I think it was just before Halloween that I saw my first Christmas decorations this year. This is way before the "official" start of the Christmas season. I can't even tell you how many times I heard on the radio that "the Christmas season has officially begun" just after Thanksgiving.
This is a clear indication that in the American culture, Christmas is intimately linked, even identified, with shopping for gifts and decorating homes, inside and out. The Thanksgiving turkey isn't even fully digested before some folks have begun to hit the stores and plug in the lights on the tree.
For those of us who haven't thought of the good Saint Nick even once yet, here's a refresher on a whole season that comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas: Advent
Here's a thumbnail sketch of how the season of Advent developed in the life and history of the Church.
In 490, Bishop Perpetuus of Tours officially declared Advent a penitential season in the Frankish Church of Western Europe, ordering a fast on three days of every week from November 11 (the feast of St. Martin of Tours) till Christmas. This forty days' fast, similar to Lent, was originally called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Forty Days' Fast of Saint Martin's) - or - St. Martin's Lent. The readings for the Masses in this season were taken from the liturgies of Lent.
By contrast, the Advent season of the Roman liturgy, developing a century after that of the Frankish Church, was a non-penitential, festive and joyful time of preparation for Christmas. When the Church unified the liturgical season, the non-penitential nature of the Roman Advent conflicted with the longer and penitential Gallic Advent. By the thirteenth century a compromise was reached, which combined the fasting and penitential character of the Gallic observance with the Mass texts and shorter four-week cycle of the Roman Advent liturgy. The liturgy of Advent remained substantially unaltered until Vatican II mandated a few minor changes to more clearly delineate the spirit of the Lenten and Advent seasons.
- Jennifer Miller