Monday, January 07, 2008

It's Still Christmas in the McGee House

Our tree is still up, our lights are still out, even the nativity scenes are still gracing available surfaces.

As you may or may not know, Eyebrows has a masters in theology (MTS), focusing on liturgy, so stuff like liturgical seasons are important to her. Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas season doesn't actually start until Christmas and runs thereafter, in various forms, to February 2. (Which is why, incidentally and in a roundabout way, we use groundhogs to predict spring on February 2.)

So, just like the Pope, our Christmas decorations stay up until February 2, which is fine with Mr. McGee, since one of his primary goals in life is to extend Christmas decor as long as humanly possible; I'm told once in his childhood he managed to get his parents to keep the Christmas theme until April.

All that time BEFORE Christmas is actual Advent, and you ought to have your Advent decorations up -- but luckily they're mostly the same as Christmas decorations. I grumble when stores play Christmas carols too early, but not for the same reason as most people -- religious Christmas carols go after Christmas; there are Advent songs for before Christmas. Jesus hasn't arrived yet in mid-December; you don't get to sing about him until he's here.

Christmastide, the 12 days of it as per the song, begins on Christmas and runs until Epiphany (January 6). Thereafter the general Christmas season runs to February 2 (Feast of the Presentation), although this usage is pretty old-fashioned and is typically only applied to decorations in Catholic usage.

(Your fascinating fact for the day is that Epiphany is the older feast; Christmas was broken out from Epiphany in the 2nd or 3rd century, due largely to some pretty fascinating thinking by 2nd- and 3rd-century celibates on the length of pregnancy and date of the crucifixion. Almost anything involving 2nd- and 3rd-century celibates thinking about Jesus and/or Mary has a reasonable dose of crazy; these are the same people who decided if Mary actually gave birth to Jesus, it would destroy her hymen (how did they know about hymens?) and devirginize her, so Jesus therefore was clearly extruded from her bellybutton in a beam of light. Clearly. This is a useless fact in and of itself, because everyone else thought they were pretty insane so it didn't catch on, but you sometimes see the beam of light coming out of Mary's bellybutton in Christian art, more often in Eastern art than Western. Now you know why.)

Anyway, this year I'm a tiny bit sorry I taught Mr. McGee about liturgical seasons, because I'm ready to take the tree down and have my living room back (the rest of it can stay up), but he's going to be all holier-than-thou about it if I try. Thus does our book-learnin' bite us in the ass.


East Bluff Barbie said...

I still have the tree up too. We just finished the last family Christmas we have yesterday. I was going to start putting stuff away today but I can't get myself motivated. Now I have an excuse! :)

Ms. PH said...

I just put mine away yesterday.

Your post reminded me of my dad. Although we were not a religious family, he was raised Lutheran and a church organist in his teens and 20s. And our advent decorations go up way before our Christmas decorations.

I would like to know sometime how ground hog day ties into the whole thing.

Most Prepossessing said...

Next, I need to know how the date for Easter is determined. :) said...

What about outside decorations? Does this mean we can't be annoyed when people have Christmas lights on at the end of January or does this just apply to the tree?

Eyebrows McGee said...

DEFINITELY applies to the outside lights! But most of our neighbors know why leave them up, and I think they're cheerful anyway.

First Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Super short version: The problem is that in the early years of the church, the Jews were still using visual sightings of the moon's phases to determine holidays/month starts, the way Muslims do today. (Jews now use astronomical data.) The Christian Easter holiday was set by the date of Passover, but after the destruction of the temple and the (rather ugly) between the Jews and the "Jews for Jesus" of the early church, most Jewish communities wouldn't "share" their sightings with the church, many church communities didn't have nearby Jewish communities, communications were slow, and a standardized way of getting Easter pretty NEAR Passover had to be found that could be managed by communities independently. So first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring Equinox works pretty well, though it took a while to shake out so that everybody (more or less) agreed on and used the same system.

There's a wide variety of "spring-predicting" rituals that grew up around the end of the Christmas season and occurred on Feb. 2, which is a pretty natural time to turn your thoughts towards spring, now that your major winter festival is over. IIRC, the groundhog shadow thing comes from Germanic areas and came to the US with German immigrants. It's one of the sillier ones, but that makes it fun.

Jennifer said...

I can understand the importance of tradition, but in my view (being an atheist), it's all made up anyway. Arbritrary dates set by arbitrary people, so I just put up/take down everything when it's convenient.
And, yes, we do celebrate Christmas, but not for the religious aspect. It's a holiday about family and personal traditions for us.