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Calendars as Catechesis

November 20th, 2023 | 3 min read

By Jake Meador

Occasionally in the crustier fringes of the reformed world you'll encounter annoying debates about whether or not to celebrate Christmas. Scripture doesn't explicitly endorse the commemoration of Christ's birth, after all, and besides we have no way of knowing exactly when his birth was and marking it on December 25 is at least somewhat arbitrary.

This is, as I said, an annoying conversation and one I'm not terribly interested in having. What is more interesting is one of the arguments that arises when this conversation takes a less annoying turn: If budgets are moral documents, as some have said, then so too are calendars educational documents. 

We do have precedent in Scripture for that, of course: The act of Sabbath taking, something explicitly endorsed in Scripture and taught to us in nature itself, is a kind of moral instruction embedded in time. Heschel writes of this beautifully in his work, if you've not read that. The Sabbath lifts us out of the world of space and turns us toward the world of time. Heschel speaks of a cathedral of time at points in his book. It is a cathedral we indwell on each Lord's Day, a cathedral which would be diminished or lost were we to access it constantly. It is only available to us cyclically.

Yet it is not just church calendars that can be instructive to us; civil calendars can as well. Even the small act of shifting the first day of the week on many calendars from Sunday to Monday is itself indicative of something. In that case, it indicates that we now see the week as beginning when the forces of capital spin back into action, calling workers back to their cubicles or carefully surveilled home offices. That's an unhappy lesson offered to us by civil calendars. The month long summer celebrations of Pride, which celebrate what scripture condemns all while having no discernible impact on the injustices foisted upon us by the forces of capital marking that month, would be another unhappy lesson.

This week we turn to a better: We turn to a day set apart simply for the purpose of calling us to gratitude. There is something radically counter-cultural, even radically anti-American (as she has come to exist today, at least) about this act. We are not called on Thanksgiving to lust. We are not called to discontentment. We are not called to therapeutic shopping and acquisitiveness. All of this, incidentally, is what makes the advent of Black Friday and even the creeping backwards of that aptly named dark day so sad. It's almost as if to say we can't truly bear to have a day truly set apart from consumption so we must establish Black Friday as a kind of counter-programming for Thanksgiving.

Even so, the civil calendar is a teacher. And for a day, at least, it teaches us to be grateful. It teaches us to stop. It teaches us to turn our eyes toward one another not with desire or greed or lust but with gratitude, to look not only upon the things we have for which we can give thanks, but also the reasons other people in our lives have for the same, reasons which may well include we ourselves. We give thanks for what we have received while also having the delight of being a cause for gratitude in others. Indeed, to simply be grateful is to recognize one's contingency, it necessarily recognizes that the other people in your life are creatures, as you yourself are, and not chiefly workers or nuisances or projects.

All of these things are externalized for us in the act of eating and even in the pleasure of specific dishes we associate with the day. May this be a week of gratitude for you. May it be a time to turn your eyes toward the world and, upon seeing it, to smile. May it be a week to attend to the good things you have received.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).