For many people, and perhaps even for us, Christmas seems to end on December 26th.
With the shopping frenzy of Boxing week, the plans for the New Year’s Eve party and the new Valentine's Day themed decorations in the malls, the true Christmas season and its meaning quickly dissipates into memory. For many, all that is left come January is the irritable state of mind we find ourselves in as we struggle to keep our New Year's Resolution that were made with such fervor, just days ago.
What happened to the genuine joy of the Christmas message? Have we actually forgotten that Christmas last beyond December 25th?
Perhaps now is a good time to remember the fact that the Christmas season truly lasts long after December 26th, until February when we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This day is also known as Candlemas Day, since the blessing and procession of candles is included in that day's liturgy.
Every year, the feast lands on February 2nd, a full forty days after the birth of Christ. According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, that feast day is also referred to as the 'Purification of Mary,' which is also considered a 'Christmas Feast Day,' since it points back to the Solemnity of Christmas.
Why forty days of observance? And what is significant about the 'Purification of Mary?'
Consider this interesting fact. According to the Mosaic law, a mother who has given birth to a male-child was considered unclean for seven days. Moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification"; for a female-child the time which was even doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to "bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin"; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
So forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary would have complied with this precept of the law. She redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess. And we know very well the rest of the story as presented in the Gospel of Luke 2:22
This is the reason why many Catholics practice the tradition of keeping out the Nativity creche or other Christmas decorations until this great feast day. It also reminds us that Christmas does not end on the December 26th, despite what our secular world seduces us to believe.
Admittedly, it is a constant struggle post December 25th, during the grind of our daily lives to consciously remember that the period leading up to Christmas day and for 40 days after it is in fact the second most important period of our Catholic faith. To remember, to honour and to live the Christmas spirit in the middle of everyday life is a struggle we all need to wrestle with, perhaps taking it one day at a time.