there is a mainstream practice in that regard. I have heard of a number of arguments. On one extreme are those who leave up Christmas decorations until Candlemas. The other extreme, I suppose, is to put everything away on St. Stephen's Day. The latter extreme just doesn't make much sense when one considers that the 26th is only the second day of Christmas. And, frankly, the former seems a bit too much to me. Surely by the end of January the neighbors are wondering, with some justification, if you're a little crazy. If I had to guess, I would say that most church going Christians end all vestiges of Christmas celebration in the home by Twelfth Night, which this year was this past Saturday.

My own thinking on the matter is just a bit different from all of the above. Consider that the season we enter right after the twelve days of Christmas is Epiphanytide, the season which celebrates how the Christ was revealed to the wise men who had come from the east to worship Him. This wise men figure as a prominent part of St. Matthew's Infancy Narrative. They make for practically a sine qua non in home nativity scenes. My argument is to keep Christmas decorations up through the Epiphany season, which, I hasten to add, I do not interpret to mean the weeks after Epiphany. Rather, I am referring to the feast of the Epiphany (6 Jan.) and its octave, culminating on 13 Jan.

At the cost of being thought an Easternizer, I am also struck by the thought that just as we are all finished with any thought of Christmas, many (though not all) of the churches in the Eastern Orthodox world are getting ready to celebrate precisely this mystery of the birth of our Lord. Christmas is celebrated on 7 January by those churches that use the Julian calendar. So in a certain less than fully defined sense I am celebrating the birth of Christ with the Christians of that tradition by keeping the Christmas and Ephipany seasons together in certain little ways at home, such as not bothering to put away the decorations a few more days.

I leave the reader with one final unrelated thought (well, it's distantly related-maybe kissing cousins). The very next day after the Epiphany octave is complete, ie., 14 Jan., is, at least according to the sanctoral cycle, historically the feast of St. Hilary, the great 4th century bishop of Poitiers. That day, I would argue, begins the unofficial season of Carnival, a time of year which ends with Fat Tuesday. I imagine that would be a great time to be down in New Orleans. And considering that I am part of a church (the Missouri Synod) which was born of a colony of immigrants in the 19th century who entered America via New Orleans, travelling up the waters of the Mississippi, perhaps it would only be right and Lutheran to one day make a pilgrimage to that fine city for Mardi Gras. Maybe next year in New Orleans.


Father Hollywood said...

Here in the Big Easy, we officially begin Carnival on Epiphany. And this year, the very first Carnival parade went by one of the oldest Lutheran churches in the area (my parish, Salem in Gretna) just a few hours after Epiphany Mass.

Needless to say, Salem was represented along the parade route by the faithful chanting the ancient versicle: "Throw me somethin', mistah!" (which is a loose translation of "Kyrie eleison").

Carnival is a great time to be in New Ahluns. It is rife with Christian imagery, though it makes pre-Lent virtually meaningless (though we do follow the one-year series).

Green is Epiphany, purple is Lent, and Gold is Easter. Green, purple, and gold are the colors of Mardi Gras.

As the good franco-Lutherans say: "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

Of course, any time the Gabas want to join the celebrations, y'all are welcome to pass the time "avec les Hollywoods" at the presbytere.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thank you, Father Hollywood, for the insider's perspective. I did not know, or forgot, that Carnival began down in your parts on Epiphany. Admittedly, in the little bit of study I have done on the topic, I have seen a variety of definitions as to the beginning of Carnival, which begins as late as the Thursday before Fat Tuesday in some places, and as early as Veterans' Day in other places. If any place has anything like a claim to being an authority on this, however, surely it is New Orleans.

Brian P Westgate said...

Zion Detroit will take down their Christmas decoration after Mass this Sunday. Another question may be, what will you celebrate? The Baptism of our Lord or the First Sunday after Epiphany? At last check, Zion was going to celebrate the Sunday.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You said, "Another question may be, what will you celebrate? The Baptism of our Lord or the First Sunday after Epiphany?"

It is an interesting question. Before I give my opinion, let me raise a few points. Next Sunday actually brings up not merely two possibilities, but three. Besides the Baptism and the 1st Sun after Epiph, there is also the Transfiguration.

Just out of curiosity I tried to see what the Missouri Synod's official position on this is, but when I went to the synod web site, I couldn't find any 2008 liturgical calendar. If it's there, then I say two things: 1. why is it so absconded in the web site? (one would think a church's liturgical calendar would be the first thing that comes up), and 2. someone tell me how to find it.

Regarding the Ft. Wayne seminary calendar, I notice something very interesting. The Ft. Wayne sem. has apparently decided to no longer take a stand on liturgical matters of this sort, but to give two options, the Baptism and the 1st Sun after Epiphany. If I read this calendar correctly, the seminary is saying that if you are a 3 yr parish, then this Sunday is the Baptism of Our Lord, and that if you are a "one year" parish, then you could do either the Baptism or the 1st Sun. after Epiphany.

I am no expert, but according to my present thinking on this issue, there are good arguments that could be made for either the Baptism or the Tranfiguration; I don't quite see the rationale for 1st Sun after Epiph. My own thinking leads me towards the notion that the most appropriate way to celebrate this next Sunday this year is to keep the feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

Not only is the Baptism often celebrated on the Sunday following the Epiphany, which this is, but perhaps even more importantly, this year since we have the unusual event of Epiphany taking place on a Sunday, we also have the equally unusual event of its octave falling on a Sunday, and the Octave of the Epiphany is the true home of the Baptism of our Lord. Also keep in mind that the unusually early Lent this year need not necessarily mean the Church is deprived altogether of the Transfiguration, because that feast also comes up on the sanctoral cycle, viz., on 6 August. I am no doubt out of the mainstream on this. Just saying.

Brian P Westgate said...

Not to nitpick, but the Transfiguration is not an option, for the rubrics state that it is not celebrated if there is only one Sunday after Epiphany. Quite frankly, I'd like to see that changed to be not celebrated if there are only one or two Sundays after Epiphany. After all, the Office hymn includes the Second Sunday's Gospel.

I'm with you on the Baptism, and upon review, it does appear that the St. Andrew Daily Missal says that the Baptism is celebrated. It also says that we've lost much of the Mass for the Baptism (must have been pre-Reformation). Then the Sunday mass could be anticipated on the 12th. (Rome says the 19th., but that's because of the post-Reformation Feast of the Holy Family). The only reason that one might celebrate the Sunday over the Baptism is because we lost the Mass for the Baptism at the time of the Reformation. Perhaps Deacon Muehlenbruch will chime in with some thoughts? . . .