I love Christmas.
As soon as the Thanksgiving table is cleared and the are leftovers neatly packed in the fridge for the next day’s lunch, I am in Christmas mode. The tree is bought on Black Friday, decorations go up all weekend, and from there on out it’s Christmas movies, cheesy holiday romance novels, and round-the-clock carols on the local radio station.
But there’s one thing about Christmas I just hate.
It’s the feeling that hits me like a ton of bricks late afternoon every December 25th. The anticlimax of it all. The feeling that there’s been all this anticipation, all this excitement, all this building up…and then, it’s over.
Christmas Day comes to an end and it’s back to your regular programming. On December 26th, my holiday radio station is once again churning out the best of the 90s and today, no jingle bells included. Twenty-four hours of A Christmas Story gives way to the regular reruns of Friends and My Name is Earl. The Christmas tree is still up, but it’s got a sad twinge to it now … it seems to know you’re already debating whether you should take it down before New Year’s or let it see the light of 2014.
This is my problem with Christmas, or better said, my problem with American Christmas. We put so much time, money, and emotional work into preparing for Christmas, but once it actually comes, we barely give it a day before we’re moving on to the next thing. This is so representative of our culture: as Americans, we’re always rushing towards the next thing, rarely giving ourselves time to stop once we get there and actually be present in the moment. That’s why this Christmas, I’m taking a hint from my adopted second country, Spain- one that I want to share with you today.
As the wife of a born-and-raised Spaniard, Spain has become a second home to me. One of the greatest gifts my husband, Tomás, has given me is the gift of his culture, one that has taught me a lot about slowing down, being present, and truly living life rather than just plowing through it. A perfect example of this is the Christmas celebration.
As a very traditionally Catholic country, Spain’s Christmas “schedule” has its roots in the Church calendar, but you don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to appreciate its value. In the Church, the time leading up to Christmas (from four Sundays prior, to be exact) is called Advent. This is a time of preparation for Christmas, comparable to the decorating, shopping, and general merry-making Americans typically partake in during this time. So, our two cultures are more or less on the same page there.
The big difference between American and Spanish Christmas is what happens on the 25th: for us in the U.S., Christmas Day is pretty much the end of the Christmas season. It’s the climax, and everything quickly winds down from there. But in Spain, December 25th is just the beginning of their true Christmas.
You know the song The 12 Days of Christmas, right? Partridge, pear tree, lords a-leaping and all that jazz? I always thought that song was about the days leading up to Christmas, with December 25th being the 12th day. But in reality, the 25th is the first day of Christmas, and that’s how it’s celebrated in Spain. In Spain, Christmas Day starts a 12-day celebration that stretches into the New Year until, on January 5th, children are visited by the Three Wise Men, who finally bring the gifts the little ones have been so anxiously awaiting.
I just love how in Spain, the plot diagram (is the teacher in me showing?) of Christmas has a 12-day plateau at the top rather than the single dot of our American celebration. Doesn’t that make more sense? Don’t we owe ourselves a relaxed, lengthy enjoyment of this holiday that means so much to so many of us?
This year, I challenge you to add some Spanish flair to your approach to Christmas. Don’t think of the 25th as the end of Christmas, but as the beginning. Keep the Christmas music, the movies, and the magic going straight into January. You’ve built up the spirit in your heart, and you deserve to let it sit there and blossom for a while. Winter is long and the next moment will come in time. For now, just enjoy this one.