Update: Seraphim read this and said I sounded jaded and perhaps too dogmatic. I don’t deny the jaded part. I “know” too much and appreciate too little. But I didn’t intend to appear dogmatic. The Orthodox celebration of Holy Days has been wonderful for me. However, I don’t think the only way to celebrate is with “smells and bells”.
This time of year can be awkward for some people. Jeff, for instance, just doesn’t feel that “christmasy” this year. As for myself, I’ve never been a holiday person. Even Christian Holy Days (like Christmas and Easter) didn’t seem that special to me for the longest time.
Sure, as a kid I liked getting stuff, I enjoyed seeing relatives, but I didn’t associate that with Christmas and I didn’t see that it was that special. I saw relatives at other times so that wasn’t particular to any holiday. I went to church quite regularly with my family, so it wasn’t special because of that (except for some “Christmas Program” put on by the choir). About the only thing that stood out was the plethora of presents. The tree and wrapping paper and a reading from Luke. That’s about all there was to Christmas.
Now, you might say that this sounds like a fairly secularized Christmas, and I would have to agree. Advent? Something about a candle. The wise men? Shepards? Read about them once a year. Similar things could be said about my experience with Easter.
I bring this up because I came across this article on “emergent churches” that talks, in part, about how many “young Christians” are disappointed with the “Contemporary Worship” style and are going with a “traditional” style of worship. “Traditional” here evidently means “What many churches used in the 1950’s”. I grew up in a traditional church setting, and, I’ve got to say, neither it nor “Contemporary” worship styles feel meaningful to me. As I said, Christian “Holy Days” felt like little more than so much wrapping paper or a few chocolate eggs.
When it comes to worship, I want hard core: standing, bowing, chanting, incense, prayers, sacraments. (“Smells and bells” is how one person put it.) Now, that’s transcendent! When it comes to Holy Days, I want meaning, preparation, fasting, and celebration. If the Christmas or Pascha is just a red-lined day on the calendar, then there isn’t that much to it and it will be celebrated for little more than wrapping paper or chocolate bunnies. But, if you spend 40 days fasting, processions around the church singing hymns, and a midnight feast, you’ll understand the “Holy” aspect of the holiday more thoroughly.
Better, have church services that lead up to and prepare those who come for the Holy Day. Something that takes the participants into the event being celebrated. In my church, there are services every night leading up to Pascha in which the church partakes in the events being celebrated. You are there as Jesus carries his cross to be crucified. You know what it means. The joy you feel on hearing that Christ is risen is real. You can see that it matters.
Of course, there is still room for presents at Christmas. But why not celebrate the legend of St. Nicholas instead of Santa Claus? Re-sanctify the Holy Day. Sure, it’s a pagan, commercial celebration now, but re-capture it just as the early Christians did.