From Christmas to Candlemas: The 40 Days of Christmas

Candlemas

[Editor’s note: Although this article is late, Catholic Stand is publishing it because it has useful information. Please bookmark it and refer back to it for ways to celebrate future Christmas seasons!]

A question that is suspended in time, then and now, is “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?” If our answer is “wrapped in tissue paper and put away in the attic,” well, that’s the wrong answer. Where have we put Jesus since Christmas?

—Fr. Bill Rose, Christ the King, Toledo

 

It’s the end of January and my lights are still up.

My tree still has ornaments. (Okay, I have a confession: It’s a handmade wooden tree made out of recovered barn siding, so I don’t have needles to vacuum.)

My Nativity crèche is still on the mantle.

It’s still Christmas season in our home and, according to our liturgical calendar, it should be in every Catholic home as well. We celebrate the Christmas season until February 2, Candlemas.

Ignore the fact that you have gotten rid of every Christmas cookie, the tree is down to nearly naked of its needles, and you’re ready to take down the Christmas cards from the places you hang or display them. Look at what the Christmas season is about, and you will see that there’s so much more to celebrate after December 25.

The Octave of Christmas

Let’s start with the Christmas Octave, from December 25 to January 1, the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, and another Holy Day of Obligation. There are four “lesser” feasts in between.

  1. Stephen’s Day: December 26 is called Boxing Day by the British and those formerly in its realm, but before that (and in Ireland), it was always known as the feast of St. Stephen. It’s commemorated in the famous carol, “Good King Wenceslas”, and it honors the first martyr of Christianity. Your family can celebrate it by reading the Story of the Wren. Once the wren became King of the Birds, he became very proud, and it is said that he directed the enemies of Stephen to him. When he fluttered near some shrubs, he got stuck and ended up dying as well. (Here’s the traditional song.) It’s a good lesson in burying our pride, and your family can celebrate by going to Mass and having toast with good Irish brown bread.
  2. The Feast of St. John the Evangelist: December 27. On this day, we honor the only apostle who stood by Jesus at his crucifixion, and who took care of His mother after He died. He is the patron saint of priests. This is a good day to write your priest a thank you card or give him a gift.
  3. The Feast of the Holy Innocents: December 28. We all know the story of Herod’s heinous massacre of infants in order to attempt to kill Jesus, the new King. Sadly, we are still murdering the innocents today through abortion. Nearly 900,000 abortions take place in the U.S. each year. A great pro-life project for your family is to host a “Baby Shower for Mary” and give items to Heartbeat or another local pro-life pregnancy center. Your gift of baby and parent supplies will be deeply appreciated.
  4. Feast of the Holy Family: December 31. It’s important that God chose to send His son in a simple family, not as a powerful King who descends to earth on the shoulders of angels. If you don’t already do so, use this night as the first of regular family meetings to discuss responsibilities, chores, and other issues. End the meeting with a family recitation of the Rosary.

So is Christmas over after January 1?

By no means! The Twelve Days of Christmas takes you through January 5, or the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany. But first, there is January 3, which is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus … (Colossians 3:17)

… [A]t the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. (Philippians 2:10)

Epiphany Activities

More importantly, you have time to prepare for Epiphany.

  1. Read about “Chalking the Door” of your house with the new year. 20 + C + M + B + 19 should be written above your door by the youngest child who can write. The initials not only signify the first letters of the three Kings (Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar), but also the Latin words Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means, “Christ blesses this house.” If you forgot to do it on the 6th, it’s never too late!
  2. Make a King’s Cake. You might have seen this during Mardi Gras, but it begins with Epiphany to celebrate the arrival of the three Kings. A small figurine of the baby Jesus is baked inside, signifying Mary and Joseph saving Jesus from Herod. The colors, purple, green and gold, also have special significance: Jesus is priest, prophet, and king.
  3. Have the kids look up frankincense and myrrh. Why were these brought by the Kings, along with gold?

Did you know that “magi” is the root word for magician? The three Kings or Magi were considered to be astronomers from the East who studied the stars and understood the mysteries of the sky.

From Epiphany to Candlemas

Throughout the month of January, there are many wonderful feast days until we come to February 2. One of my favorites is also on January 6: the feast of St. André Bessette. As a Holy Cross brother, he was considered too sickly and weak to do much, so he was assigned as the lowly doorkeeper to Notre Dame College in Montreal. Because of his deep love for God and especially St. Joseph, he had a particular gift for listening to those who came through the door, and soon became known for his healing abilities. It was through his efforts that that amazing St. Joseph’s Oratory was built in Montreal. Other awesome saints in January are St. Francis de Sales whose feast is celebrated on January 24, and St. Thomas Aquinas, whom we honor on January 28. On February 1, we celebrate the feast of St. Brigid, and this your kids can make a special Brigid’s cross out of old palm branches or reeds.

This leads us to Candlemas on February 2, the 40th day after Christmas, and, in my opinion, the true end of the Christmas season. Candlemas is important for many reasons.

First, it’s the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Traditionally, it was the time when the soil could first begin to be turned, and the days began to be longer.

Second, and more importantly, it’s the time when Mary, 40 days after giving birth to Jesus, would have gone to the Temple for ritual purification. It’s also the day when the presentation of the Lord at the Temple is celebrated, and when Simeon recognizes Him as the light of the world. For this reason (and because people would have started to clean out their homes with longer light during the day), new candles for each home were blessed at the church. It was a day to bring new light into one’s home and to clean out the hearth as well to set a new fire.

Starting Fresh with New Light

For us, Candlemas can be a time for buying new candles or cleaning out our hearths. It can also be a time for starting fresh with our prayer life in preparation for Lent by cleaning out the cobwebs of old sins from our hearts and letting His grace in.

Just as the darkness begins to fade, it’s time to let the new light in. Celebrate Christmas until February 2, and then prepare to let His young light grow in you.

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2 thoughts on “From Christmas to Candlemas: The 40 Days of Christmas”

  1. Pingback: SVNDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  2. Sr. Christina Neumann

    At first, we may struggle to delve into this gospel account. There are, however, a lot of lessons we can learn from it!

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