Skip to comments.The 12 Days of Christmas and Christmastide: A Rich Catholic Tradition
Posted on 12/25/2007 8:48:05 PM PST by Huber
Growing up, I loved Christmas so much. It wasn't even the gifts (although that certainly played a part), but the lights, the music, the general magical feeling in the air. I also loved the celebration of Christ's birth. Being evangelical Protestant, our family didn't embrace the fullness of the Christmas religious tradition, but each year we did several meaningful activities (such as putting up a Nativity scene, the advent wreath, reading of the Christmas story). The suspenseful joy of Christmas Eve led to the feasting of Christmas Day and the celebration of the birth of the Messiah and Lord. But, on December 26th, it inevitably happened each and every year: post-Christmas letdown. After December 25th, it seemed like everything ended. Sure, the tree and the decorations stayed up a few more days, but the excitement, the sense of joy, and above all, the feasting, were over. I always wanted the feasting of Christmas to last longer, completely unaware that in the Catholic tradition it did: the festive "Twelve Days," (this has been somewhat downplayed however in the USA and other Episcopal Conferences who have decided to move Epiphany to a Sunday between January 2nd and 8th) the octave of Christmas, and the whole season of Christmas!
Just as the hopeful and quietly expectant mood of Advent has been discarded in large segments of Christianity, so too has the feasting and joy during the full Christmas season. Even among Christians, Christmas too often has become an isolated feast day, cut off from its place in the Church year, especially Advent, Epiphany, and the Baptism of our Lord. I remember in the year 2000 when I first discovered Christmastide (through Anglicanism) and integrated it into my life (especially my devotional life). It was revolutionary. I sang the carols for a longer time; I read the Scriptures associated with Christmas and the Incarnation for more than just one day; I lived the joy of the birth of our God and Savior Jesus Christ for the whole season. Instead of one isolated day, the joy and festival spirit of Christmas lasted the full season the Church intended. Then, I noticed something incredible. I discovered that by the end of Christmastide, I was ready to move along. There was no more letdown.
During the Twelve Days of Christmas and Christmastide the Church also celebrates other major holy days including those of St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents and, on the first Sunday after Christmas, the Holy Family. Stephen and the Innocents were martyred for their faith and St. John suffered for his. The Holy Family was eventually driven from their homeland into Egypt. These feasts stand in the midst of the season of the Incarnation to remind us that the Incarnation is about more than just the birth of the Christ Child: it is also about the suffering and death of him who is also our Savior. And, as his followers, the Christian life is much more than the celebrations associated with Christmas: it is living for our Lord in such a radical way that we may be asked to give completely of ourselves: even, like St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents, our lives.
I know many readers of this page already celebrate the Christmas season and have done so much longer than I. I highly commend you for doing so. For those who currently do not, let me encourage you to start this Christmas season. From December 25th through the Baptism of our Lord, keep the joy of Christmas in your hearts, your lives, and your prayers. I think you'll find, like I did, that God will richly bless you throughout. And then, celebrate Ordinary Time and continue from there to Lent, Holy Week, Easter and beyond. Enter into the fullness of the Church year, which is ultimately an entering into the fullness of the life of Christ and the mystery of his Incarnation. Merry Christmas from all of us at Ancient and Future Catholics!
**May you enjoy the full celebration of Christmastide!**
Christmastide starts today!
Try some of the prayers, activities, etc. suggested in the link posted above.
It struck me yesterday how indebted Christmas is in this country to Catholic, Anglican/Methodist, and Lutheran practice....without liturgical Christianity, there is no Christmas as we know it today!
I hope more and more people make the connection between the Christmas season and the living liturgy.
Ever inclining to the somewhat tactless, I have begun to ask illiturgical Christians who reject the notion of attending Christ's Mass on Christmas, what name they instead intend to call their yuletide holiday?
Thanks for posting.
It is disheartening to me that Christmas is seemingly a retail season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Thank you so much for this message. Our priest’s sermon had to do with just this subject on Christmas Eve/Day and my husband and I felt it was the way we wanted to begin our celebrations from now on. Your message showed how we can begin.
For as long as I can remember (and no doubt longer *\;-) our family’s tradition has been to put up and decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, during the day. It comes down on Epiphany.
