The endless Christmas

Every year people say the Christmas season is getting longer. They talk as if that's bad. Is it? We would join a debate on whether the American presidential campaign is too long. But we will go out on a piney limb and declare that the Christmas season is too short.

Oh, yes, we know the feeling. The frost is barely on the punkin before "White Christmas" is on the air. The holiday lights are up before the autumn leaves are down. The Thanksgiving leftovers have hardly dwindled from turkey sandwiches to turkey tetrazzini to turkey soup before stores are advertising their after-Christmas sales. And no one wants to be exploited by rank commercialization, rushed into buying, buying, buying amid desperate crowds.

Yet many people have a certain December serenity. Perhaps it's just that they did their Christmas shopping early! But maybe they see that the instances of greed and extravagance are disposable counterfeits of rpevailing finer qualities like aspiration and generosity, that the giving and receiving of gifts can represent a selfless rather than selfish exchange. Or maybe they know that any Christmas season defined by when the lights go on, the carols begin, and the stores never close is not long enough.

Christmas is better defined as a season of the heart. Its story of the coming of the Prince of Peace cannot be confined to a calendar, nor can a troubled humanity's need for understanding that story anew in every generation. And the tradition of giving cannot wait even until those earlier and earlier dates that seem to be decked with holly each year. Whether it is the giving of food to the world's hungry or the giving of oneself in the circles of family, neighborhood, community, the spirit of Christmas calls to us all the time.

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