Christmas: It’s More Than 12 Days Long!

Merry Christmas!

Yes, that’s right, it’s still Christmas. Even though many stores and parks take down their decorations after December 25 or once the year 2015 ends, we continue to celebrate Christ’s birth in this glorious season. Our churches continue to be adorned with greenery, poinsettias, and Nativity sets, and statues of the Wise Men often appear near the front of the sanctuary as parishes prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 3 this year.

The Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ to all people. It reminds us that Christ came for Jews and Gentiles alike. The Epiphany is a very festive occasion, and many cultures throughout the world celebrate this feast with special traditions each year. Some people give gifts on the Epiphany, others celebrate with parades, and some people throw Epiphany parties. Many Catholics try to implement liturgical traditions in their homes and celebrate Christmas leading up to—and including—the Epiphany. However, for some Catholics, this feast ends all Christmas celebrations. Winding down from their Epiphany festivities, people strip their homes of Christmas decorations. They celebrated Christmas until the Epiphany, trying to commemorate the “12 Days of Christmas” that are often sung about by carolers. I appreciate the enthusiasm that these Catholics exude as they celebrate Christmas past December 25. I applaud their efforts to commemorate the liturgical year in their homes, and I think that is very admirable.

However, there is a small problem with this scenario.

The homes of many Latin Rite Catholics are devoid of Christmas adornments after the Epiphany, but Christmas still continues. When I discovered this fact a handful of years ago, I was shocked. I, like so many other people, bought into the idea of only “12 Days of Christmas.” I knew that the Catholic Church celebrates Christmas after December 25, but I thought—just like so many other people—that the Epiphany marked the ending point of the season. Yet, Christmas continues several days past this great celebration.

So, if the Epiphany does not signal the end of the Christmas season, then what does? According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.”

For Latin Rite Catholics, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord—which celebrates Christ’s manifestation at His baptism in the Jordan River—is celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany. This year, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on January 10. For the full week preceding this celebration, the Catholic Church will celebrate daily liturgies for Christmas.

I encourage all of you to go beyond the “12 Days of Christmas” in your celebrations and devotions. This year, immerse yourself in the liturgical life of the Church, and continue your Christmas celebrations past the Epiphany. Your Christmas tree—if you have a real one—may not last until the Epiphany or beyond, but at the very least, continue to decorate your home with a Nativity scene or other appropriate decorations. Let us all throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the glorious season of Christ’s birth, opening our hearts, homes, and lives to Him in a new way this year!

“Christmas is a celebration of the mystery of the incarnation, of the birth of Christ in our world, and somehow Christ must continue to be born daily in our lives, in the innermost of our hearts. The special grace that Christmas bestows on us is precisely this unique instinct of the heart.” —Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette, A Monastery Journey to Christmas