Christmastide – or why Christmas isn’t quite over on Dec 25th: Ch. 14 of Chittister’s The Liturgical Year

By Andrea Tisher

The last section of W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio is my favourite. It starts like this…

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  (full poem here)

But I guess the question remains, what all is entailed in our celebration of Christmas. Is it Christmas Eve and Day and then, thank-you-very-much-I must-get-to-the-mall-for-those-Boxing-Day-sales, followed by the dread of a not very celebratory New Years and the impending credit card statement that will show me once and for all how ineffectively I managed to ‘show my love’ to family and friends, while still managing to live way outside my means?

For me, this is where the idea of Christmastide offers a layered experience of the Christmas story that enables me to stay in the story for a bit longer, perhaps in a similar way to how Advent allowed me to live by a different narrative than the countdown of shopping days til Christmas that the general culture observes.

Now, Chittister describes a series of celebrations that is still more than anything I have yet celebrated, but that gives me hope. There is yet more. Four more in fact:  The Feast of the Holy Family, The Feast of Mary the Mother of God. Epiphany, and The Baptism of Jesus.

I’m most familiar with the final two – those two dates that are not usually more than a few days apart, when I always feel the time swirling as in a movie montage. Jesus is a babe in arms one day – visited by the Magi, revealing Himself to the WHOLE world, not just a select group. And then suddenly, he’s a grown man, being baptized by His strange cousin John. Whoa. Did I miss something? But as the poem says, it is that “whiff of Lent and Good Friday” that is already in the air. We cannot linger at the manger forever.

But what of the first two, perhaps less-known feasts?

Again, the poem speaks to the Feast of the Holy Family if, as Chittister suggests, it is cause to ponder our own families… Even the least religious among us end up facing our families, or at least our memories of them during the ‘holiday season’. Auden writes,

attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.

And we marvel once again that God took such a risk, not only to become a human being, but to become part of a family. Perhaps it is opportunity to see Jesus in our own families?

Then, the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. This one is the trickiest for me. And, unfortunately, I don’t find Chittister very helpful. Perhaps one of you have some helpful experience or thoughts regarding what this feast is and why it adds to your celebration of the calendar?

But meanwhile, Christmas, when spread across a series of feasts, does take on a layered celebration that staves off both unrealistic expectations of a single twenty-four hour period AND invites us into a richer celebration of the birth of Jesus and all that it means for us and for the whole world.

How did you celebrate Christmastide this year?


  1. When I began to attend Mass I immediately noticed and savored a great reverence that was foreign to my previous church attendance. But then came The Feast of Mary Mother of God… I was a bit uncomfortable… after all that is one of the key points of theology where we and they parted ways. As I try to recall these masses; all I can remember is that the music is especially beautiful and the last time Fr Les concluded his homily by saying… “Remember it is Jesus, not Mary, who saves.”

    As I listened to all the other homilies I guess my understanding of them was colored by an explanation that our Catholic neighbor gave to me when I was a teenager. “We do not worship Mary. It is just that it seems presumptuous to bring our requests to Jesus. He is God. But Mary is all human and so we can tell her our needs so that she can bring them to her Son.” That may not be theologically correct but there is something appealing in its timid, humbleness. As for us Protestants… A lady said to me not long ago, “You never ask for help.” I began a reply but was cut off with: “Oh, I know, you go right to the TOP.”


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