Observing the liturgical calendar (also called the Christian year) can make you feel off-beat with the rhythms of American society. This is certainly the case during Advent, when liturgical Christians are holding off on celebrating Christmas and are focusing on silence, reflection, and repentance. This sense of disconnect continues with the twelve day season of Christmastide. Our society (having celebrated Christmas since around Halloween) is getting tired of the celebration and is looking forward to the New Year (which according to the Christian calendar happened back in Advent!). Yet, liturgical Christians are just getting to the celebration of Christmas on December 25 and continue with it until January 5 (sometimes with the celebration of twelfth night).
Of course, most of us are far more influenced by the secular calendar than we are by our own Christian calendar. Obviously, we need to pay attention to both calendars, but for most of us, our focus on the liturgical calendar is very fleeting, limited usually to a recognition that the colors of the vestments and hangings in church have changed from one week to the next.
I’m often asked why the Church in North America is in such decline (and that decline is more obvious in some places than others), and I think one small part of the answer to that question is that we have, in recent decades, lost a sense of faith being tied to the home, to family observance, and have limited Christianity to Sundays. The liturgical calendar provides a very rich resource by which individuals and families can bring their faith into their homes and their seasonal routines. Whether it’s using a crèche set during Advent, singing a Christmas carol a day during Christmastide, baking a special cake for Epiphany, turning off the television during Lent, buying new clothes around Easter, learning a new word in a new language at Pentecost, etc., these practices make faith a real and meaningful part of our lives instead of something we only do on Sundays. A return by families and individuals to a serious (and fun!) observance of the Christian calendar will do much over time to revive Christianity in our communities.
Besides all of this, feeling slightly out of step with the rest of society should come naturally for Christians, who are supposed to live a bit differently than other people because of our commitment to Jesus Christ. The liturgical calendar, whatever the season, helps remind us that our way of living, just like our way of keeping time, is different than the ways of the world.