Keeping Christmas

One of the Yeoman Farm Children’s favorite stories of all time is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. They’ve not only read it multiple times, but also watched nearly every movie version (and can explain the differences between those versions).

At the very end of the story, we find this wonderful passage:

[Scrooge] had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

A question that has been on my mind of late has been What does it mean to “keep Christmas well”? For our family, a big part of “keeping Chrstmas well” has meant appreciating that Christmas is a season rather than a single day — and remembering that that season does not begin until the evening of December 24th, and continues until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 10th this time).

We do everything possible to avoid Christmas music and celebrations during the four weeks of Advent, and I am grateful to Mrs Yeoman Farmer for insisting on this tradition. Although our trip to adopt Yeoman Farm Baby complicated things somewhat this year, we have a number of traditions to emphasize Advent as a time of joyful expectation that is different from Christmas. In addition to an Advent Calendar, we keep an Advent wreath on the dining room table. Each evening, when we sit down to eat, we light the candles and sing a stanzia from ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ before saying grace.

We don’t even buy our Christmas tree until a day or two before the big day. (Back in Illinois, I used to wait until December 24th and was always able to get a fairly decent tree for almost nothing, but here in Michigan many places totally sell out — and the remaining vendors don’t cut their prices below twenty bucks.) The last two years, I’ve taken a different kid with me in our 4×4 truck to get a freshly cut tree from a local farm; that in itself has become a wonderful custom of its own.

The tree sits in exile on the front porch until the evening of December 24th. Then, after dinner, we put Christmas music on the stereo, set the tree up in the living room, and decorate it. Now, and only now, has the Christmas season actually begun.

As we were driving someplace this Sunday, MYF and I observed that it was sad that so many people were already taking all their Christmas decorations down. Indeed, I made an interesting observation of my own: scanning the radio dial while driving around town on Saturday (the 26th), I didn’t pick up a single Christmas song. The closest I got was “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” which isn’t really about Christmas. What’s maddening is that this year the radio stations began playing Christmas music during the first week of November. I kid you not — I had to do a very long interstate drive that week, so was scanning the radio dial in many media markets, and it was astonishing how much Christmas music was already being played in so many places. While I’m on this soapbox, I should mention that one station in a nearby town has billboards up proclaiming itself “Jackson’s Christmas Music Station”. Just for fun, I tried listening to that station while driving around today. Want to guess how much Christmas music I heard on Jackson’s Christmas Music Station on this, just the Fifth Day of Christmas? Zero.

So, we’ll keep on keeping Christmas on our own, playing Christmas music at home and celebrating this wonderful season for another couple of weeks — even if the rest of the world has moved on (and is probably already stocking the store shelves for Valentine’s Day). We try to take things especially easy during these eight days that comprise the Octave of Christmas…though I do need to get a move on and butcher a goose this afternoon. That goose (or, rather, gander) is going to be the centerpiece of our New Year’s feast. Yes, it’s a bit Dickensian…but what do you expect, given the YFCs taste in literature?

I hope all of you, my readers, are keeping the season well — no matter what your faith. All of you are in our family’s prayers at this special time of the year.

Founding Faith

NRO’s Katherine Jean Lopez has an interesting interview up today with Steven Waldman, an editor at BeliefNet (and author of a new book about the faith of America’s founders). It provides an excellent, balanced look at how the founders conceptualized religious freedom and understood the First Amendment.

Lopez: What do Americans United for the Separation of Church and State types have most wrong?

Waldman: That the First Amendment intended to separate church and state in every nook and cranny of our land. The First Amendment was a states’ rights compromise that envisioned separation at the national level but allowed a great deal of church-state mingling at the state and local level. There’s an amazing moment during the congressional deliberations on the First Amendment when Rep. Benjamin Huntington of Connecticut complains that Madison’s proposed amendment could be “extremely harmful to the cause of religion.” How could our beloved Bill of Rights harm religion? Huntington feared it might wipe out the official state establishment in Connecticut. Madison had to reassure him that Connecticut could keep having an official state religion. Madison actually wanted the First Amendment applied to the states, but he didn’t have the votes to carry the day.

Of course over time, the states got rid of the establishments, and the 14th Amendment did attempt to apply much of the Bill of Rights to the states, and that’s how we end up with prayer-in-schools cases. But it was a very gradual process, driven more by the framers of the 14th Amendment than by the framers of the First Amendment.

And for those who read the full interview and are curious: No, I do not share Thomas Jefferson’s view of God, religion, or the relationship between church and state. Just his love and respect for the yeoman farmer.