The day I look forward to most every holiday season is January 2. After the bustle and sensory overload of the holidays, the second day of the new year comes like a quiet snowfall, an invitation to rest in blessed solitude.

Appropriately, it’s also National Introvert Day. Up to half of the US population is introverted like me, and though the official designation may not be widely known, my sense of relief is no doubt widely shared. Many Americans report finding the holiday season stressful—but also lonely. Hectic, yet sad.

The pressure to socialize, consume, and celebrate can feel like too much. But if you scale down the celebrations and opt for a more restrained vision of the ideal holiday, you may be perceived as a killjoy. The holiday introvert in popular culture is the Grinch, friendly only with his pet dog. In church culture, introverted behavior can be seen as selfish or, perhaps, less useful for the gospel.

But in a season now marked by excess and decadence, there’s value in leaning in to a quieter, more intentional vision of the holidays. Like introverted hospitality, introverted feasting can benefit the whole church. Introverted or not, we can celebrate with more depth and intention if we follow the model of the early church and put “mas” back in “Christmas.”

Today when we hear feast or holiday, we think of decidedly extroverted enterprises: chattering with family and friends around a table, jostling elbows on shopping sprees, singing carols at strangers’ doors. But early Christians would have heard these words very differently.

Though early holidays included elements of what we think of as “feasting” today, the overall thrust was far more solemn. In the pre-Christendom era, the church had a simpler calendar focused on the weekly Sabbath service. Still, “there was a very special Sunday, once a year,” historian Justo González writes in The Story of Christianity—not Christmas, but “the day of resurrection, the greatest of Christian celebrations.”

Easter was one of the first “official” Christian holidays, celebrated not with materialistic excess but with the rich symbolism and sacraments of the church. On Easter Sunday, new converts were baptized as members of the congregation in a ceremony filled with symbolic and sacramental meaning. After the baptism, Gonzalez writes, new members were given water, “a sign that they were thoroughly cleansed. … And they were also given milk and honey, as a sign of the Promised Land into which they were now entering.”

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A feast day in the early church, then, was most of all a day for remembering one’s identity as a believer—an identity that ran directly counter to the Roman Empire. For example, the later rise of Christmas as a Christian holiday, some scholars say, came as a counterpoint to Saturnalia, a raucous Roman winter festival celebrated in December. The feast of Christ’s nativity, in contrast, was most notably a solemn worship service to adore the Savior.

Contemporary accounts of these early holidays are imbued with joy and passion. A nun named Egeria who visited an Eastern church in 381 described how, all throughout Lent, the catechumenates would spend three hours a day listening to the bishop expound on the Scriptures. “The faithful utter exclamations,” she wrote, “but when they come and hear him explaining the catechesis, their exclamations are far louder, God is my witness.”

The special holiday meal for these early Christian feasts was Communion. The main “decoration” was the baptismal font—and maybe some cobwebs, as some persecuted early churches met in catacombs. Christians gathered not for a string of parties but for deeply symbolic worship. The believers “all rise together and send up prayers,” wrote Justin Martyr in his First Apology, emphasizing the joy and boldness with which they came into the presence of God to remember the Resurrection. When Christmas was first celebrated, it followed a similar pattern—“mas” refers to Mass, as in a church service.

This early-church way of celebrating holy days can particularly resonate with those of us who are introverted. We may be especially likely to “appreciate the depth of liturgical prayers and hymns, as well as the rich symbolism that fill traditional churches,” as Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church, has written at CT.

It’s also easy for me to see a resemblance between today’s Christmas celebrations and the excess of the Greco-Roman feasts. With the gross commercialization of the season, is it any wonder that only half of Americans see Christmas as a religious holiday?

At this point, admittedly, there’s a danger: Some past calls to put the “mas” back in “Christmas” have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

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English Puritans in 1645, for example, famously banned the celebration of Christmas entirely. This only led to a “liturgical vacuum,” as theologian W. David O. Taylor puts it, in which “the government determines the legal shape of Christmas, the market shapes a society’s emotional desires and financial expectations about the holy day, [and] the ideal family replaces the holy family.” The church, in the end, did exactly what it had hoped not to do: It lost “its distinctive voice in the public square.”

Instead of nixing holiday celebrations altogether, then, we should be thinking more carefully about how we celebrate. Returning to the older pattern of holidays as holy days—marked chiefly with special church services—is especially poignant this year, amid news of the cancellation of Christmas festivities in Bethlehem due to the Israel-Hamas war. Christmas will still come, even without its more superficial celebrations, and tragedy can unmask our shallower concerns and draw believers back to worship in the most difficult times.

I’m thankful for new resources, like Advent devotionals and the Jesse Tree, that help us quietly commit to recenter these feast days on Christ. These countercultural practices of worship bring intentionality—and true joy—back to the season and unite us to Christians in widely varied circumstances around the world.

For my family, the best Christmases have been the ones in which we’ve embraced our introversion and returned to the symbolism and simplicity that refresh us. It’s not the emotionally exhausting parties that stand out to us, rushing off to attend this concert or that dinner. It’s the four weeks we spent lighting a candle each evening, remembering the coming Savior in the silent darkness. It’s the Christmas morning we worshiped at church, singing alongside the global church, and then went for a walk around the neighborhood in the snow.

Introversion isn’t a free pass from loving and serving others during the holidays. It just means we might do so differently. Instead of inviting over all the neighbors, we might invite the international couple who can’t go home for the holidays. We might hearken back to our Christian roots and restore the original meaning of the word Christmas: Mass on Christ’s day. We might even find that we look forward not only to January 2 but to all the days before it.

Jesus did not say that he is only present at a party, where there’s a staff white elephant exchange or we’re caroling from door to door. He said he would be with just two of us (Matt. 18:20), and he called himself our true gift (John 3:16). Worshiping, enjoying, and resting in him is more than enough for any Christmas.

Sara Kyoungah White is a copy editor at Christianity Today.