I blinked and the bright flashing lights of Crieff had disappeared. The strings of decorations, trees, flashing LEDs had all been undone in a flash. Almost everyone I spoke to today used the phrase, “well that’s everything back to normal,” breathing a sigh of relief that they had gotten their decorations down by the end of Twelfth Night.
There is, I suppose, a reason why superstitions persist on these things, even among those who claim to believe in nothing.
There is the practical side, of course: if we didn’t have a cut-off point for celebrations, things could get chaotic, and no work would ever get done. Also, permissions need to be given sometimes to those who need a break, and to those who climb the walls to get back to activity. Both sides must be catered for, and it is not all about what the individual wants.
Charles Taylor, whom I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, has a great analysis of how ordinary time and ‘higher time’ used to work, before we got secularism and life became just one thing after another.
Celebrations of pagan feasts (Saturnalia, for example), and then Christmas, Easter, and the great saints’ days, all served to remind us that there are higher purposes and greater powers at work.
By celebrating these we not only acknowledged this but it all helped regulate time. People could let their hair down, do crazy things for a while, and let off some steam before normal service was resumed and the ‘natural order’ was re-established.
So, the decorations came down…except as usual, someone had forgotten to turn the lights off on top of a certain public building which will remain nameless, and, thank God, someone still uses tinsel and have left a bit hanging out of their window.
Over the next couple of weeks, we shall still be finding the odd Christmas card we’d forgotten was on top of the fridge, and pine needles will crop up everywhere.
And, if bad luck is to befall anyone this year, we in St Fillan’s are top of the list: we don’t usually take our crib down until the Feast of the Baptism (and still, I think, the Vatican only takes its down at the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the last feast of Christmas).
Getting back to normal is not so easy, and feelings of fear or superstition or a wish to get back into the rhythm do not always produce the desired effect. Why should they?
In the Catholic Church we believe that we live ‘out’ the seasons of the year throughout the year. Like a spiritual camel’s hump, the great seasons provide us with food for thought and a chance to reevaluate our lives and loves.
Coming across the odd reminder of our Christmas celebrations, like the unused cracker or the odd unopened bottle (if you’re very lucky) should not fill us with sadness but a poignant reminder of the belief that God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.
We are still in the Season of Christmas in the Church until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. No need for hype then but a chance to quietly reflect on the celebrations that have gone by, and the tales exchanged at work, at school and in the street. Give thanks for all that was, pleasant and unpleasant, and meditate upon what it means for you that God became one of us.