Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 7th Day of Christmas - What Is The Christmas Season, And Why Does It Matter?

Antique Angel tree-topper at Principium et Finis World Headquarters
   Happy 7th Day of Christmas!  What with all this talk about The Twelve Days of Christmas, one might get the impression that Christmas ends after Epiphany (traditional date January 6th, the thirteenth day after Christmas Day itself).  In fact, the Church's official Christmas Season extends until the Baptism of The Lord, which is the Sunday after Epiphany, and in some places (specifically, Eastern Europe), the informal celebration continues until the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd.  During his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Christmas until the Presentation, and Pope Benedict XVI did the same; I haven't heard whether Pope Francis has followed suit (we do so in our home, in keeping with my Lovely Bride's Polish heritage . . . or, at least, that's our excuse).

     The entire Christmas Season, then, is like a series of ripples of decreasing intensity emanating from the Feast of the Nativity itself on December 25th.  Christmas Day is the first day in the Octave of Christmas, a period of eight days, all solemnities (a solemnity is a liturgical feast of the highest rank), culminating in The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God on January 1st; January 2-5 fill out the rest of the Twelve Days, but are not official feast days; the days between Epiphany (traditionally January 6th, now officially the 2nd Sunday after the Nativity) and the Baptism of Our Lord on the following Sunday are included in the Christmas Season, but are observed in a much more low-key way.  Those of us who just aren't ready to let go of Christmas can privately follow the Eastern European tradition and continue until February 2nd, but the Liturgical Calendar has already moved on.

     There are some people who don't see the point of all this complexity: why not just celebrate Christmas and be done with it?  But the Liturgical Calendar is not just about commemorating past events: it's about experiencing the events of Salvation History in our own lives.  Big events require a period of preparation, such as Advent (and any of us who have lived in a household expecting a baby know how busy the preparations become in those last few weeks); likewise, the excitement and celebration gradually recede after the event, as life slowly returns to a routine.  We can’t just switch it on and off in a day or two.

     Today, the seventh day of the Octave of Christmas, we're still in celebration mode: the Christmas candles are burning, the tree is still blazing with lights (you can see a picture of the  Principium et Finis World Headquarters Official Christmas Tree here), and the joyful sounds of Christmas Carols still fill the air.  Speaking of which, here are Hayley Westenra and Aled Jones singing Silent Night: