As December twenty-fifth approaches, the world around us prepares to take down the trees and put away the “holiday” banners. At the same time, therapists are already gearing up for the time when depression seems to strike more people than any other time of year. And no wonder! After all, don’t the Twelve Days of Christmas end on December twenty-fifth? The party’s over. All that’s left is the drunken bacchanal of New Year’s Eve.
Many think “Xmas” is over. How wrong they are.
It’s not Christmas, but Advent, that ends on December twenty-fourth. In the Catholic Church, Advent (the season leading up to Christmas) is a somber time of prayer, contemplation and fasting. We don’t celebrate the Lord’s birth, we await it. It is a time of reflection and anticipation.
Christmas Season really begins on December twenty-fifth and ends on January sixth (the Feast of the Epiphany) – the true Twelve Days of Christmas. The solemn mood of Advent gives way to a joyous melody of our Lord’s birth. Consider the tonal differences of hymns like “O Come Emmanuel” versus “Angels We Have Heard on High”.
The Church rightly proclaims Christmas as a season of joy, a time of gratefulness in which our Lord shows us the importance of family. It reveals the great Mystery that God’s love for us is so profound He came down to be born in a manger in Bethlehem (literally, “the House of Bread”). Through our Baptism and the Holy Mass we are all one family, and the Holy Family of Nazareth becomes our model for family life, “a model of what the family should be,” “a place of love and sharing,” in the words of Pope Paul VI; a school where we “learn to realize who Christ really is.”
Christmas is a time for cherished customs and traditions reflecting God’s love. Such happy customs abound in the Catholic Church. For example, the much-maligned Christmas tree, representing the Tree of Life in Paradise, is traditionally not lit until after the Vigil Mass of Christmas and remains in the home at least until after Epiphany. Some still bring wine to be blessed and drunk on the Feast of St John the Beloved Disciple on December twenty-seventh. In the Eastern Church, the family gathers to share St Basil’s Bread (Vasilopita) on January first. In many Italian homes, Epiphany is the day for gift giving, and in the Byzantine Church holy water is blessed for house blessings. In fact, the joy of Christmas typically continues to the Feast of the Presentation on February second. And these all draw us back to the Holy Mass and to our Lord.
Therefore, let us celebrate this holy season of Christmas with the joy and thanksgiving it rightly deserves. And let us never forget that this is the Season of God’s Light coming into the world making us all members of God’s Family! Let us proclaim, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”