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5 Facts to Know About the Catholic, Christmas Season

There’s always talk around Thanksgiving time about when it is appropriate to start decorating for Christmas. Some find themselves on “team decorate early” and others on “team wait until after Thanksgiving.” This debate began with the commercialism of Christmas. It’s not rare these days to see Christmas décor mixed in with the Halloween candy and even with the back to school displays. Each year, the push for Christmas sales sneak in earlier and earlier.

To settle this question once and for all, it seems befitting to ask, “When does the Christmas Season actually begin?” The answer, according to the Catholic Church, is that the Christmas Season begins with Christmas Day, The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.

For those of you who have yet to string your lights and hang your wreaths, you may have a sigh of relief. For those who served their Thanksgiving turkey on balsam tree covered placemats as their Christmas tree stood in the background, you may be ready for an explanation.

In an attempt to answer some lingering questions, below are five facts to know about the Catholic Christmas Season.

1. When does the Christmas Season begin and end?

The days leading up to Christmas are commonly celebrated as part of the secular Christmas season. However, in the Catholic church, we recognize the four weeks leading to Christmas as the Advent Season (a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord and the birth of Jesus).

The Christmas Season in the Catholic Church actually begins on the sunset of December 24th with Christmas Day, The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord and ends on January 9th with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.4

2. What is The Octave of Christmas?

The Octave of Christmas is from December 25 – January 1 (inclusive). An octave extends the celebration of a feast or solemnity for eight days. During the Octave of Christmas, for example, all the readings and prayers during the celebration of Mass are related to the birth of Christ. This year’s Christmas Octave is as follows:

  1. December 25, Christmas Day, The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

  2. December 26, The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

  3. December 27: The Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.

  4. December 28: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

  5. December 29: The Sixth Day in the Christmas Octave

  6. December 30: The Seventh Day in the Christmas Octave

  7. December 31: The Eighth Day in the Christmas Octave

  8. January 1: The Octave Day of Christmas: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Photo Credit: Catholic News Agency

3. Why are Catholics obligated to go to mass on New Year's Day?

People may assume Catholics enter their churches on January 1st to pray for the coming new year and to give thanks. Although that may be true, the reason for the Holy day of obligation is to celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

Solemnities are the highest rank of liturgical celebration, higher than feast days or memorials. It is on this important day, that the Church highlights the significance of Mary’s role in the life of Christ and honors her as the Mother of God.

4. Why do we give gifts during Christmas?

The custom of giving and receiving gifts during the Christmas Season originates from the Epiphany of the Lord. This year the feast falls on Sunday, January 2nd. Sometimes this day is also referred to as “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings’ Day.”

The Epiphany of the Lord is a feast celebrating the adoration of Jesus by the magi, or the three wise men. The magi prostrated themselves and brought Jesus gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. The gifts we give each other are symbolic of giving homage to the Lord.

There are many different traditions as to when gifts are given, some wait until the Feast of the Epiphany and some open gifts as early as St. Nicholas' Day on December 6th.

However, it is important to recognize that The Epiphany of the Lord is significant for much more than just gifts. This event is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. It is when Jesus’ identity is revealed.

Photo Credit: American Magazine

5. What does Jesus’ Baptism have to do with Christmas?

In the liturgical calendar, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord signifies the end of the Christmas season. We know that — since Jesus was born without sin — He did not really need to be baptized. And yet, Jesus welcomes His own baptism as an example for the rest of us and as a sign of his true identity.

This feast also echoes the theme of the Epiphany in that the Baptism of the Lord is another manifestation announcing Jesus’ divinity to all of His first followers and to the disciples of John the Baptist.

The Baptism of the Lord is an important part of the Christmas Season as it marks a transition from Jesus’ hidden life to that of His public ministry. As the Christmas Season comes to an end, the first week of Ordinary Time follows and the theme of the church’s readings shift to Jesus’ ministry.

BONUS FUN FACT: Did you know the song, “12 Days of Christmas” has a deeper meaning than it’s rhythmic, repetition lets on?

According to EWTN, “It was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith.” The song was a memory aid during a time where it was against the law to be Catholic.

“The song's gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” You can read more about the origin of this popular Christmas song on Bring this fun fact to the dinner table on Christmas Day!

Photo Credit: Reader’s Digest

It is easy to get caught up in the secular Christmas Season and to take for granted all that there is to know and share about the teachings of the Catholic Church and the rich meaning behind her traditions. It is especially important to pass down these teachings to the children of the church.

We can see the great lengths our church has gone to in order to catechize during even the riskiest of times through the example of the song, “12 Days of Christmas” and it’s origin.

At Regina Angelorum Academy, we recognize the importance of transmitting the teachings and faith of the Catholic Church to our students. Regina Angelorum Academy is a Catholic School offering early childhood education through middle school (Pre K through 8th grade). We believe these early years in education are crucial across the board for our student’s development, this includes that of the religious education we teach.

Photo Credit: Loyola Press

Our mission reflects the value we place on faith formation, “Founded in faith, inspired by hope, and lived in love, Regina Angelorum Academy challenges students and their families in a communal and academic setting to be joyful saints through Catholic faith formation, Classical wisdom, and virtue in action.”

From the school community at Regina Angelorum Academy we wish you a Merry Christmas and invite you to reflect on the true meaning of the Season.

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