It’s Not Your Birthday — Day 17

A friend of mine from my mom's group told me that she was reading a book this holiday season with her bible study group about Christmas that had ruffled a few feathers.  Now I haven't read the book, but I keep thinking about the title, "Christmas Is Not Your Birthday."   She said that a few of the people in her group found the author, Mike Slaughter, a bit offensive.  Now granted, the title is not the most loving statement you could make about Christmas, but it's provocative nonetheless.  And I can't get it out of my head.  Christmas....  It's not your birthday.

I have a memory from my teen years that I still cringe when I think about it.  Like many teenage girls, I wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice.  So I can't even remember what exactly it was that I wanted that Christmas, but regardless, when I didn't find it under the tree, I think it was obvious to my mother that I wasn't particularly filled with the Christmas spirit that morning.  In any case, my sweet mother asked me whatever was the matter, and I think I had enough sense to know that I was being ungrateful, so I just gave the classic teenage response, "nothing Mooooooom!"

Looking back now, I wan't to yell at myself, "IT'S NOT YOUR BIRTHDAY, ANNA!"  But of course I can't.  But I do have empathy for my teenage self because I can see where a lot of kids -- and even adults -- still may get confused.  You see as children we were showered with gifts twice a year: on our birthdays and on Christmas day.  And so how can you tell me on one level that both days are about all my wildest material dreams coming true, but that at the same time, one of the days (Christmas), really isn't about me at all, but about Jesus?  It doesn't really compute.

Tres Reyos Parade in Peurto Rico
That's why I've always loved the tradition practiced in Latin American of giving gifts not on Christmas Day, but on the eve of Epiphany, also called 12th night or 3 Kings Day.  Epiphany is the conclusion of the 12 days of Christmas (or Christmastide), usually falling on the 6th of January.  This is the day that the church celebrates the Biblical Magi coming to bring gifts to the Christ child, marking the first revelation that the baby in the manger was truly God's son.  Because Epiphany is the day we remember gifts being brought to the baby Jesus, it just makes sense that on this day, not on Christmas day, people would exchange gifts just as the magi did.  And I love the idea of waiting 12 more days to exchange gifts because it leaves Christmas to be what it's actually about: the birth of Christ, and it leaves Epiphany to be what it's actually about: the magi giving gifts to honor Jesus.  I also love it because it restores the great old tradition of Christmas being 12 days of celebration (this makes the Christmas carol, the 12 Days of Christmas suddenly make sense).   Traditionally, the time before Christmas was about Advent waiting and watching, and then when Christmas finally came, you had 12 long days to celebrate with Christmas carols, parties, gifts, and merriment.  (Honestly, I would happily trade the system we have now, where it seems like we're celebrating Christmas for two full months, for a system where you celebrate it for a solid 12 days instead.  Call me Scrooge, but if I hear the song "Baby It's Cold Outside" one more time, I might spontaneously combust.)

But as much as I love the tradition of 12th night, I wonder, how could I ever do something so counter-cultural here and now?  Wait until January 6th to exchange gifts?  Anathema!!!! Most people have already torn down their Christmas decorations by then!  And what on earth would become of the beloved Christmas morning that I have such wonderful memories of as a kid -- when I ran down the stairs to see if Santa had come?  I want that for my son.

So as much as I love the idea of 12th Night or 3 Kings Day, I can't bring myself to do it -- I don't really know how I would do it.  Yet I still recognize the old tradition's loveliness.  Quite clearly it says: "Christmas.  It's not your birthday.  It's Jesus' birthday.  His birthday is so big and so miraculous that you need to keep partying and celebrating for 12 days, and then... and only then, once He's been fully glorified, it's your turn."

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One Response to “It’s Not Your Birthday — Day 17”

  1. Unknown says:

    For years I traveled to Puerto Rico right after Christmas and the celebrations of Kings Day were in full swing at the hotels. It was festive and warm. I loved celebrating again in this special tradition.

    Extensive gift giving is new. In our day in the 50’s and 60’s my sisters and I received what we needed; not what we wanted. We accepted it because my parents were teachers and their #1 priority was a private liberal arts college education for their 3 daughters and being self-reliant in retirement. We accepted it. And were grateful when none of us had loans to pay off thanks to their forward financial thinking. More families could do this if they truly look at needs vs. wants. Most things are forgotten. A college education is forever.