If you too felt that premature sense of dread when the shops started sweeping the artificial cobwebs out of the corners to be replaced with the artificial frost, welcome to the club. I say premature because it seems that "Christmas" is coming earlier and earlier each year. In my local grocery store, they were scarcely rid of the Halloween candy before the Christmas candy and lights came up. I say dread because that can only mean that soon Alvin and the Chipmunks will be singing again.

I must confess that, aside from the Chipmunks, I absolutely enjoy all the hullabaloo that surrounds Christmas. I just think it comes on far too soon. If I had my druthers, it would start a stately and proper four weeks before the blessed event...somewhere around December 13. Yes, I said December 13. If the average reader out there thinks the Christmas season is starting earlier and earlier, try celebrating the Nativity as many Eastern Orthodox Christians do--on the Julian (or "Old") calendar, January 7.

We Old Calendar Orthodox Christians get a lot of questions about this. But there are definite advantages to putting the feast off for almost two weeks after many Christians celebrate:

1. You are more likely to have a white Christmas than if you went with the crowd and celebrated on the Gregorian Calendar. I remember the first year I, as a convert, celebrated my first "Old Christmas." It snowed--in Atlanta, Georgia. We have had a total of two white Christmases in the past four years--if you count eight snowflakes and a run on the bread and milk at the grocery store as a white Christmas, which I do. (For those trying to manufacture a white Christmas, a word of advice: potato flakes work much better as fake snow than soap powder, and they are more environmentally safe. They don't foam up and wash away in the rain. On the contrary, when the potato flakes are moistened by rain, they fluff up more and are less likely to blow away.)

2. Santa is well rested by January 7.

3. Fruit cakes keep forever, and unto ages of ages.

4. When you forget to buy a gift for someone, you can say, "I didn't forget. I'm pious." This will not go over well, but it's hard to argue with. This actually addresses a subject that many people assume to be true: You get to shop all the after-Christmas sales and get all the great deals. This is untrue. To illustrate my point, look at your Thanksgiving turkey three days after that holiday. You tell me if there's anything worth eating.

5. You can put up your decorations later and keep them up longer without actually being eccentric. True, everyone will still think you're eccentric, but you can be secure in the knowledge that you are not. It is also easier to get a cheap tree. If you wait until just after Gregorian Christmas, you run into the turkey problem, but if you cruise a few choice neighborhoods on January 2 or 3...well, if you don't mind a dry tree, you can find some really nice ones. Some still have the tinsel on them!

6. On Old Calendar Christmas Eve, you are not likely to use television as an excuse to miss an evening service. No one, and I mean no one, has ever missed a church service in favor of a "Love Boat" marathon on TVLand.

7. Because of the extra days off from work or school, I no longer envy my Jewish friends.

8. You get to play Christmas music for two weeks more! (Chipmunks notwithstanding.)

9. You get to hear the animals talk on Christmas Eve. It's true. There is a venerable tradition that on Christmas Eve at midnight, the animals can talk. I read once that some scholars "checked this out" and, of course, found that the animals did not talk. A venerable old farmer told them that they were checking on the wrong night (the Gregorian Christmas Eve).

I chuckled when I read about this, but then I got curious. So, late one Old Calendar Christmas Eve, I crept out into a cow pasture and froze as I awaited the hour at which the cows would talk. When the hour arrived, I asked a nearby cow what she was thinking.

That was my mistake. The only reason that she didn't answer me was, I think, that cows are not actually thinking of anything worth saying. This year, I'll try to talk to a dog. Cats would probably remain silent out of spite. I am confident.

And finally...

10. There is something special about celebrating a holiday when the noise and bustle and excitement are out of the way, the New Year's confetti has been tossed, the chipmunks have sore throats, and all that is left is the bare essential, the holy day, the one needful thing, the Christ back in Christmas. I would never say that those on the New Calendars don't experience this in their own way, but it's easier to remember when it's quiet.

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