We keep track of time and seasons of the year by using calendars that provide us opportunities to observe, commemorate, and celebrate certain events or occasions. The changing seasons of the year also provide us with recurring opportunities to celebrate the Christian Faith in worship. The Christian church, following earlier Jewish tradition, has long used the seasons of the year as an opportunity for festivals and holidays, sacred time set aside to worship God as the Lord of life.
I often find my days running one into the other. I suspect this is a common experience of time, but I find as a stay-at-home Mom that this is especially true. There can be periods of time where the kids and I may not leave the house for days and with the exception of the rising and setting of the sun (or the leaving of Daddy for work) it’s difficult to find an outside anchor upon which to give our days context. I think just about every culture has recognized the importance of this connection and codified some method for which to assign meaning.
We’ve tried as a family, a few different ways, at different times, of creating our own special rhythm or set of special observances. This year, in much the same way as we’ve marked the season of Advent, we’re going to follow along with the traditional Church Year. There is some variation amongst denominations as to how these special chunks of time are treated. The commonality among them, both in Eastern and Western traditions, are things like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost (followed by “Ordinary Time” from the word “ordinal” or counted time which may or may not include other special events like Reformation Sunday or All Saints Day). Of course, some Protestant denominations aren’t particularly big on these demarcations which is certainly another way of approaching one’s faith. Mixed in with all of this, it should be noted, will likely be some degree of Pagan beliefs or practices. This is inevitable given our tendency as human beings toward some degree or another of syncretism. Given that it’s now 2010 it’s entirely likely that someone, somewhere has probably done it and it’s foolish to think that we can somehow ascertain the proper cultural purity.
Many churches in the Protestant tradition do not celebrate in any deliberate or sustained way the various seasons of the church year beyond Christmas and Easter. However, the observance of the seasons of the church year has a long history in the life of the Christian Faith. When most of the people in the church were poor and had no access to education, the church festivals and the cycle of the church year provided a vehicle for teaching the story of God and his actions in human history. Even in the Old Testament, the concept of sacred time became a vehicle for teaching the faith (for example, Exodus 12-13). Planned and purposeful observance of the Christian seasons and festivals can become an important tool for education and discipleship in the Faith, as well as a vehicle for spiritual growth and vitality.
We’re going to pull from quite a bit of the traditional church year, borrowing a bit from both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well as from our denomination’s lectionary with several outside holidays or other special events thrown in the mix. I’m confident it will be quite the mash up and hope that you’ll enjoy reading about our journey along the way. I’ll be marking our dispatches on these special days as “The Rhythm of the Year” followed by the identification of the special day.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
I have to admit the first few days (or weeks) after Christmas often feels like a bit of a letdown. As a child, I remember the bittersweet feeling that came along with all those wonderful Christmas gifts. While I enjoyed them greatly, there was no longer that sense of anticipation of what was to come. No more presents to open and a whole lot of cold days ahead of you. In the Church calendar, between Christmas and Lent there is period of time referred to as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This encompasses the twelve days following Christmas and culminating in the Feast of the Epiphany. There is, of course, some variation to the dates used between Eastern and Western churches, but we’re going to stick with the Western tradition of celebrating Epiphany on January 6th. Of course, to confuse you even more we’re going to split it up between January 2nd (when we’ll celebrate it at church) and January 6th (when we’ll focus on Three Kings Day around the world with a special Kings Cake to go with it).
Smack dab in the middle will be New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, and I know this will be greatly disappointing to many of you, but we will not be incorporating Hogmanay into our traditions this year (or any other year for that matter).
I’m all for embracing one’s cultural heritage and all, but I draw the line at the swinging of flaming fireballs around one’s head.
The Feast of St. Stephen/Boxing Day
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing
The traditional focus for today is sharing what you have with others. We’ll mark the day by going through our things and setting aside some that we can donate and share with others. J and I will also work on putting together a gift of warmth by making a no-sew fleece blanket for our local Project Linus chapter. It will be a nice way to tie in the messages of generosity and willingness to share with others that we’ve been focusing on lately. I think it will provided some much needed balance to the receiving fest that is our American Christmas.