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Are there really 12 days of Christmas?
December 23, 2016


It's still Christmas! Even though stores have moved on to their "After Christmas" sales and radio stations have stopped playing Christmas music, the Christmas season actually begins on Christmas Day.

But how long does it last?


According to the liturgical calendar, the primary celebration of Christmas is an octave (eight days) starting with December 25 and ending on January 1 with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (which is a holy day of obligation).

The Christmas season lasts a bit longer, though. And it can get a little confusing to figure out.

If you go by the traditional "twelve days of Christmas," then it would take us to January 5.

However, the current official definition of its length, according to the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:
33. 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.
 
So the Christmas season begins with evening prayer on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve Masses celebrated before midnight are actually a vigil Mass for Christmas Day.

But when exactly does it end? The norms go on to help clarify.
 
37. Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January, unless (where it is not observed as a holyday of obligation) it has been assigned to the Sunday occurring between 2 January and 8 January…

38. The Sunday falling after 6 January is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
 

In the United States, the Epiphany is transferred to the first Sunday after January 1, which falls somewhere between January 2 and January 8. (It is not commemorated as its own holy day of obligation, but remember that every Sunday is a holy days of obligation!) This year, Epiphany falls on January 8, 2016.

That creates a new issue for when the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated.

According to the U.S. edition of the new Roman Missal:
 
When the Solemnity of the Epiphany is transferred to the Sunday that occurs on January 7 or 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Monday.
 
That’s what’s happening this year. The Sunday after January 1 is January 8, which is when we’ll be celebrating Epiphany. That means that the Baptism of the Lord will be celebrated on January 9, 2016, ending the Christmas season.

Beginning on Tuesday, January 10, the Church returns to Ordinary Time and you will see the familiar green vestements return.
 
So, maybe the big question is - how long will you leave your Christmas tree, decorations and lights up?
By Office of Communicatoins
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Tags: Christmas, season, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord

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