As a Catholic priest, I like Christmas as much as the next person—maybe a little more. Only a Scrooge couldn't find joy in Christmas carols, Christmas cheer, and Christmas Mass. But as an American, I find the holiday has become almost an endurance test. Only a saint could maintain the patience needed to confront Christmas shopping, Christmas stress, and Christmas credit card bills.
I get tired of lamenting the same thing every year. So this year I'm taking action. Thus my modest proposal: Move Christmas to June.
Here's my plan. First, we hand over December 25 to the corporations and let them have their way with it. Let Macy's, for example, tell us that the Christmas season starts not with Advent, but right after Halloween, since that's when they start decorating their stores anyway. Let Kohl's tell us that the appropriate way to begin Advent is not with the traditional evergreen wreath with four candles, but by camping out with surly crowds at 3 a.m. in front of their stores, so that you can buy an iPhone, or some other techno gadget you don't really need.
Give the corporations December 25. It will be our final Christmas present to them.
Then what? Well, the rest of us can celebrate what we could call New Christmas in, say, June. A useful model for New Christmas is Easter: minimum stress, maximum prayer. Easter catalogues do not sclerotically clog mailboxes in the springtime. Fistfights in overheated department stores do not herald the start of Lent. People don't obsess about how many Easter cards to send this year. When was the last time you heard someone complaining about pre-Easter stress, or having to attend too many Easter egg rolls?
No one needs to put Christ back in Easter because nobody has taken him out. At least not yet.
The timing of Christmas was never precise anyway. It was scheduled to supplant an earlier Roman pagan feast on the same day. Plus, we don't know exactly when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. (Some Scripture scholars wonder if it was even in Bethlehem.) So we could mark New Christmas in June, when there aren't as many big-name holidays to compete with.
Right now, Christmas comes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Hanukah arrives in December as well. Then comes Kwanzaa. That's way too many parties, way too many gifts, and, basically, way too much competition. In June, the only serious competition for New Christmas is Fathers' Day. Oh, and Flag Day, too. But New Christmas would easily whip Flag Day.
Just think how much fun New Christmas could be. If we take Easter as our model, that means no more insane shopping trips, no more endless lists of cards, no more crazed shuttling from one family gathering to the next. Without those burdens, say goodbye to everyone's least favorite part of Christmas: guilt. Santa would still visit the malls, but in a red short-sleeve shirt, bearing the message that one present per kid is more than enough for New Christmas. (I predict that Santa's popularity among parents would grow exponentially.)
Christmas Eve services could be held on a warm summer's night—perhaps even at sunrise--with believers better able to ponder God's coming among us as a human being. Certainly better than now, when they're more focused on fighting the flu, wondering how they'll pay off their January credit card bills, and worrying about slipping on the ice as they race out of the church parking lot. Best of all, more people would actually go to Christmas services, since they've saved time from not having to open all those presents.
Then just a simple summer meal with the family—and pretty soon the Christmas barbecue would become a beloved tradition. "Happy New Christmas, Dad! Any burgers left?"
Now I know that part of the season's symbolism lies in the image of light in the midst of darkness, and you lose that in the summer. But admit it: It wouldn't be half bad in June.
Overall, a relaxed, shopping-free, spiritually grounded holiday celebrating the person whose radical life changed the world would do everyone a little good in June—Christian or otherwise. As an added bonus for those in the northern climes, there wouldn't be many travelers delayed by blizzards. (Though the way global warming is going, a snowy June next year in New England wouldn't surprise me.)
So when June rolls around, you can wish me Happy New Christmas. But don't worry--no need to send me a card. And certainly no need camp out in front of a department store at 3 a.m. to buy some expensive gift. A pair of Christmas sunglasses will do just fine.