Sunday, December 18, 2011

when does Christmas begin and end?

Lulu, the company that is facilitating my self-publishing efforts, is doing a series of promotional coupons which employs the theme of the twelve days of Christmas.  That is, a different coupon is being offered each day for twelve days.  I am glad to take advantage of this, and promote these coupons at my blog, etc. But the problem is that these twelve days of coupons for the twelve days of Christmas began a few days ago, and will end on Christmas Day.  This confusion is found not only at Lulu, but really all over our American culture.  I recall one year seeing Jimmy Falon's late night show, where the same thing happened; he did a comedy bit in which a different ugly Christmas sweater was highlighted for each of the twelve days of Christmas, and sure enough, those twelve days were the days leading up to Christmas.  As I say, this seems to be the common view in secular American culture.

It just goes to show that the world's view or take on matters, even when it intersects in superficial ways with the Church's perspective, is skewed; it is off the mark.  The accent is wrong, just by a little, but enough to show that it is incapable of truly appreciating the spiritual significance of these observances. 

So let us be clear.  We are in the season of Advent.  It is a fasting season, a penitential season, though at the same time a season in which we look towards and prepare for the Christmas festivities.  The two seasons, Advent and Christmas, are interrelated, interdependent, and interlocking; and yet each is distinct. 

Advent culminates in a special way with its final eight days.  That is, the 17th through the 23rd of December are days in which we cry out for the coming of our Lord among us, and look forward to the celebration of His holy birth.  We do so, eg., with a special set of antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers called the O Antiphons.  In a sense this week of prayerful anticipation of the coming solemnity is like the novena of days in which the Church anticipates the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  Then, the final day of Advent is the 24th, ie., the Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord.  That is traditionally one of the so-called fish days, ie., it is a day in which Christians traditionally abstain from the meat of all land animals and fowl, making final preparations for the festive Christmas celebration in prayerful penitence. 

Then, at midnight, as though we cannot wait any longer for the festivities to officially begin, and to mark the traditional nocturnal timing of the holy event, the Church begins her season of Christmas with the Holy Mass, the first of three proper masses that day.  Christmas continues with a full octave, and since the next season doesn't begin until the 6th of January, there are really twelve full days of the holy and festive season of Christmas, from the 25th of December through the Twelfth Night, which is on the 5th of January.

Many things could be said of those twelve days, and how some take on their own liturgical character, etc.  And I do not know if I will be able to get to any of that here this year, due to the fact that so much of my energy during the week is taken up with my job.  But I did want to clarify and remind the general readership that Christmas does not culminate on the 25th.  It only begins on that day.  Let us celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, with devotions and festivities in our families, and with liturgy and prayer in the church, and thus once again be a positive example for the culture around us.

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