Great article indeed. People every year always complain about the “commercialism” of Christmas, and then the day after Christmas start to take down the decorations...(well, maybe a week after Christmas) Still, my point is, if we celebrated like we should (I don’t know about a full feast EVERY day for 12 days though? Is there a reason Santa has a body like that?) through the full 12 days, I really think it would end the commercialism...or put it in its proper place.
So echoing C. S. Lewis, its not that we celebrate Christmas too much, but not enough...
It saddens me, too, that Christmas has been so thoroughly commercialized by retailers and the media — but what to do? I mean, what should observant Catholic and Anglican families so at Christmastide? I don’t see that the individual parishes are doing anything to guide us on this. I think, too, that we suffer from the lack of a common tradition. Perhaps we need to band together...
We have a surplus of tradition, but many of us have forgotten much of it, or have been told by reappraisers that it is no longer relevant. Our role is to help each other to remember what we have forgotten. The answer to your question, I believe, is to understand and be able to articulate why tradition is important, to approach tradition in a prayerful way and with humility, to know tradition so that we can teach others about it, and to find a way to participate in the tradition and to support others who are doing the same.
Your reference to the “reappraisers” makes me wonder — who are they? And what surplus of tradition do we have? I am 48 years old, I attended Catholic schools for elementary and high school, and my religious education focused on such things as ecumenism and “renewal”. I learned nothing. I am one of those who needs to be instructed in what was forgotten, because I never knew it in the first place.
Reappraisers = revisionists. And true ecumenism is a good thing in terms of fostering a deeper theological understanding which may lead to resolution of some of the issues that divide Christendom. In terms of catholic culture, here is a great place to start for you. http://www.catholicculture.org/. I’d also recommend reading some of the books of George Weigel, Frank Sheed, Peter Kreeft and Richard John Neuhaus. A lot of people also recommend Scott Hahn, but his style (although not his theology) is too similar to evangelical protestantism for my tastes.
** It comes down on Epiphany.**
Bingo. The Christmas season!
Welcome to the club. Let me assure you, though, that you know more than you think; it's sitting in the dusty file cabinet that hasn't been opened in a while. Once you look inside, your memory will be refreshed. Trust me.
Many catholics are unfamiliar with their faith. They attend a Catholic Church, more from tradition than desire. I am a great fan of the sitcom 'Everybody Loves Raymond'. Earlier this year, I caught one episode where Ray comes home and his wife tells him their daughter Allie (grade 4) has been asking where we come from. Deborah assigns Ray the task of explaining the birds and bees to Allie. She hands him a stack of books and diagrams and quizzes him on the correct pronunciation of the proper anatomical words. The poor guy sits down with his daughter and begins by saying that 'when a man and woman are in love'. Allie stops him and explains she already knows this from Health Class. Her question is: "If we're all going to heaven some day, why are we here"?
Needless to say, Ray's initial relief at being spared the sex talk turns into consternation as he tries to figure out the answer. He asks Deborah, then his parents (who open up a Bible) and finally resorts to calling the parish priest, Fr. Hubley.
The answer to that question used to be covered in the 1st grade Catholic school religion class. The response is: We are here to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in Eternity. The best place for you to begin rediscovering your Catholic faith is with the Baltimore Catechism. Begin at a simple level and then progress to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is our faith! I would also encourage you to join freeper Salvation's ping list for daily Mass readings and other superb sources of information on the lives of the saints, prayer, meditation, etc.
Most of us Catholics in the forum have, at one time or another, been in your position. It is through this forum that we have rediscovered and built up our faith. Rest assured of my prayers for you on this faith journey.
Thank you very much for taking the time for such a thorough and informative response. I have a copy of the Baltimore Chatechism; it’s a reprint of the one that was in use decades ago. A friend, who is in his late 60s, recognized it when I showed it to him. So I will begin at the beginning. Thank you again.
We have friends, strong Christians, who celebrate ‘Blessings Day’ on December 25, seeking to avoid the anti-Biblical Christ’s Mass some of us know and love. I keep thinking of the Puritans, who made Christmas like any other day. There had been too much revelry in England for their tastes, and they were going to do it ‘right.’
We celebrate through Epiphany, our tree is up, and we have a big Epiphany Party on the 6th to wrap up the season. I love this way of looking at Christmas. One day is not enough.
Faith sharing bump.