|Antique Angel tree-topper at Principium et Finis World Headquarters|
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: