We have turned the corner from Thanksgiving and are now racing (alas, yes, racing) toward the Christmas-New Year’s climax. Our year has a definite cultural rhythm, beginning with college bowl games and ending with the Times Square countdown. How we mark time reveals how we understand life and the universe, when you get right down to it.
When the Western world became Christendom, we no longer counted years by the reigns of Caesars and kings, but by the birth of the King of kings. Everything was either B.C. (before Christ) or A.D. (anno Domini, in the year of the Lord). The secular academic attempt to replace this with C.E. and B.C.E. (“common era” and “before common era”) is an assault on how we understand the universe and thus ourselves. The notion of a “weekend” terminating on Sunday, which for Christians and Jews is the first day of the week, is equally a paganization of our thinking.
The Christian liturgical calendar was once the rhythm of our year, the major markers being Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, followed by Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. They were times of communitywide worship, but cultural traditions flowered around them.
In America, we have a competing political calendar. It begins with Washington’s Birthday in February, followed by Memorial Day in May for our war dead, Independence Day on July 4, Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11, and concludes suitably with Thanksgiving. These are times to lift us out of ourselves, remember those who have sacrificed for our liberty, and to rededicate ourselves to the sacrifice that citizenship in a free nation requires while remembering the God in whom free people ultimately trust.
But it says a lot about what we believe concerning human life and ultimate reality that both these calendars have been subsumed into an annual cycle of commerce and pleasure. Washington’s Birthday has become the “Presidents Day annual sales event.” Memorial Day is largely a cookout day and the start of the summer recreation season. “The Fourth” is still patriotic, though arguably the red, white, and blue on that day are more often for marketing purposes than an expression of love of country. Thanksgiving is still a family time, but it has become Turkey Day. People “are thankful” to no one in particular.
The Christian year has become all but unrecognizable. Just as Christmas displaced pagan Saturnalia, the rhythm of secular consumerism has all but drowned everything Christian. Easter is the chocolate trade. The very concept of Lent is unimaginable. Christmas is called “the season of giving,” but is in fact a season of spending and consuming. It begins with the shopping orgy of Black Friday, which has now intruded on Thanksgiving Day itself, and doesn’t end until people have exchanged all their unwanted gifts.
Our commercial year runs from Valentine’s Day (or perhaps Bowl Day) through New Year’s Eve. It’s the story of us, or what we have allowed ourselves to become. If “blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12), what is the fate of the nation whose fundamental hope is consumer confidence?