For most Americans, the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving. In today’s secular society, the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. This year, the Hallmark Channel started playing Christmas movies all day and night the day after Halloween. Some stores start putting up Christmas decorations and playing Christmas songs in the music shuffle as early as October, and even September. Then, on December 26th, Christmas magically disappears. But that is not the real Christmas season.
Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas. That almost always coincides with Thanksgiving weekend. Advent is a time of preparation. It is the four weeks before Christians celebrate their Lord coming to earth as God incarnate. Preparing for the birth of Jesus is symbolic of preparing for His second coming and judgment. Advent songs are very different than Christmas songs. One of the only popular Advent songs is Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel.
The songs that most stores, radio stations, and people in the Christmas spirit play in the weeks leading up to Christmas are actually meant for the time known as the 12 days of Christmas, December 25th through January 6th. The first day of Christmas is Christmas day, The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated the Sunday after Christmas, and The Feast of the Three Kings is January 6th. The Baptism of Our Lord, which is celebrated the Sunday after Three Kings Day, brings the Christmas season to an end.
The notion of Santa Claus, an entity that one never sees, but must believe in, giving gifts to children was invented as a concept to help children comprehend the notion that God, an entity that one never sees, but must believe in, gave his children, all of humanity, the gift of His Son, the living God. The fairytale of Santa Claus also helps children participate in the anticipation and preparation that Advent is meant to rouse.
New Year’s Day falling within the Christmas season is no coincidence. In the Catholic Church, the new liturgical year starts at the beginning of Advent. A Christmas tree is yet another symbol of the season. Most other plants and trees die as fall turns into winter, but pine trees remain green all year round. The evergreen tree is symbolic of everlasting life. Although much of the symbolism of the Christmas season has been lost over the years in more secular ideas, the true meaning of Christmas is still there if you look for it.