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How Long Does Christmas Actually Last?

Allyson Kenny

December 27, 2018
Trying to understand the true significance of an event like Christmas can’t be done in a single day.
Like the epic natural beauty of the Grand Canyon, or the Baroque majesty and splendour of St. Peter’s Basilica, we need multiple viewings to take it all in.
So it is with the Nativity. For Catholics, Christmas is not just over and done with on December 25. It’s only just begun! At a time when many are taking down their decorations and throwing their Christmas tree to the curb, Catholics should be celebrating.
Christmastide is the name given to the Christmas season in the liturgical calendar. It begins on Christmas Eve and ends on the Sunday celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. This usually gives us a Christmas season of around 20 days or so.
In the older tradition, before the Second Vatican Council, the Christmas season lasted a whole 40 days, echoing the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass still celebrates an extended Christmas, so modern-day Latin Mass-goers will find themselves in the Christmas season until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Of special note is that the Christmas season kicks off with a gift - seven special days other than December 25th, designed to extend our focus on the mystery of Christ’s birth. During these days, we’re to take in all the joys and graces associated with such a momentous event.
These days are called the “Octave of Christmas,” and you can remember their timing because the Octave starts and ends with solemnities - the Nativity of the Lord on December 25, and Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. Both are Holy Days of Obligation.
At one time there were actually 15 feast days in the Church that included Octaves, but since 1969, only Christmas and Easter are extended by these special days of celebration.
Ultimately, while all these details of the season can get a bit confusing at times, the major conclusion to draw is this: our Christmas celebrations are often way too short, and end far too early! So don’t miss out on the opportunity to stay in a holy, holiday spirit by celebrating for the entire Christmas season this year.