It’s the Second Sunday of Advent, so now might be a good time to discuss the hottest theological topic on the Church’s radar: when should we start listening to Christmas carols? Conscientious, Advent-celebrating Catholics have exercised all their self-control to not put on Michael Bublé or Bing Crosby immediately after Thanksgiving. Now that the “too early” has passed, everyone wants to know just the right time to begin getting into the Christmas spirit, because as everyone knows, listening to Christmas music is the true measure of celebrating the solemnity.
Catholics who worry about these important theological issues generally fall into two groups. The first group frowns upon Christmas music between Thanksgiving and Advent, and maybe the first week of Advent. However, its approval rating of Christmas music gradually increases as Christmas approaches. The second group claims that Christmas music should not be played at all during Advent. Advent is the time for “Advent music,” and Christmas is the time for “Christmas music.”
Both of these stances have problems. For the first group, if you begin complaining that the Christmas music is “too early,” there is no reference point for when it stops being too early. Is it okay at the second week of Advent? The fourth week? Christmas Eve? All measures are arbitrary, since technically any time not in the Christmas season is, in fact, “too early.” However, if from this you decide to ban Christmas music from your life until the the beginning of Christmas, you risk being called a Grinch by your friends, and, quite frankly, being a Grinch by constantly reminding them of your spiritual superiority by saying “Turn off that music! It’s Advent! We’re supposed to pretend that Christmas hasn’t happened yet!” Now not all the “no Christmas music till Christmas” people are like this, but there is an increased temptation (or even tendency) for them to loudly proclaim their disapproval by complaining and condemning.
Now I know I began this post by calling the issue one of the most important theological debates of our times. I hope you could tell that was satire. Sometimes I can’t believe how big of a deal people make into Christmas music. The Church really only regulates the use of sacred music in the liturgy, so the only place you have a right to be adamant about the proper time for Christmas music is at mass. Yes, good Catholics should want to celebrate Advent in its rich fullness, but whether or not you sing Christmas music should rank pretty low on the list of what you should or should not do for Advent.
Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord, both His coming into our lives right now, and His Second Coming at the end of time. We prepare our hearts to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation with greater appreciation and understanding, and we make greater efforts to follow in the way of our Savior who humbled Himself to become a human baby. The spiritual dimension of Advent is so much more important than deciding whether we should sing “Joy to the World” now or later.
But since we should live incarnationally, I will make this recommendation. I believe that if we consider the internal goals of Advent, we can orient our external practices accordingly. Do you struggle with patience? Then maybe saving Christmas music until the Christmas season would be fruitful for your Advent. Do you struggle with spiritual laziness? Then maybe listening to Christmas music early might help inspire you to love and be generous. Do you just worry about being “seasonally correct”? Then you should listen to Christmas music and learn humility.