During Advent many churches do not sing Christmas carols. Advent, the roughly four weeks leading up to Christmas day, is a time of preparation, of waiting with anticipation for Jesus to come on the scene. Christmas Day itself, the birth of Christ, is the catalyst to unleash all the joy of the Christmas carols that church goers, and even non-church goers, have come to expect and enjoy during this season.
So, in accordance with the Christian calendar, we're supposed to sing Christmas carols from Dec. 25th (or on Christmas Eve) until Jan. 6th, which is Epiphany. These days are known as the "twelve days of Christmas," and they start after Dec. 25th, not before. Advent is Advent, Christmas is Christmas - there is a time and a season for everything.
But I like singing Christmas carols before Christmas. Those carols build up anticipation for me!
Contrary to assumed thought, these songs have not been sung since time immemorial. The faith-based carols with which we're familiar were mostly written in the 1800s; they're not that old (as compared to some of the church's liturgy). St Francis (13th century) is attributed with starting the first Christmas pageants, which included live animals and singings songs that used local, happy drinking tunes. Christmas is festive (in fact, in 1647 Christmas was banned altogether in England because it was too merry!), and the songs we sing reflect the joy of the birth of our world's redeemer.
With all the preparation that goes into Christmas Day (most notably the gift-giving, travel plans, and meal preparations), it makes sense to me that the songs start early. We're already making plans, why not sing of what we're planning for?
Many of my colleagues disagree, for very good reasons. The delay of the carols highlights the waiting to which Advent calls us. I get that. I really do. Maybe I'm the ultimate Christmas consumer in that I want all the joy we can get in Advent and also during the 12 days of Christmas.
What I DO like about squelching the cheer until Christmas Day is the acknowledgement that we live in a world that has certainly not seen the defeat of evil. December can be a month of crushing sadness for many, compounded by the long, dark days. Singing exuberantly in the midst of pain can make some people want to whack off goofy grins and hark the herald angels to kingdom come. Waiting to sing is respectful, it recognizes honestly that Jesus' work has not yet vanquished all sorrow, and that the story is not yet over.
Echoes will be honoring the reality of the darkness on Dec. 21st. At 4:16pm (when the sun goes down here in Bellingham). We'll gather at Fairhaven Park to celebrate Advent and Solstice. Both Solstice and Advent attest to the reality of the darkness. Dec. 21st has the most darkness of any day of the year, but the light is coming. Light is coming. Light is coming. Light is coming," during some of my darkest days I had to be told this over and over again until I could finally believe it. The religious season, and the position of our planet relative to the sun, combine to make a fantastic opportunity to state what is now, and what is to come. We stand in solidarity with those who cannot sing yet, and we call forth the coming light that is so invisible to many.
As far as singing carols, I'm going to sneak in a few. Appropriately, with respect, the goofy grins restrained when needed.