With the often cited commercialism of Christmas, we tend to get caught up in the wonderful but sometimes anticlimactic anticipation of Christmas Day. Anticipation for gifts. Anticipation for peace. Anticipation for some kind of neat resolution to the world’s problems or, at least, our own.
We return to the norm of our classes just a week after Epiphany, a holiday that, outside of liturgical churches, has become lost to our culture. Once we find ourselves at Christmas, we breathe a communal sigh of relief that it’s finally over, failing to meditate on our much-awaited experience of Christmas Day.
Christmas is but the first day of celebration — quite literally the first day of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas so often sung about are days of celebration, followed by Epiphany, the holiday representing the Magi’s visit of the Christ child.
For a Christian, these events are Christ’s first manifestation of himself to humanity — the strikingly humbling incarnation of God himself and of his promise of salvation. Epiphany is not to look back at the Christmas holiday, but to look to a resurrection to come.
We’ve put anticipation on the wrong side of the holiday.
W. H. Auden beautifully summarizes our post-Christmas passivity in the final lines of his long poem “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” He notes our annual observance of “the Actual vision” and subsequent failure to “do more than entertain it as an agreeable.” There is a “craving [of] the sensation” of Christmas, but an ignorance of the cause.
Taking the Christmas spirit with us is not merely continuing the generosity, gratitude and joy the holiday is known for. We must recapture that anticipation.
For the religious reader, that spirit directly correlates with the calendar’s promise of Easter. For those outside the Christian faith, it’s a bit trickier.
Auden’s solution is undertaking the self-reflection required to fully absorb the meaning of the Christian holidays. Religious or not, he contends that it is a reflection we willfully avoid. Epiphany marks a time of revelation, a time that should be taken to seriously consider that which has been learned over the course of yet another Christmas season, a time to reflect while looking ever forward to a promise of joy.
So, regardless of religious preference, there is certainly a level of intention required should we hope to keep this elusive spirit of Christmas with us as we traverse into a new year. As we begin this semester, we should do so with purpose, taking note of how even the mundane equations and piles of homework contribute to our thoughts.
While we are stuck in this time between Christmas and Easter or, more aptly, this time between winter and spring break, take a moment to discover a personal epiphany. Do not simply get lost in the present but embrace the holiday spirit even in spring — the spirit that encourages us to find hope.
Anticipate growth. Anticipate joy. Continue to long for the same peace and goodwill that we get a small taste of during the holidays.
Perhaps the spirit of Christmas is overrated. Instead cling to the spirit of Epiphany.