The Last Day of Christmas

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0013 cropped smallIt was the second weekend in January when we had our last Christmas dinner.

It was our third or fourth Christmas dinner. We  fixed a sumptuous meal, sipped wine, and lit the tree for the last time. As the candles slowly winked out, one by one, we talked about the meaning of Christmas.

To me, Christmas is unique. Sure, every holiday has its particular trappings (pumpkins, fireworks, candy canes…). But what’s different about Christmas is that it celebrates not that which is, but that which is to come.

Every other holiday celebrates an accomplishment or achievement: Thanksgiving is a classic harvest festival,  in which we give thanks for the year’s bounty (and historically, for having survived).  The Fourth of July celebrates the attainment of independence. Hallowe’en is the remembrance of the dead, and New Year’s celebrates the arrival of the New Year. And so on.

Christmas alone is a celebration of hope.

DSC_0027 cropped smallFor Christians, of course, the celebration is the birth of Jesus. But the birth of Jesus is, in a very real sense, the arrival of hope, the hope that an innocent child can be stronger than the worst evils of this world, that God is returning to His people, and that love will conquer evil. The birth of Jesus is just the start of that hope.

And the hope isn’t just for Christians. Regardless of when the birth of Jesus happened historically (and there is considerable speculation on this point), the ancient Christians elected to celebrate the birth of Christ roughly concomitantly with an older festival: Winter solstice.

It was a wise choice, because solstice, too, is a celebration of hope: The hope that the days will once again begin to lengthen, light will conquer darkness, and warmth will return.

Whether you’re a fervent Christian or an equally-fervent atheist or something else, in other words, celebrating Christmas is an act of existential courage. We are celebrating the hope that light, goodness, and warmth will return to the world.

Of course, that’s not strictly true. Vlad points out that his mother, with Eastern European clear-eyed cynicism, used to remark that the ancient Christians were wise to put Christmas a few days after the solstice proper—so by the time Christmas festivities began on the 24th, they could be certain the days were in fact lengthening again.

Nonetheless, Christmas is a festival of hope. It looks forward to better things to come.

DSC_0107 cropped smallFor this reason, in my book, Christmas deserves to be the most-celebrated holiday. The celebration of hope is the celebration of possibility. Rather than celebrating just one accomplishment, we’re celebrating the possibility of all that we can hope for: Light, love, happiness, joy. Peace on Earth, and God among us—and all the infinite accomplishments that could happen in a world in which these are realities.

That’s why we kept celebrating Christmas well into January.

And as we watched the candles sputter and wink, we thought about all the goodness we hope this year will bring.

One last time: Merry Christmas to all!

30 responses to “The Last Day of Christmas

  1. You have so eloquently wrapped up all the reasons why my tree is still up – My favorite line is how Christmas “is an act of existential courage”!

  2. Goodness. That’s just what I told my husband. This is going to be a good year. Wonder-filled post. :-)

  3. I so enjoyed this post, Johna! You captured well the special aspect of the Christmas holiday season, and why it cuts across religious borders. ~ Kat

  4. Lovely post, Johna. Like you, we still have our Christmas Tree and Christmas decorations up.


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Actually, we are most of the way down. We got a bit distracted after collecting a small pile of “treats” hidden among the branches (a tradition from Vlad’s childhood).

  5. Heartwarming and True! So Wonderful! Christmas is CHRISTmas!

  6. Wow, you are doing what I’ve always wanted to do, celebrate Christmas into January. I feel the same way. Took mine down last weekend but wished I’d waited one more week so maybe next year.
    My Christmas post echoes some of your same thoughts. Not wanting to draw attention to myself but I thought I’d share.


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks Alexandria! The post and photos were marvelous–in both senses (full of marvel). And I am very glad you had a restful holiday–sometimes we underestimate the gift of rest! (I’m convinced that the Judeo-Christian tradition of one FULL day off per week is founded on a solid understanding of how humans work–we need it!).

  7. Such a beautiful outlook…soul medicine. Thanks!

  8. Johna…It is a wonderful post! While reading it I was feeling all the magic, all the hope, all the faith, I had in these days when I was a child…I do not know in which moment I lost a little bit of it…But, thank God, there is a little inside that starts burning again when faced to simple things and wonderful words…Thanks a lot! Today, you have lit up my heart …
    Have a nice day!

  9. Awesome post! I will keep an on eye on your blog.

  10. Wonderfully written, and a Merry Christmas, or should I say Christmases, to you both!

  11. .. the arrival of hope, well said, Vlad! Beautiful post!

  12. Food for thought, well said – and I like your description of Vlad’s mother and what she had to say. Clear-eyed cynicism indeed – a specialty of the region I think!

    • Johna Till Johnson

      :-) The phrase was actually originally “classically clear-eyed cynicism”, but Vlad objected there was nothing “classic” about it, so we took it out. What I was trying to get at was what you said here–specialty of the region.

  13. Very well said. I am one of those “fervent atheists” you speak of, and I celebrate Christmas for all the reasons you state. Love, family, hope, the celebration of the returning spring, all of it. :)

    • Johna Till Johnson

      That’s why God invented Solstice, so atheists would have something to celebrate :-) :-) :-).

      Seriously, Carissa, thank you and glad you enjoyed it!

  14. keeping the hope alive for so long is probably what makes you two such a golden couple. May 2013 be good to you

  15. And may God Bless you and Vlad in this new year! What a beautiful article on the meaning of Christmas! It really is all about the hope that we have in Jesus! :) Thank you so much for sharing what Christmas means to you! I’m so glad to have met you on this journey!

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