A Note From Fr. Timothy
The End of the Christmas Season
Beginning on Monday, January 10th, we are officially in “Ordinary Time” in the Church liturgical calendar. Most likely, the church will no longer have up the Christmas decorations and the vestment color the priest wears will be green. So it seems that the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday should be the last day of the Christmas season, right? Well, the answer is perhaps a little more complicated than that.
We can pretty much all agree that the Christmas season begins with the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord on December 25th. (Though some Eastern Rite Churches celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December of the Julian calendar, which means they observe Christmas Day on January 7th according to our current, Gregorian calendar – but that is a whole other story.) The knowing of the end of the Christmas season and when you should take down your decorations, however, is often a little more vague and might depend upon whom you ask.
First, we have the Octave of Christmas. It is the eight days, inclusive, from December 25th to January 1st, ending with the celebration of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s Day. This is considered all part of the Christmas Feast and are meant to be one continuous celebration of the birth of our Lord. Upon the conclusion of the octave begins the longer Christmas season.
The traditional idea of the 12 days of Christmas would run from December 25th to the eve of the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6th. Many Christian Churches still observe this as the totality of the Christmas season. However, in this country and in many other places, the celebration of the Epiphany has been moved to the Sunday between January 2nd and the 8th. That means that there might be more or less than 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany in any given year.
Additionally, while Epiphany used to commemorate the visit of the magi, the Baptism of the Lord, and his first miracle; now those items have been separated to provide more focus on each individual event. So, in the Roman Catholic calendar, the Baptism of the Lord is now celebrated on the Sunday following Epiphany – in effect extending the Christmas season. (The wedding feast at Cana is usually the Gospel reading of the Sunday after the Baptism – and it is actually counted as the second Sunday in Ordinary Time.)
Then, there is the traditional idea that the Christmas season does not end until the celebration of Candlemas, or the Presentation of the Lord, on February 2nd. That would make the Christmas season 40 days long – corresponding to the 40 days of Lent. It also follows the pattern of Lent/Easter where the penitential season is 40 days, but the celebratory season is longer at 50 days. If Advent (a penitential season) is approximately four weeks, then Christmas (a celebratory season) should be five weeks.
Some people observe the Christmas season in stages, going from highest to lowest. They feast for eight days, start putting away decorations after 12 days, take down the Nativity set after the Baptism of the Lord but put up an image of the infant Jesus until the Presentation after 40 days. However you and your family might celebrate this season, hopefully it is always filled with joy and hope. And may God continue to shine the light of his glory on you in the year ahead.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski