Is it December 26? January 6? February 2?
In secular culture the Christmas season begins around Halloween and ends on December 26. However, in the Roman Catholic Church, the liturgical season of Christmas only begins on December 25 and lasts much longer!
The USCCB explains, “The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him… including the fact that he was born to die for us.”
When is the feast of the Baptism?
For those dioceses in the Roman Rite that celebrate Epiphany (Three Kings’ Day) always on January 6 and don’t move the feast to a Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord falls on the Sunday after Epiphany.
In other places where Epiphany is celebrated on the first Sunday that falls from January 2 through January 8, then the Baptism of the Lord could occur either on the following Sunday, or on a Monday (this happens if Epiphany is celebrated on January 7 or 8).
The latest that the Baptism of the Lord can occur is January 13. The season of Ordinary Time starts on the day after this feast.
This means that typically, the Christmas season runs roughly from December 25 – January 13.
For many Eastern Catholics (as well as Orthodox Christians), the birth of Jesus is celebrated on January 6 (or sometimes on January 7).
But there’s a date from historical tradition too …
At the same time, the historical Christmas cycle extends even past the Baptism of the Lord. Traditionally the feast of Candlemas (the Presentation of the Lord) occurs on February 2 and marked the final conclusion of the “Christmas cycle.”
Candlemas celebrates the event that occurred 40 days after Jesus’ birth and was his first introduction to the Temple. In other words, it is the final “baby Jesus” feast day on the Church’s liturgical calendar.
Christmas is a beautiful season in the Catholic Church, one that doesn’t end on December 26, but extends as far as February!
The forgotten season of Epiphany