The Christian calendar, sometimes called a liturgical calendar, is used by many communities in several different streams of Christianity. Although some versions vary slightly from others, all use it to mark which days are ordinary days and which days are holy days (holidays).
The Christian calendar is also a teaching tool that presents the year in a sequence of seasons arranged to draw attention to specific events related to Jesus Christ. The first is Advent, which calls people to prepare for Jesus' birth. The next season is Christmas, during which people celebrate the birth of Christ. Although some people may think of Christmas as a single day, in the Christian calendar, it is a season. The traditional song, Twelve Days of Christmas, is one cultural memento attesting to Christmas's roots as celebration that spans a period of time.
Following Christmas comes Epiphany with a focus on Jesus being revealed to the world. Lent is a season of introspection and repentance, culminating in the events of the week that immediately precede Easter. The Easter season begins on Easter Sunday with a joyful commemoration of Jesus's resurrection. The Easter season lasts fifty days until Pentecost, a celebration that marks the coming of the Holy Spirit. The longest season of the year follows Pentecost. Its weeks are counted and named differently in various Christian traditions. It lasts until Advent.
Several decades ago, in despair over the commercialization of a religious celebration, some folks began reminding their communities that "Jesus Is the Reason for the Season." It was a catchy phrase with a nice rhyme. When they spoke of the season, however, they didn't mean the coming winter. They meant the period of time—the season—during which Christian people celebrated the incarnation, Jesus's birth as a human baby.
Then along came someone with a good ear for a pun. That person declared, "Axial tilt is the reason for the season." That person, of course, did mean winter, one of Earth's four climatological seasons. If Earth weren't tilted on its axis with respect to its orbit around the sun, the amount and direction of sunlight striking each portion of the planet wouldn't change throughout the year. As a result, there would be no seasons.
It was a clever spin on the phrase. I laughed when I first heard it.
But then last year the conversation on social media turned a bit snarky. Some people began to make snide comments on the supposed ignorance of Christians who presumably didn't understand that Earth's annual cycle of seasonal changes had a scientific basis. In reality, those who espoused that analysis were revealing their own ignorance about what the word "season" meant to those who originally coined the phrase.
This year, I propose that we simply enjoy the fact that axial tilt provides us with a delightful progression of predictable changes from winter, to spring, to summer, to fall and back again. At the same time, let's respect Christian communities as they remind one another that Jesus, not the shopping mall, is the reason a liturgical season called Christmas exists.
Axial tilt may indeed give us the winter, but Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Observations: A Pier Press® Newsletter. You can access the archived issue here, and if you're not already a subscriber, click here to sign up. It's free.