Every year, I hear this question raised from parishioners and colleagues alike. Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier each year. This year, I was shocked to see Christmas trees for sale the day after Halloween. In a world where we hear Christmas music in November (or earlier!), why can’t the Church follow suit?
One could argue that the liturgical calendar requires holding off on Christmas music until the season of Advent concludes on Christmas Eve. However, I am well aware that many worshipers want the opportunity to sing Christmas carols throughout December.
Part of the problem is how the Church calendar is constructed. The Christmas season is short–only 12 days–and this year, only one of those 12 days is a Sunday (December 31). When the New Year rolls around, we breeze through Epiphany (January 6), and Sunday, January 7, is already the Baptism of Christ. No more Christmas music!
So is it wrong to sing about Christ’s birth before Christmas? Not necessarily. But in doing so, we miss the meaning of Advent. Advent is a season of preparation, of watching, of waiting, and of longing. For Episcopalians, we are lucky that we have a wealth of good Advent hymns. Hymns such as “Come, O Long Expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” express the Advent themes well. So this December, I invite you to watch, to wait, and to fully embrace Advent and the music of this season. In doing so, the Christmas season is made even more special.