It became apparent on my facebook page that there is a lot of confusion about the Liturgical Christmas Season for Catholics. Does Christmas last 1 day? 8 days? 12 days? 40 days? What’s the deal?!
It’s a little complicated, but here we go: The Christmas Season begins on the first Christmas Vigil Mass, usually the evening of Christmas Eve. The Roman Catholic church returns to green vestments (Ordinary time) the day after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This feast day moves, but it’s never before the Epiphany. However, many churches and families celebrate until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Feb 2. The Vatican leaves up their tree and nativity until then. From December 25- February 2 is 40 days.
Liturgically, we celebrate an octave of Christmas, which is 8 days. (Just FYI- we also celebrate an octave of Easter starting on Easter Sunday). The octave of Christmas ends on January 1, which is a holy day of obligation (the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.)
The Epiphany (when the kings show up to see Baby Jesus) is traditionally celebrated on January 6, but it gets moved to the closest Sunday in the United States. There are 12 days from December 25- January 5 that lead up to the traditional Epiphany. These days are referred to as the “12 days of Christmas”, but because the Epiphany moves around, there are rarely exactly 12 days.
In conclusion, we move back to Ordinary time after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which moves, but is traditionally celebrated on January 13. However, many, including the Pope, celebrate through the Presentation on February 2. Man, it is no wonder that people are confused!
So, the big question- when should you take down your tree? I hear of a lot of Catholic families that leave up their Christmas tree until the Epiphany, but leave out their nativity sets through The Presentation. Of course, every family needs to find what works for them.
Here is a Liturgical Christmas Cheat Sheet with Dates and Information (which has now been updated thanks to a very awesome reader comment)
~December 24 –Christmastide or Christmas Season begins at the first Christmas Vigil Mass.
~December 25 –Birth of Jesus.
~December 25 to January 1 (Octave of Christmas) the 8 days of Christmas that we feast and celebrate.
~January 1 -Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Holy Day of Obligation) Also the Feast of the Circumcision (Jesus’ circumcision and naming 8 days after His birth –Genesis 17:10-12).
~December 25 through January 5 –“Twelve Days of Christmas” that lead up to Epiphany (because date of Epiphany moves from year to year there are not always exactly 12 days).
~Twelfth Night –night before Epiphany.
~January 6 (or closest Sunday) –Epiphany –Three Kings arrive to see baby Jesus (usually moved to the closest Sunday in U.S.)
~Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (date changes, but is never before the Feast of the Epiphany)
~The day after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we return to ordinary time – green.
~February 2 -Presentation of the Lord, also referred to as Candlemas, is about Mary’s presentation in the temple for Purification. Presentation of Jesus to Simeon (and profecy of Simeon) also occurred, but ritual was about the mother. (The Vatican leaves the tree and nativity up until February 2nd. Many families and Churches celebrate Christmas up to this date. Note that December 25 through February 2 is 40 days. Also, see “Churching of Women” for more information on blessing for new mothers).
Hope this clears up some confusion! If you feel like I forgot something, feel free to share it kindly in the comments. Keep in mind that different rites and different countries have different traditions, so feast days can vary.Pin It