I hereby declare Christmas season over. You can take down your decorations and put them away until next year.
Today is the Catholic Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Ordinary Time begins tomorrow.
Many people seem to think that the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving. Retailers want you to think that it begins before Halloween. The secularization of the season sure has skewed our perceptions of what and when and why.
Oh sure, it feels like Christmas season in the United States as soon as Thanksgiving. The traditional start to holiday shopping now begins on Thanksgiving. Family celebrations, office parties, special get togethers with friends… all centered around our secular “feasts,” beginning with the fourth Thursday in November.
But like the penitential season of Lent, Christmas is actually preceded by a period of preparation. It’s not as somber as Lent, but it is also not supposed to be a period of partying and rejoicing. It’s a season of anticipation.
We Americans party.
And Christmas is not over on December 25. That is when the Christmas season begins (well, actually for Catholics, it begins at the Vigil Masses on Christmas Eve). It’s on Christmas that the Lord makes his appearance as human flesh and blood. It’s on Christmas that the Creator of all that we have, all that we see, all that we think, say, and do… every single one of our experiences… becomes one of us, one of the created.
Do you stop to consider that?
Do you ever stop to consider the enormity of that moment? Of all that it entailed? Of what had to happen to make that a reality?
But that’s not for today. Today, we talk about why Christmas season ends today.
Our Western tradition fixes Christmas Day as December 25. I won’t get into the reasons for that. But we all know that 12/25 is not only the feast day but also the secular holiday.
Feast days are not limited to 24 hours. They are celebrated over an eight-day octave. So the formal Christmas feast is actually celebrated from December 25 through January 1.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states it this way:
“The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him…including the fact that he was born to die for us.”
The season includes the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (Sunday after Christmas), the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (January 1), the Epiphany of the Lord (primarily celebrated on the Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Family, but traditionally on January 6, the “12 day” of Christmas), and the Baptism of the Lord (Sunday after Epiphany).
(Some traditions actually celebrate the Christmas Season until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. That, too, is a topic for another day.)
Our tree came down today. The cats were none too pleased. One obvious reason: the evil vacuum made an appearance. But the other reason was they lost their favorite place to sleep, under the tree.
Our cats don’t bother with the ornaments or lights or the “cranberry” garland. They don’t drink the water in the tree stand. They snuggle on the skirt under the tree or nestle into one of their blankets, which we strategically place as close to the bottom of the tree as possible. They love it under there.
They’ll have to wait to enjoy its “shade” until next year. Although, they can still see the tree. It started to drop needles this week, but the branches and needles are still soft and pliable. So instead of bagging the tree and tossing it in the trash like so many others do, we left it standing on the back porch.
Goofy? Yeah, probably. But that’s the way we like us.
We heard an extraordinary homily today from Father Dwight Campbell at St. Therese of Liseux Church in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, on the significance of Jesus choosing to be baptized and the gifts and graces we receive from baptism, and why it is important to baptize infants. It was so good I wish he had recorded it. So much information, I couldn’t listen fast enough! I know I didn’t absorb all of it, but I’m sure he would be happy to discuss it again. Perhaps the subject of a future post on this very website