The late comedian Erma Bombeck once said, “There is no one lonelier than the one taking down the Christmas tree.” As I write this, we are approaching the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the official end of the Christmas season (unless you are lucky enough to live in a place that assigns this to the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd). For most of us, the task can no longer be postponed—it is time to take down the Christmas tree.
Obviously, this involves letting go, but, do not fear, we are not leaving the joys of this season completely. Some of that will come with us as we move on in the liturgical cycle. We are leaving the Christmas Season, but we never leave the liturgical cycle. The cycle of the liturgical year is like a carousel. It keeps turning round and round, always focusing our attention on different aspects of the life of Christ, the Church, and the Paschal Mystery. Whether we pay attention to it or not, the liturgical cycle keeps turning toward something “more”. All the beauty of Christmas stays with us—the hope of Advent, the joys of the Infant Savior’s birth, the faith of the Maji, the fear and cruelty of Herod. All these themes get repeated and expanded upon so as to enter more deeply into our hearts, minds and souls.
Taking down the Christmas tree can be seen as a metaphor for other changes that happen in our lives. It is especially meaningful for me right now. My religious vocation has been expressed in the healthcare/social service ministry for most of the last 55 years. The last 28 of these have been as a family practice physician in the rural areas surrounding the city of Cullman, AL. Recently, I retired from this ministry. Although, I took down this metaphorical Christmas tree in my life, what I learned during my years of professional service is now useful in my ministry here at the monastery. Just as the spirit of the Christmas tree hangs on, the spirit of the ministry hangs on too.
So, with the end of the liturgical season of Christmas on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (this year on January 8th), it is OK to feel a sense of loss or loneliness while taking down the Christmas Tree and all of the other decorations with it. Bring the best of what “has been” forward into the new season about to unfold. Perhaps the best is yet to come.
By Sister Eileen M. Gallagher, OSB