By Ray Knapp
In the United States, Christmas is easily the most popular holiday of the year. The Christmas Season actually starts with the first Sunday of Advent (03 Dec. this year) – not the day after Halloween, as merchants would have you believe – and ends NOT on Christmas Day, but on the 12th day after Christmas, known as the Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory occurred with the Wise Men leaving Bethlehem and spreading the word of the Messiah’s birth.
When my father was a little boy, his grandfather would tell him stories of Christmas when he was a child and except for presents and merchants’ advertisements, wasn’t much different than it is today, even though that was long ago. Dad’s grandfather was born in 1829, so that was long ago. ‘Born in Ohio, near the Ohio River across from West Virginia, (which broke away from Virginia as the 35th state on June 20, 1863 (due in a large part to the Civil War) great-grandpa wound up in the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry and told Dad about those days fighting under the command of General George Armstrong Custer. Some of the battles were not exactly battles but a claiming of territory as Slave owners fled from the Union Army leaving their homes and slaves. Great grandpa talked with some of those slaves and they told of the Christmases they had. Their Master would allow them time off, except for the household staff, as long as the “Back fireplace log lasted.” According to what the slaves told him, they would get the biggest, knottiest log that would fit in the fireplace and soak it in a pond for 3 or 4 months before Christmas. Placed at the back of the fireplace on Christmas Day, it would generally last a week or more.
The days after Christmas then, and now, is notoriously a time for nostalgia and many old recollections and sympathies of Christmas time awaken within us. In those olden days of my great grandfather, and in fact, even in the days of my youth, festivities were centered on the home, the family and the indulgence of children. And now, in many homes, the hearth or fireside has disappeared and computer games have replaced the railway set as presents. This is not quite the same, and we still attempt to recapture the elusive traditional Christmas we once knew. All these feelings and emotions seem to come after the Christmas feast and festivities leaving many with a feeling of loneliness and emptiness. Surprisingly there is a decrease in suicides during this stressful time except New Year’s Day. Some researchers believe the jump occurs because New Year’s Day is the end of holiday season, and people get depressed at the prospect of returning to work and everyday life.
Not that I ever came to thinking about suicide, but I often had regrets in January as the bills for Christmas presents, charged to my credit card, were now due. I’m past that stage now, however many people are not, and though they know better, are somehow coerced into spending more than they should.
My children didn’t know, or at least they didn’t care that the 12 days after Christmas represents the true end-point of the Christmas season, nor, Epiphany sends Christians into the world to live out the Incarnation, to witness to the light of Christ in the darkness. They did, however, know all the words to the song about the 12 days of Christmas and about drove me batty singing about a Partridge in a pear tree; 12 lords a leaping; maids milking, and on and on.
But being about driven batty by their singing, I miss that – and their squabbles during Christmas vacation from school. Like they say, or at least I heard it somewhere: “Having a place to go – is a home. Having someone to love – is a family. Having both – is a blessing. “
May God bless and keep you during the coming year.