If you’re like me, the day after Christmas Day has always signaled the end of the Christmas season. If the tree isn’t at the curb for trash pickup by New Year’s Day, I feel behind schedule. And I admit to being just a little bit sad each year as I pack away another year of holiday memories.
Christmas, however, isn’t a single day. It is a season, as Bishop Vann noted in his column in last week’s issue of OC Catholic. We were reminded of that as we returned to Mass to find that the Church’s Christmas tree and Nativity were still in place weeks after our own were already back in storage.
Second only to Easter, Christmas is one of the most important liturgical seasons in the Church year. It doesn’t begin the day after Halloween as retailers would like you to believe. It begins with the vigil Masses on Dec. 24 and this year continues through Jan. 9, the feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
So here’s how many of us shortchange our spiritual selves: We prepare for Christmas Day during the season of Advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas. Between going to confession, lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath and preparing our Nativity sets in our homes, we spend an entire month getting ready. Then most of us celebrate for a single day with Mass and family gatherings, and then we get on to the next holiday, New Year’s Day. In doing so, and we actually miss Christmas!
Christmas Day was just the beginning. During the 12 days of Christmas Catholics celebrate St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Family, the feast of the Holy Innocents, the Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God, the Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord. The Christmas season is packed with inspiration – the Church’s gift to us – and we miss it all if we don’t return to Mass to celebrate each of these important feasts and then continue coming each week to prepare for what’s ahead.
The beauty of the Catholic liturgical year is how it prepares us for each season. Before we know it, Lent and then the Easter season will be upon us. If we immersed ourselves in the Christmas season and truly celebrated all that it represents, the meaning of the seasons to follow will also take on greater spiritual significance.
Merry Christmas, still!