It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—and if it feels like it was just beginning to look a lot like Halloween, that’s because it was only three weeks ago. But, like it or not, the tidal waves of red and green have begun to roll in. You may be ecstatic, or you may be making a feeble attempt to “at least celebrate Thanksgiving first” as you decorate your room with turkeys instead of colored lights. Either way, you’re bound to find Christmas around every corner, and it begs the question: Is there a right time to get into the holiday spirit?
Traditionally, Christians prepare for Christmas by observing Advent, which begins on November 27 this year. Advent is a time of reflection, penance, and spiritual growth leading up to a major feast—in those respects, it’s a lot like Lent. Though children might describe it as the “boring part” before Christmas, it’s not an attempt by the Church to be needlessly morose; through its solemn meditations, Advent helps Christians better understand the joy they’re about to experience.
As a culture, we’re historically bad at solemn meditation. Advent lasts four weeks—can you imagine if stores waited until November 27 to start advertising their Christmas sales? We’re eager to jump headlong into the holiday season, with its music, food, clothing, color schemes, decorations, and specialty coffees. But though this Christmas pre-gaming can seem over-the-top, I’d like to play devil’s advocate and argue that most people have pure motives for celebrating a little too early.
The other day, my hallmates and I decorated our doors for the holidays. It was a happy night—everyone was fawning over one another’s paper snowflakes and monogrammed stockings. I could hear Christmas carols coming from the room next door, and there was a true sense of community. I know not all of us view Christmas in the same way, but I also know we all have a desire for joy and celebration, especially in these difficult and politically-charged times. In the end, I think that’s what this extensive holiday hype boils down to: a search for joy.
And maybe—definitely—that joy would increase through a time of reflection, like Advent, where we learn to appreciate a happiness that penetrates deeper than overplayed carols. But in a society that has largely come to view Christmas as a commercial event with merely sentimental value, we may have to take what we can get. As we observe Advent and attempt to share this spirit of penance and preparation, I don’t think we should be chagrined by the fact that popular culture has already started celebrating; rather, we should be happy they’re celebrating at all. I would rather hear smiling faces singing carols in November than hear gloomy faces talking about anything but Christmas. An early holiday is, at least, a holiday—which a pessimistic and, lately, venomous public discourse needs dearly.
So if you’re baffled that Christmas has apparently arrived before you’ve even bought your Advent calendar, I understand entirely. But let’s do our best not to be jaded by the attempts of others to find joy in their lives, to recreate pleasant memories, to try to be civil and charitable. You will be sick of “All I Want for Christmas” by the first week of December—that’s a given. But while we try to find silence in our hearts for the observation of Advent, we should remember that all anyone wants for Christmas is that same happiness we want, too.