Saturday, November 12, 2011

HallowThankMas, a Reflection

I went to church one Thanksgiving morning some years ago and heard a sermon by a very wise woman, a retired priest, who spoke simply but eloquently about what has become a trend in our modern society that has been born in the lifetimes of most of us  HallowThankMas.

You won't find the official acknowledgement of HallowThankMas on any catalog or advertised in any store, but if you look, you'll find it. It is the period from just before Halloween, when all the stores are packed with pumpkins, costumes and decorations suitable to a season featuring weird creatures, horrific sights and dark things that are usually shunned the rest of the year. It extends through Thanksgiving, which is overshadowed by the introduction of Christmas decorations (some of which made tentative appearances not long after Labor Day), strings of lights and trees, increasing to a frenzy on Christmas Eve. In HallowThankMas the seasons all run together like a modern painting with swirls of color but no discernable pattern or change from one area to another. It can be quite unsettling.

It used to be, in my memory anyway, that the Halloween season started about the first of October and ended on Halloween itself.  Thanksgiving decors featuring pilgrims, more pumpkins, colored leaves and turkeys went up immediately on November 1 and remained until Thanksgiving Day, after which Christmas became the celebrated season, pumpkins and pilgrims retired in favor of elves, brightly colored balls and tinsel. You knew when you were then. Each season got its share of attention and could be enjoyed fully for itself, not for what it was leading to. It isn't that way any more, and it's a shame.

Our church, among a few others, doesn't officially recognize the presence of Christmas until the evening of December 24th with the overwhelmingly joyous, colorful, fragrant, and glorious services of Christmas Eve. Advent has led up to it, taking the step-by-step path from the first Sunday in Advent and the lighting of the first candle to the time when candles blazed all over the place, incense makes its appearance, and the reflective blue or penitential purple of Advent turns to white and gold in celebration. Still, Advent gives me (and us) time to think, to reflect on what is really going to be celebrated -- and when. There are years when the 4th Sunday of Advent in the morning becomes Christmas eve in the evening, but that's okay. We have prepared for it. We know where we are in the church year, and it's a comforting, comfortable place, very much like the inward contemplations a pregnant woman  as she caresses the bulge in her body that shelters a new life that will soon enter the world, including the world of HallowThankMas.

HallowThankMas is a frantic time, and what's more, Christmas Day no sooner arrives than all traces of it are wiped away (except for the sale table) and Valentines, hearts and frilly nightwear appear. On Christmas Day culture has already moved into a season that lasts nearly as long as HallowThankMas. Fortunately the church allows us to celebrate Christmas for a full two weeks, even though the world outside the church walls has already moved on. We begin singing Christmas carols just as the commercial (and much of the rest of the non-commercial ) world packs up the "Ho ho ho" CDs and breaks out with whatever strikes the store's fancy (or the chain's, for that matter).

I think that if I had one wish, I'd slow the world down just a little and turn back the hourglass to the time before HallowThankMas became part of our culture. Let the kids enjoy the anticipation of being little ghoulies and ghosties before we tumble them into pilgrim outfits and the stores start reminding them that Santa Claus is comin' to town. I would like to enjoy November as November, not as anticipation of overindulgence on Thanksgiving Day and the overindulgence in shopping on Black Friday (which, if I read it right, has been replaced this year by after-Veterans-Day-sales). I'd ban Christmas carols and decorations until at LEAST the day after Thanksgiving and to remain  up until at least New Year's Day if not the feast of the Epiphany. I'd like to have the reminder that Christmas is about more than how much a family can cram under a tree or how quickly they can move from one season to another, and how chubby little cherubs on Christmas cards holding harps and wearing halos turn into chubby little cherubs holding bows and arrows and aim at heart-shaped targets.

I often think of Anne, the priest who spoke that day. She had it right, in my opinion, I never pass a year since I heard that sermon that I don't remember her introduction of the season of HallowThankMas to me and the rest of the congregation. It's made me more aware of a lot of things, including how I and the culture in which I live see time -- and how rushed it becomes. She made me see that it's time for me, anyway, to slow down, take each season as it comes, and let each season have its time before moving to the next.

That's an insight I can use all year -- although I will admit I do look forward to the introduction of Peeps for Easter about the time Lent starts......   Oh, well. I'll work on it.

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