by Erin Mackenzie
Christmas begins to descend on the Dominican Republic around the first week of October. Halloween is virtually nonexistent, and Thanksgiving is confined to endcap displays of boxed stuffing mix and canned pumpkin, so it’s only logical that it would begin to look a lot like the next holiday with all the commercial trimmings. Decor won’t sit on store shelves until mid-January when it’ll be 75% off, though. If you haven’t bought your [artificial] tree by December 1, forget about it and pull out your Christmas list as out come the toys and cellophane-wrapped gift baskets.
In the spirit of assimilation, I decked my halls early this year, well before Santa officially inaugurated the Christmas season at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I love Christmas — always have — and needed little prodding. Maybe it’s the treasured family traditions. The lively, classic tunes and stirring hymnody. The smells of pine and freshly baked cookies. I remember helping my dad put up Christmas lights outside on the last warm-ish day in early December and then, cheeks flushed, dashing inside for a bowl of something hot while we waited for darkness to fall and the thousands of twinkling bulbs to come on. I’ll spend hours creating works of art with gift wrap, ribbon, and tags that my 3-year old nephew will tear to shreds in as many seconds. What if these magical memories and experiences lasted all year?
One of the Christmas “decorations” I remember my parents putting out every year was a book called Christmas Every Day by William Dean Howells. The plot is contained within a story a father tells his little girl, about another little girl who writes to the Christmas Fairy asking for it to be Christmas every day for a year. The girl’s family enjoys a “splendid” holiday but awakens on December 26, groggy and glutted from the festivities and feasting, only to do it all over again. Mere months in, things take an ill-fated turn: The prices of turkeys and cranberries have skyrocketed, and people have newly-built barns overflowing with stuff yet are in the poorhouse from having bought so many gifts.
It doesn’t take an exaggerated tale to convince me that Christmas once a year is sufficient. And yet, Christmas, together with the Advent season that ushers it in, isn’t just about the Christ child’s coming as a babe in Bethlehem. It’s also about His coming in Word and Sacrament today, and about living in eager, joyful anticipation of His second coming. Why limit the latter sentiments to the first few weeks of the Church Year?
It’s a privilege to celebrate Jesus’ abiding presence whenever I crack open my Bible, recall my Baptism as I wash my face each morning, and feast on His true body and blood in the Divine Service. Furthermore, Matthew 24:44 encourages much more than a season of watchful vigilance: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Yes, we’re Christmas Christians, celebrating and anticipating Christ’s coming year-round. But what of Howells’ moral that too much of a good thing has unintended consequences? The fictional family’s merriment is rife with extravagant gifts and sumptuous delicacies, but devoid of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Their home likely isn’t adorned with an Advent wreath or nativity set. They don’t gather for a candlelit vigil on Christmas Eve or bow their heads before carving the turkey. Their broken record of a celebration is just that: broken.
There is no such thing as too much of Jesus’ unconditional love. Barns aren’t necessary to store His boundless generosity, and you won’t get a stomach ache from a double portion of peace that surpasses all understanding. As a believer, especially one with the special calling of missionary, I have the privilege and duty to make those around me wonder about the hope and joy that fill me, at Christmastime and otherwise, and to share the hope and joy that is ours “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), from the first week in October until the last week in September! Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season — no matter when it starts where you are — and for every season. So, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night … and another night … and another … and another!
Erin Mackenzie is a career missionary in the Dominican Republic. When she’s not traveling around Latin America overseeing the regional short-term team program — too often, according to her cat, Freddy — Erin enjoys reading, trying new recipes and challenging anyone who claims they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble.