By Thomas Kincaid
Did you know that every year — every single one — New Year’s Day is exactly one week after Christmas Day?
Of course you did. It happens like, well, clockwork.
For some reason, I remember the moment in my childhood that I came to this realization. There would always be exactly a week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Now, being the pious Christian that I am, I know better: the “week” we’re in is really a 12-day period. The party should roll from the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ all the way until the Feast of the Epiphany. The faithful friends among me will remind me that it isn’t just at church, but rather at my own home that the Christmas decorations should remain untouched by human hands until that great Feast remembering the Magi’s arrival at the crib in Bethlehem.
I’m unwilling to go on the record about the decorations’ timing in the Kincaid house, but let me say: at some point my internal clutter alarm goes off, and well, some things need to get back into storage.
But whenever your tree comes down, there’s no denying the cultural reality for most readers of this blog: by January 6, work, school, bills, chores, life — good and bad — are back with full force from their Christmas pause.
But right now — if you’re reading this during the strange week between Christmas and New Year’s — right now, it still feels like Christmas.
I once heard that the time between Christmas and New Year’s is a magical time — nothing counts. Commitments. Time. Deadlines. Calories. Score just isn’t kept this week.
Of course, that’s the luxury of the relative few. Those who work at the places some of us relax are very much working this week. The return bonanza makes retail work especially taxing this week. And even the portion of the professional class that lives by quarterly or annual performance deadlines may very well be looking at one this Friday.
And yet, for many of us, this week is a special one. And even if life keeps you from embracing the full joy of all Twelve Days of the Christmas season stretching almost a week into January, it strikes me we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
So what’s going on this week? Are we all just collectively throwing in the towel on productivity? Are we tossing personal and communal goals to the side because we’ve decided for slothfulness? I don’t think so.
The Roman Catholic Catechism says “spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness” (Part 3, 2094). To be slothful is to refuse the joy God wants to bestow upon your life.
I don’t think that’s what’s happening if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to take a break this week.
Aquinas talks about sloth’s opposite this way:
Hence it is proper to each virtue to rejoice in its own spiritual good, which consists in its own act, while it belongs specially to charity to have that spiritual joy whereby one rejoices in the Divine good. On like manner the sorrow whereby one is displeased at the spiritual good which is in each act of virtue, belongs, not to any special vice, but to every vice, but sorrow in the Divine good about which charity rejoices, belongs to a special vice, which is called sloth. (ST II.35.2)
Sloth is opposed to charity — because sloth is rooted in rejection of God’s love for his creation.
Taking a break from life’s normal rhythms in order to hear from God, in order to enjoy the gifts he bestows upon you — the gifts of family, friends, or even the simple gift of time, that is to say the gift of being alive in the first place — receiving those gifts this week isn’t slothful, it’s sitting with God’s joy for you.
So, to be sure, say your prayers. Read the Scriptures each day. But if you’re on pause, then don’t see it as time away from God or time to waste or time of waste. Rather, this is the moment when you can taste a bit of heaven. That is to say, this is a moment when you can taste a bit of God’s love and generosity for you.
The Incarnation is summed up in the word Emmanuel — God with us. For most of us, it takes a break in the calendar for us to realize in a new way that God is always with us. So Merry Christmas. May God show up in your life — and the lives of those you care about — in a particular and obvious way this week.