You just have to laugh at this kind of headline, if you are part of a church that takes the liturgical calendar seriously. Anyway, here is a weekend report from the Associated Press that brought me a chuckle:
Pope Benedict Ushers in Christmas Season
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI ushered in the Christmas season Sunday, calling it a time for joy when Christians should find it within themselves to hope that they can change the world.
The pontiff addressed the crowds in St. Peter's Square during his traditional Sunday blessing that also marked the beginning of Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas and is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year.
"We could say that Advent is the time when Christians should awaken in their hearts the hope that they can change the world, with the help of God," Benedict said. Advent is "a time of great religious inspiration, because it is steeped in hope and spiritual expectation," Benedict said. "Every time the Christian community prepares to remember the birth of the Redeemer, it experiences a quiver of joy that it transmits to a certain extent to the whole of society."
Note the presence of the word "prepare," as in a season that will help people prepare for another season. So if it is the season of Advent, this would mean that it is not the season called Christmas. Right?
Actually, I predict (if only I could read Italian) that the pope talked about Advent as a season that is supposed to help Christian believers get ready for the actual season of Christmas, since the Christmas season begins with the Feast of the Nativity on Dec. 25 and then continues for the 12 days after that.
Don't trust me. Ask Charles Dickens, that famous British journalist.
I realize that this is a picky little difference, and one that is not honored by broadcast networks and shopping malls, but facts are facts. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I kind of like it when newspapers get the facts right.
In the most ancient Christian traditions, this seasons is called Nativity Lent (or the "little Lent") and it is supposed to be a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. After this lengthy quiet time, Christmas is celebrated as a 12-day festival. Today, we have turned the season upside down -- with Christmas marked by the mall and the church staggering along trying to catch up. Most celebrations are pretty much over by Dec. 20 or so and it's time to move on to returning gifts and the parade of bowl games and NFL rituals.
So, should journalists even mention this fact in the midst of the annual blow-out blitz of "Christmas" and "holiday" stories? Should the actual timing of Christmas be mentioned, at least in a passing background paragraph? How about an actual feature story on the irony of all this?