Putting The Mass Back In Christmas

I do not know if it is the same elsewhere but in England, we are being encouraged by the medical profession and others to observe "Dry January," during which not a drop of alcohol should pass our lips. This is to sober us up after the Christmas and New Year holidays during which, it is assumed, we all spent our time either drunk or getting drunk.

It strikes me that this is all very much back to front. Surely the idea is (or, at least, used to be) to fast before Christmas and then celebrate the end of the fast. Instead, we now celebrate, often overenthusiastically, before Christmas and then fast, because of shame and guilt, afterwards. Advent, the time of repentance, has been moved from before the celebration to after it.

Nowadays we have to have everything we desire immediately. We cannot abide waiting and will take on ridiculously expensive debts to get what we want before we can afford it. We no longer want to wait for Christmas and so we are celebrating it earlier and earlier each year. In the same way that we are not prepared to save up for things we desire, we are not prepared to prepare ourselves for Christmas by observing a period of restraint. When we get to Christmas Day we are pretty much celebrated out and the holiday itself is often a major anticlimax, a disappointment.

In medieval times, the fast of Advent was observed with strict fasting and no decorations were put up until Christmas Eve. There then followed twelve full days of celebration, made more welcome and intense by the deliberate privation of the previous four weeks. Make no mistake, they knew how to party back then and there was much feasting and quaffing. However, unlike today, everybody knew what the festivities were all about. Nobody was getting drunk just for the sake of it. Everybody was celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, their messiah, and the forgiveness of their sins. There were twelve days of merriment but there were also twelve days of religious observation. You had to sober up at least once a day to go to church.

In modern times we have lost both the desire and the ability to prepare for Christmas and to celebrate it properly. This means that most people end up with nothing but a hangover, both physical and existential. This is a shame. January should be the time when we are joyful because of the good news of the Incarnation, not miserable because of meaningless overindulgence, so over the top that it necessitates a whole month of cold turkey.

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