On December 26th, Christmas wrapping paper is marked down for clearance, and suddenly all that red and green decor festooning the house starts looking a little stale. Christmas is over, right?
Actually, the liturgical season of Christmas begins on December 25th and lasts twelve days. The song about those twelve days – you know, the one with the partridge in a pear tree – references the time span, but is a secular celebration of the sacred Christmas season.
The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These days of yes point us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday in both the Jewish and Christian calendar. Though Christmas is familiar to most readers of this blog, I’d like to introduce you to some of the other days of the Western Church’s liturgical Christmas season. As your December 25th-focused gatherings and celebrations are winding down, these feast days may afford you some space and time to reflect more fully on the gift of Jesus.
- December 26 (Feast of St. Stephen). The day following Christmas is given to remember the generosity, courage, and faithfulness of Stephen, the New Testament’s first martyr. Traditionally, this day has been a day dedicated to sharing the leftovers of Christmas feasts with the poor, in honor of Stephen’s ministry as a deacon. It is also a day to focus on how we will respond to the incredible gift of Jesus with our lives. Stephen’s life and death remind us that a babe in the manger is the beginning, not the end, of the Christmas story.
- December 27 (Feast of St. John the Evangelist). This feast day remembers John, who proclaimed the incarnation of Christ with both words and actions.
- December 28 (Feast of the Holy Innocents). This day is focused on remembering Herod’s brutal massacre of all males aged two and under in Bethlehem in order to end Jesus’ life. Authors Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait offer a helpful orienting thought for us as we consider this day: “In celebrating the Holy Innocents, we remember the victims of abortion, of war, of abuse. We renew our faith that the coming of Christ brings hope to the most hopeless. And, in the most radical way possible, we confess that like the murdered children we are saved by the sheer mercy of Christ, not by our own doing or knowing.”
- January 1 (Feast of the Circumcision of Christ). Luke 2:21 tells us that on the eighth day after his birth, the Jewish Jesus was circumcised and named, following the commandment God gave to Abraham and Moses. This day marked his full inclusion in the covenant community of the Chosen People.
January 6th ends the Christmas season with Epiphany. Watch this space for a post about the meaning of this season in the Church year.
It can be freeing to recognize that Christmas is a season, not a shopping deadline. The twelve days of Christmas invite us to receive afresh the gift of the Son in the same way his mother did: with our own “yes” of surrender to God (Luke 1:38).