Postpone Christmas

We should celebrate Jesus’ birth in early February, not the end of December.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Christmas season is my favorite time of year. There’s no ritual I look forward to more than buying a scrawny Fraser fir on a street corner and decking it out with tacky hand-me-down ornaments. It warms my heart to select and wrap presents for my friends and family, and I maintain that no baked goods are more fun to make (or eat) than Christmas cookies, fruitcake, and stollen. The frenzy of holiday parties, the ubiquitous strands of Christmas lights, the old-timey carols: I love it all.

It’s because I love Christmas so much that I submit the following unconventional proposal for your consideration: Let’s postpone Christmas. Not just this year, but every year. Christmas should be in early February, not the end of December.

This may sound crazy, but delaying Christmas makes sense for a lot of practical and emotional reasons. As it stands, Christmas occurs far too soon after Thanksgiving. Four weeks, give or take, is not nearly enough time to recover from the culinary excess and psychological stress of Thanksgiving before having another almost identical meal with your crazy, lovable family. I appreciate stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie as much as the next person, but I could stand to have a little more downtime between the Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner.

There’s also the fact that both Thanksgiving and Christmas put a serious dent in your bank account. There are plane tickets, holiday apparel, and heritage-breed turkeys to buy—and that’s before you even start thinking about your darling children’s wish lists for Santa. December is the month when my budget is most likely to dive into deep red territory, and I suspect I am not alone in my financial disequilibrium. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more pay periods between Thanksgiving and Christmas? And wouldn’t it be extra-nice to receive your end-of-year bonus before doing your Christmas shopping, instead of crossing your fingers that it’ll all even out in the end? From a macroeconomic perspective, too, a February Christmas makes sense: Extending the Christmas season would prolong the hiring and shopping boom that essentially drives the annual business cycle and soften the mini-recession that typically occurs in the first quarter of the new year.

Parties are another reason to defer Christmas for several weeks. Holiday parties are a truly magical social custom: Whether you’re hosting or attending, they give you an opportunity to catch up with friends you probably don’t get to see often enough. But there is simply not enough time in the 24 days in December that precede Christmas to go to all the Christmas parties you’d like to. The scarcity of weekends during the period of Advent forces would-be hosts into an absurd competition with other party throwers: To stand any chance of monopolizing your friends’ Saturday night, you must either send out save-the-dates far in advance or choose an unconventional date or time for your party, so as not to overlap with your college buddy’s Hanukkah blowout. This situation is stressful for everyone involved. Hosts should not have to jostle with other people in their social circle to attract people to their soirée; and guests should not be forced to choose between two (or more) really fun-sounding bashes the weekend before Christmas. In order for everyone who wishes to be able to throw a holiday party, we need more weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As important as these logistical matters are, the strongest reason to postpone Christmas, to my mind, is related to the function of Christmas. (This is different from the meaning of Christmas, which of course depends on your religious leanings.) Christmas functions to bring light and warmth to a dark, cold time of year, thereby making us all a little happier. Like the pagan solstice festivals that preceded it, Christmas falls around the darkest day of the year, which sounds about right on paper. The problem is that meteorologically, things tend to go dramatically downhill after Christmas: With our current system, winter consists of a few weeks of jollity and cheer, followed by two to three months of darkness, chill, and bleakness. There is nothing to look forward to after Dec. 25 except for spring—and spring is months away.

This is totally backward. The Christmas spirit ought to help us get through the darkest, iciest months of the year, rather than being abruptly extinguished right before the forecast gets really gloomy. Extending the Christmas season would mitigate the winter blues that afflict millions of people. I don’t mean to minimize the kind of depression that makes it impossible to get out of bed in the morning; obviously, some people’s seasonal affective disorder is invulnerable to Christmas cheer. But I honestly believe that elongating the period preceding Christmas would make winter much more enjoyable for many people who, like me, usually get mildly to moderately depressed after Christmas.

When, then, should Christmas occur? I humbly submit Feb. 7 as a more appropriate date to celebrate Jesus’ birth than December 25. Feb. 7 has appeal because seven is traditionally a lucky number (also: the sum of two and five) and because celebrating Christmas on that date would preserve the structure of the week after Christmas: Instead of being bookended by New Year’s Day, Christmas week would be bookended by Valentine’s Day. (Meanwhile, if Christmas were in early February, New Year’s Day could be recast as an opportunity for an awesome holiday party instead of a sad last hurrah.)

You might be on board with this idea but wondering: How, practically, would moving Christmas work? After all, it’s one of those things that everyone—at least a majority of people—would have to agree on simultaneously. Both the federal government and various Christian denominations would have to agree on it. It definitely wouldn’t be easy, but I think that simultaneous religious and civic campaigns could tip the scales in favor of a February Christmas. We might have to resort to some dirty tactics to get the attention of the powers that be—like leaving our outdoor Christmas decorations up till mid-February, and staging mass walkouts each Feb. 7 while singing “Deck the Halls” as our protest song—but the end result would be worth it.

Let’s not forget that the date of Christmas is totally arbitrary. No one knows when Jesus of Nazareth was actually born, and we’ve only been celebrating Christmas in December since the fourth century. There are two theories explaining the date: Either the church decided to piggyback on the popularity of pre-existing solstice celebrations, or it made some calendrical calculations based on questionable assumptions about the date of Jesus’ conception, which surely we know even less about than the day of his birth. Both of these explanations are pretty irrelevant to contemporary Christians (and atheists and agnostics from Christian backgrounds). Why shouldn’t we celebrate Christmas according to our needs and desires, instead of catering to the needs and desires of people who died 1,500 years ago?

Even if you’re a Grinch, and the strains of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” strike fear into your Christmas-hating heart, you should join me in endeavoring to delay Christmas. After all, the thing people complain about most in December—the hassle and stress of preparing for the biggest holiday of the year—would improve if Christmas were in February. Lengthening the Christmas season would give us all more time—more time to spread out our shopping, decorating, baking, and reveling, and also more time to retreat to our homes and escape the hustle and bustle. It would help us all unwind a little bit more. And in the lead-up to Christmas, all of us—even Christmas lovers like me—could use a little more relaxation.