I feel I am fairly well versed on the seasons of the church year as well as the holiday celebration traditions that have developed in contemporary society.
It would seem to be a bit late to be writing about Christmas decorations, particularly outdoor Christmas lighting. The general tradition has developed to put up outdoor Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving. The day after the turkey is put away, the switch can be thrown for the Christmas lights – often before Advent has begun (that is, the 4 weeks before Christmas that Christians are supposed to use to prepare themselves for the coming of their savior). If we were to be strict and rigid about this, the lights would not come on until Christmas Eve.
The lights and festival atmosphere are truly appropriate on Christmas Day. And since they have already been lit for the month of preparation, shouldn’t they be extinguished Christmas night?
In reality, no! Christmas, as we all know thanks to a rather tedious Christmas song, extends for 12 days of celebration. The “first day of Christmas” is Christmas Day. The “second day of Christmas” is the day after Christmas (Boxing Day, if you are in Canada).
Those 12 days of Christmas, 12 days when celebration should be happening, when lights are quite appropriate, lead up to the Feast of the Epiphany in the Christian year. January 6 is the day appointed to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi. This is when the non-Jewish world is brought into the circle of light, so to speak. This is when Christ is manifested to the rest of the world. The star was followed, the light shines for all the world.
This is the end of the Christmas season. The season of Epiphany (or manifestation) has arrived. While this is also a season of light, it is not tradition to decorate with lights or other items in our society (nor has it been to my knowledge).
SO WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL ILLUMINATING THEIR CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ON JANUARY 19TH?
I personally think this is occurring for one of a number of reason. My personal favorite, which I will list first — laziness. These are the people who can’t be bothered to take the lights down now that it is colder and there is bad weather, perhaps even snow on the ground. So they just leave them there. Some even leave the lights up year round.
But why keep turning them on. That is a different reason — ineptitude. These folks have rigged up their lights to go on whenever their exterior lights are illuminated. They can’t figure out how to disconnect the Christmas lights without disabling their exterior lights as well. This is sad but forgivable.
There is a subset of people, however, who keep the lights lit because “they’re so pretty” they want to enjoy them longer. That’s sweet sentiment but my opinion is the it cheapens the reason for putting them on at Christmas! It is no longer a way to show one’s joy at the Christmas season, one’s participation in a celebration of selflessness and giving.
Instead, it becomes self-centered (“I’ll enjoy my lights as long as I want!”) and meaningless (the lights are for me to enjoy, not to share the joy of the season with the community). And that is the antithesis of Christmas spirit.
That’s why I am annoyed as I drive in the evening, as I did last night to attend my class, and see the Christmas lights still shining at these homes. I know, some of you are thinking I’m really upset about nothing. What’s the harm in having the lights lit on January 19?
Don’t you see — when something is done or used regularly, it becomes the norm? It is no longer special. It has no more significance than anything else. It doesn’t matter whether we talk Christmas lights or cuss words. The more they are used, the less they mean; the more they are used, the less impact they have. It isn’t that people aren’t doing what they’re “supposed to,” it’s that they are doing it with no thought. If they don’t get what the point of the lights is, they shouldn’t put them up at all!
Okay, I’m going to climb down from the soapbox for now. But I’m warning you . . . if those lights are still lit next week (January 26), I may well stop at those homes and ask why. In which case, I may be writing to you about police behavior in those towns and my husband’s embarrassment at my behavior. I leave you to speculate which will occur . . .