It is here. Christmas day has arrived.

Within hours, at most households at least, the presents will be opened, the holiday dinner will be eaten and the party will be over. Christmas will be over, forgotten and done with; bring on New Year’s Eve.

That’s the common experience for those unfamiliar with the liturgical church traditions, in which the season of Advent is observed for most of December — the period that most of secular society considers “Christmas.” The practice in parts of Europe is for the Christmas celebration to actually begin on Dec. 25, and decorations aren’t put into place until just before the observance and remain up until mid-January. Epiphany is observed on the 12th day of Christmas, the supposed time when the magi arrived in Bethlehem to worship Jesus.

In the United States, of course, the buildup to Christmas starts before Thanksgiving and the observance has all but run its course before the sun sets on Dec. 25.

Anticipation of the events that families will enjoy on Christmas play a large role in the excitement and joy we experience at this time. Christians anticipate the arrival — spiritually anew — of Christ. Children anticipate the arrival of gifts, perhaps courtesy of the figure of Santa Claus. Adults may anticipate gift-giving and receiving to whatever extent their budgets allow, but the traditions of decorating, sharing and gatherings of family and friends are certainly foremost in their expectations for the holiday season.

Our society puts a lot of pressure on itself at Christmas, demanding more out of it in both a secular and religious manner than it possibly could ever deliver. When the day is done, there may be a feeling of relief than can translate to a letdown now that it seems we have nothing more to anticipate.

The challenge, then, is to make Christmas day indeed the first day of the season — a new season, at least, if not for you the Christmas season. A new year will have arrived in a week, and with it will come many challenges for Texas and the nation as leaders grapple with difficult economic and social issues. But with those challenges come opportunity. While these situations can cause anxiety and concern, finding a resolution is also cause for anticipation. The process will require involvement and cooperation, but Americans have faced and overcome greater hurdles than what faces us now.

Christmas 2008 finds us in a different world than we had a year ago, but that’s no different than how it was more than 2,000 years ago when human history was interrupted by a babe born in a Bethlehem stable. That is the real gift the world anticipates at Christmas, and the celebration doesn’t end at the manger. In fact, it hasn’t ended yet.

Brownwood Bulletin