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The Christmas Season Begins (Not Ends) Today

Merry Christmas!! Perhaps you've grown tired of the Christmas music already. Perhaps you'll go out tomorrow seeing all the Christmas decorations on sale at stores (if the decorations aren't already cleared out). You'll probably notice many Christmas trees on curbs tomorrow. So in many ways it will seem as if the Christmas season ends with Christmas. But wait...does it?

An Octave of Merrymaking

For Catholics and Protestants (slight assumption here and it may not be all) the Christmas season begins today. That means several days of celebration of the mystery of Christ's Incarnation. How many days, well, here's where times may vary. Similar to Easter, there is an Octave of Christmas which lasts until January 1st. On that day, people likely note the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. However, in the Old Liturgical Calendar (in the West at least), which those who attend the mass according to the 1962 missal will be familiar with, January 1st celebrates the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. Regardless of which celebration is made on that day, some will consider this Octave day of Christmas the end of the season. But what other end dates are there?


"Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him" (Mt. 2:2)

The next possible date for the culmination of the Christmas season is January 6 or the Epiphany. This day, of course, celebrates the arrival of the Magi, or wise men to reverence the Infant Jesus. It is also connected with the Holy Family's flight to Egypt and slaughter of the Holy Innocents, for the wisemen do not return to Jerusalem to inform King Herod where the infant Jesus is, as they promised to do. However, let's not dwell on that too much.


The Epiphany calls for a reflection on the proper worship due to God. Yet, it also reminds the faithful that Jesus did not come for the Jews alone, but also the Gentiles. Most likely the Magi/Wisemen/Three Kings were Gentiles, though not necessarily pagans (check out this 2019 Catholic Answers article for more on that). Thus, Epiphany suggest the unifying nature to Christ's birth. So it would be a fitting conclusion to the Christmas season. Yet, even the Church does not end the season here.


"'This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased'"

The Church currently places the end of the Christmas season as the Celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. The Feast commemorates the Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan. On one hand this feast makes a rather good end point for the Christmas season. The Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry which coincidentally ends the hidden life he lived in Nazareth before. However, on the other hand, it seems rather strange to end the Christmas season with an event which seems so far removed from Christmas and even skips over the singular event of Jesus' childhood, the finding in the temple. Have no fear there is one last possible date for the end of the Christmas Season.


"And When the Time Came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord" (Lk. 2:22)

Now, we come to the date which has Christmas lasting the longest, Feb. 2. This day commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple. This by Jewish law would have occurred about 40 days after the birth of Jesus. This feast is also called the Feast of the Purification of Mary, for according to the Levitical law after Jesus' birth, Mary would have been considered 'unclean' and even after his circumcision, Mary would have to remain "for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying" (Lev. 12:4). A little aside, as it is believed Mary was free from original sin from conception, Catholic tradition holds that she did not experience childbirth the same way as most women, as she remained a virgin after. This would mean she would likely not have to be purified, but, as a devout Jew, it appears Mary (and Joseph) chose to follow this ritual, regardless of her need to.


This would be a fitting end to the Christmas season as while it, likely, occurs prior to the Epiphany chronologically, it finishes the events of Jesus' birth ritually. It also marks the time Jesus was given to the Lord, though he does not, technically, need to be as he is already God. Also in a way, this is the first time, Jesus sanctifies the temple as he enters it, even as a baby, as both God and man. Interestingly, as said before this event is 40 days after Jesus birth, which would make the Christmas Season almost as long as the Easter Season, which is it not fitting that Christmas be celebrated for a similar length of time as Easter given that the latter could not occur without the former.


Conclusion

No matter where one chooses to end the Christmas season, extending it beyond Dec. 25 should at least be considered. Each potential end point to the Christmas festivities has its merits. Now, if you choose the last one, you might not be able to keep your tree up the whole time (unless it's artificial). Nonetheless, quarreling over the end of the Christmas season is rather superficial, no matter when the season ends, the entirety of it should be celebrated with the joy of recalling the Incarnation and perhaps the anticipation of Christ's second coming, which itself deserves preparation. May all you have a blessed and Merry Christmas.



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