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When Is Christmas Over: January 1? Epiphany? Candlemas? (Whatever that Is)

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Susan E. Wills - published on 12/31/14


Night Prayer) and “a sign that will be contradicted … so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

The name Candlemas comes from Simeon’s referring to Jesus as the light to the Gentiles and it is on this day that beeswax candles are blessed for use at home as well as for the Blessing of the Throats on February 3, the feast of St. Blaise.

Pope Saint John Paul II brought attention to another aspect of the meaning of Candlemas: linking the consecration of Jesus to God with the consecration of priests and religious to God. On January 6, 1997, John Paul announced that the first annual “World Day for Consecrated Life” would be celebrated on the upcoming Candlemas, February 2, 1997. In 2015 in the US, this celebration is transferred to the following Sunday “to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.”

Now things get complicated and history offers little help to sort them out.

There would seem to be a strong case for “b,” after Evening Prayer on January 1 or on January 2, the day following the final day of the Octave of Christmas, which is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Because every day during the Octave of Christmas is celebrated as Christmas Day, it makes sense that Christmas would end with the Octave. While the feast of Christmas does end on the night of January 1, the Christmas Season is still going strong.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" culminate with the Epiphany of the Lord, referring to the visitation or adoration of the Wise Men (Three Kings or Magi), celebrated on January 6—option "c"—on the Ordinary calendar of the Roman Catholic Church (when it is observed as a Holy Day of Obligation). If not designated as a Holy Day of Obligation, Epiphany is moved to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8 (inclusive). The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar made the Feast of Epiphany part of Christmas Time. So "c" is out.

And that leaves us with option "f," none of the above.

According to the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:

Christmas Time runs from First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of the Nativity of the Lord up to and including the Sunday after Epiphany or after January 6. (No. 33)

The Sunday after Epiphany is The Baptism of the Lord. This year in the United States, the Feast of the Epiphany has been moved to Sunday, January 4. The Baptism of the Lord, therefore, falls on January 11, and this means that in 2015, the Christmas Season ends with Second Vespers on January 11; the first Mass in Ordinary Time will be on January 12. Although the Octave of Epiphany is officially gone, it remains part of the Christmas Season by forestalling Ordinary Time until after the Baptism of the Lord. Weekdays between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord are designated "Tuesday after Epiphany" or "Friday after Epiphany," for example. In The US, the Memorial of St. John Neumann is observed, trumping "Monday after Epiphany." And Wednesday, January 7, is called "Christmas Weekday." If any reader can explain that, much appreciated! You can verify this by seeing where green begins to appear on the USCCB’s Roman Liturgical Calendar.

So why not leave your decorations up until late on January 11, 2015 or even February 2 if you’re truly courageous? Neighbors may shake their heads, but it could also be an opportunity to reintroduce them to the wonderful season of Epiphany and the glorious, multi-faceted Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.

Susan Willsis a senior editor for Aleteia’s English-language edition.

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