Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 11, 1999
Why don't we prolong Christmas?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Why don't we have a prolonged celebration of Christmas like we do of Easter?
Easter, the Paschal mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, was of utmost significance to the early Church and therefore, was celebrated very early in our Christian history. The birth of Jesus was simply part of the overall celebration of Christ.
Easter has remained the greatest feast in the Church's liturgical year followed by the 50-day celebration right to Pentecost.
But we do prolong the celebration of Christmas too. That's what the popular Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas is about, although one would have a hard time recognizing it. This song is based on our celebration of Christmas right to the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6 which makes it 12 days.
In Canada, Epiphany is now celebrated on the Sunday between Jan. 2 and 8.
Interesting isn't it, how at the root of so much in our society are Christian elements, though we hardly realize it.
Actually, we used to celebrate the octave of the feast of the Epiphany as well and not dismantle the Christmas crib nor take down the decorations until seven days after Epiphany which was the feast of the Baptism of Jesus on Jan. 13 (now the Sunday following Epiphany Sunday).
That would make 19 days of Christmas celebration.
The word "epiphany" comes from Greek and means a "showing, appearance or revelation." It was used to describe the appearance of a god among the people or a visit from a civil dignitary. So, it was natural for the Eastern Church to use this word for the coming of Jesus, God made flesh.
Jan. 6 was used by some of the churches to celebrate the birth of Jesus while others celebrated the Baptism and the Cana miracle, eventually combining them. It made sense to combine the celebration of these events for each of these was an Epiphany, a revelation of Jesus to the people.
By the end of the fourth century, Eastern and Western churches took each other's feasts and both Christmas and Epiphany were celebrated in both churches. This led to the evolution of a separate theme for each feast.
In the Western Church, the Epiphany evolved into a celebration of the coming of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), that is, Jesus' "showing" to the Gentiles. This feast, therefore, amplifies the feast of Christmas, the Incarnation. It becomes a further revelation of Jesus: the Messiah has come to all the people, not just the Jews.
Actually, I believe, we used to continue Christmas, by keeping the crib and decorations right up to Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus (traditionally called Candlemas). It could be considered the closing of the Christmas season of lights.
The Gospel for this feast proclaims the words of Simeon that Jesus is to be "a revealing light to the Gentiles, the glory of your people, Israel" (Luke 2:32) and on this day, candles are blessed.
Therefore, this prolongs our celebration of Christmas to 40 days, still not quite the glorious 50 days of Easter.