The Christian festival of Christmas starts as advent ends, as I have been reminded several times during the season. The celebration comes only after the waiting time has been observed. This is not delayed gratification: rather, it is an extended period of self-preparation, not unlike that of Lent, but with the emphasis on expectation rather than penitence. Christmas, that celebration of the incarnation, of God with us, begins when the waiting is over; and yet there is still a sense of waiting, as the arrival of Christ heralds the beginning of God's Kingdom coming to Earth.
And so the celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and continues until Twelfth Night, when Christians move seamlessly into the festival of Epiphany - remembering the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ, those weary wanderers nudged out of their inertia by an irrational star.
Of course, all this bears absolutely no relevance to the reality of our celebrations. Advent does not pass me by; but it is swallowed whole by the relentless juggernaut of Christmas, which seems to have very few incarnational properties in the twenty-first century. Even the Magi are sucked backwards into the vortex, visiting the baby along with shepherds, angels, snowmen and elves. Such is the strength of the whirlwind that, by January 1st, we are ready to collapse into a heap and reject all notion of celebration until at least Easter. The last of the mulled wine is swilled down the sink along with the smears of goose fat. We crave normality, abstemiousness, and silence.
It is probably pointless to try to fight the process, and the seasons of the Church have necessarily absorbed some of the patterns of society. Try explaining to a child why you're not putting up the tree until Christmas Eve; or to the neighbours why attending a drinks party will only be appropriate from 25th onwards. But in the middle of my luxuriating in space and tidiness and lack of clutter, and even whilst trying to eat healthily and get back to the gym, I am trying to continue the celebration of the God made flesh; the God who joined our everyday, so that we might find joy.