Christmas, amiright? It is A Thing. And every year it seems to creep a bit further into autumn as capitalism demands larger and larger blood sacrifices in order to slake its consumerist thirst. Tra la la.
Now, some people really really dig Christmas, some not so much, and some are just deeply ambivalent and stoked to get some time off. All of this is good and fine and you should be able to do you.
I have found through extensive research (i.e. living) that a lot of people sort of struggle with the Christmas thing because you have said GIANT BUILD UP, where everyone you know insists that you ‘get together before Christmas!’ Also, you need to buy a Christmas jumper to wear to the office do! Also, have you sent out Christmas cards? Also, Christmas is the most meaningful day of the year and you should be spending it with your family and if it isn’t magical, then maybe you don’t actually love them?
It’s a lot.
My thing about Christmas is I think that maybe we can have a better relationship with it – and a better time – if we adopt a bit more of the medieval mindset about what Christmas is and how it is celebrated.
This approach will, at first, perhaps make you a bit more annoyed about the way that Christmas is celebrated because – and this is crucial – anything before Christmas IS NOT CHRISTMAS. It is Advent.
Advent is the time of year that you prepare yourself for Christmas, and you probably have some passing understanding of it through advent wreaths or advent calendars.
Crucial and annoying niggle about advent and advent calendars – advent is not linked to December and those chocolates have been lying to you. Advent, instead, begins four Sundays before Christmas. As a result, this year it began on the 3rd of December, but it’s a moveable feast.
Advent dates back to at least 480, and it wasn’t traditionally a chocolate filled pre-game. Instead, because the Middle Ages gonna Middle Age, it was a time of – you guessed it – fasting and reflection. At the Second Council of Tours in 567 it was decided that monks had to fast in the run up. (Fun fact – the Second Council of Tours also dealt extensively with how married clergy should treat their wives. LOL.)
Not a member of the clergy? Not to worry! You can also get in on the advent spirit by fasting and also – and this is crucial now – not having sex. Yes. Again. I know.
As not fun as all of this sounds, it’s actually a kind of cool philosophical idea. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, (who, as the enemy of Abelard, is also the enemy of this blog. But whatever.) connected the idea of Advent with the idea that there will be three comings of Christ. The first was at Bethlehem, the second is in our hearts daily (awwwww), and the third is at the Last Judgement. Advent, then is a time that allows Christians who are now alive to connect with the longing for the messiah experienced by ancient people, and also get TOTALLY STOKED for the Apocalypse.
But there was some fun stuff that happened during advent too! St. Nicholas’s feast day, celebrated on December 6th is traditionally lit AF. If you go to the Czech Republic or Germany, this festival still goes the fuck off. There are fireworks and costumes, and rather a lot of getting drunk in the streets. Medieval people were totally down with this too, and in England, for example there was this whole tradition of appointing a “Boy Bishop” and a bunch of making fun of the Church hierarchy.
In the Low Countries there were big markets full of hard to find stuff that people bought as gifts. It was a party.
There was also the feast of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate, although that was a holy day of obligation, and a lot less of a party. But you did get the day off work, even if you were meant to go to mass and, like, fast and stuff. (Important note – the Immaculate Conception is the celebration of Mary being born without original sin. It is NOT a celebration of Christ’s conception. That is called the Parthenogenesis. Sort your life out.)
My point is, Advent has always been kinda weird. I mean, it’s essentially giving you time to prep to celebrate both a birthday and the end of the world. It’s a celebration, but you shouldn’t be having too much fun. It’s a muddle.
And maybe that is how you feel during Advent? You know – go to this Christmas party and get really blasted! Maybe flirt too much with your colleagues! But also, you need to go into work tomorrow, so that is going to be fun. Buy everyone you know things! But also that is going to be a hideous consumeristic orgy and you’re never sure exactly what to get everyone and is this even fun anymore?
It’s OK to feel that. It’s OK to feel a lot of stuff and have fun but also feel a bit pressured. That is what Advent is. Complicated. Prolonged. A bit all over the shop.
Of course, Advent leads up to the inevitable – Christmas. Christmas is, for a lot of people, one of the hardest things. You’ve had all of the lead up of Advent and it’s all meant to be taking you into this one glorious day where you’ll all have the best time ever and you’re going to feel this great connection with your family, and it’s going to absolutely change your life.
And a lot of times that’s not how it is, is it? A lot of times the day itself is a bit of a let-down, and that’s not hard to understand. You’ve had all this build up and all of this pressure on you to have the nicest day ever, and then when it comes down to it maybe you got in an argument about Brexit with your uncle, and some basic cousin drank the rest of the rum that you’d bought especially, and he is now defending the right of free speech for Nazis. Then you wake up with indigestion and a hangover and it’s Boxing Day and everything feels a little grayer.
This is where the medieval secret to Christmas is going to help you out – are you ready?
Christmas is twelve days long.
Now I am sure you have heard of the twelve days of Christmas and can belt out FIVE GOLDEN RINGS with the best of ‘em. A thing is a lot of people, because of the way Christmas is currently celebrated, seem to think those twelve days start BEFORE Christmas day, and that you’re gonna get the lords a leaping on the 25th. No no. The 25th is partridge in a pear tree territory, and your ass has until Epiphany on the 6th of January – when the magi showed up to give Jesus swag – to have a really really nice time. That means that the nativity scene that everyone is so keen on around Christmas isn’t even possible until the 6th! Everyone was just getting their shit together in the interim. (Side note: Epiphany is also called Twelfth Night, and the Shakespeare play was originally written to be performed for the first time on that date, hence the name. Trivia!) Anyway, this means that You. Can. Keep. Having. A. Nice. Time.
Hell, that is what Christmas was designed for. When the Church decided to take over Saturnalia in order to celebrate the birth of Christ, it very knowingly took over a drawn out celebration that was meant to brighten the (literally) darkest time of year. Saturnalia was originally held from December 17th to the 23rd, which is admittedly not twelve days, and a bit earlier, but damn, don’t you want a longer party? Can we all take a minute to appreciate the fact that medieval people were like, ‘I’m sorry, but these Romans are just not partying long enough for my liking. Imma need seven more days.’ My boys knew how to have a nice time!
Right wing relatives make Christmas day kinda weird? Book a get together with your besties for the 27th where you can drink beers down the pub and swap war stories! Does your bae have to go see their family and you need to be with yours? Have your own celebration on the 28th! Roast a duck! Drink some eggnog even though it makes you feel kinda sick! Couldn’t have a get together with your mates before everyone went home for Christmas? Have a party on January 3rd once you’ve recovered from New Years! This. Party. Does. Not. Stop.
You know how Boxing Day can feel a bit flat and grey? If you consider yourself to be celebrating for another eleven days it will not.
Trust, if you follow the medieval plan, by the time you get to Epiphany you are gonna feel like you celebrated real good and nice, and probably be ready for a salad and a trip to the gym.
Bonus – if you consider that Christmas is this long, you can even do some Christmas gift shopping in the sales. Save you some money. Spend it down the pub.
Yeah, Christmas has a lot of obligations around it, for sure, and it can feel like a bit of a drag. The medieval period is here to tell you that you have got time to plan the celebration that is going to be the most meaningful to you, and that you can find a way to turn a tricky time of year into something that lets you celebrate in the way you really want to.
So keep that tree up until the 6th, and invite me round. I make a killer eggnog.
Happy Christmas, bitches.
For more advice based on the medieval period, see: