The majority of Catholics have fallen into the same mindset as the general culture when it comes to the schedule of celebrating holidays.
Easter doesn’t suffer as much as Christmas, presumably because Easter isn’t a major retail holiday season, so the stakes aren’t as high, economically speaking. Sure, McDonald’s does a big business in fish sandwiches during Lent, and Cadbury gets its share due to goo-filled chocolate eggs.
Christmastide is greatly abused and forgotten these days, to say nothing of poor Advent.
Starting today, we enter the REAL Christmas season. Just as the rest of the world is putting away their decorations and throwing their trees in ponds, Catholics are just getting started…or should be. Santa has come and gone, but our 40-day celebration of the Infant Christ and His Holy Family begin now.
Fisheaters.com lays it out the traditional celebration very nicely for us:
The entire Christmas Cycle is a crescendo of Christ’s manifesting Himself as God and King — to the shepherds, to the Magi, at His Baptism, to Simeon and the prophetess, Anna (Luke 2). The days from the Feast of the Nativity to the Epiphany are known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with Christmas itself being the first day, and Twelfthnight — 5 January — being the last of the twelve days. Christmastide liturgically ends on 13 January, the Octave of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ (at which time the season of Time After Epiphany begins). But Christmas doesn’t end spiritually — i.e., the celebration of the events of Christ’s life as a child don’t end, and the great Christmas Cycle doesn’t end — until Candlemas on 2 February and the beginning of the Season of Septuagesima.
Christmas: Christ is born
Feast of the Holy Innocents: Herod slaughters the baby boys in order to kill the Christ Child
The Circumcision (the Octave of Christmas): Jesus follows the Law
Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus: After He is circumcised, He is named and becomes a part of the Holy Family
Twelfth Night: The Twelve Days of Christmas as a Feast come to an end
Feast of the Epiphany: Jesus reveals His divinity to the three Magi, and during His Baptism, and at the wedding at Cana
Baptism of Our Lord/Octave of the Epiphany: Christmas liturgically ends with the Octave of the Epiphany.
Feast of the Holy Family: Jesus condescends to be subject to His parents
Feast of the Purification (Candlemas): 40 days after giving birth, Mary goes to the Temple to be purified and to “redeem” Jesus per the Old Testament Law of the firstborn. Christmas truly ends as a Season with Candlemas and the beginning of Septuagesima.
So, now that you know that we are just starting Christmas, pull out the ham, bring back the pie, return the ribbon candy, and don’t take down the tree! We have a lot to celebrate. Besides, a 40-day celebration of our eternal salvation hardly seems adequate.
This is the first in a 12-day series of posts with the purpose of helping readers deepen their appreciation for, and celebration of, the 12 Days of Christmas, a season which traditionally concludes with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.