CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
To this point in time, most of us have been in a back-and-forth as to when it’s appropriate to start playing “White Christmas,” put up a tree and more. But for the most part, that debate is now replaced by whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie (I must confess, I have yet to see it, so I oh-so-sadly cannot partake in this annual yuletide discussion).
One further debate that is largely cast aside in importance is pinpointing when Christmas is over. It seems the Christmas season ends at different times for everyone, or at least the celebration of it. For some, Christmas is over as soon as all the wrapping paper is thrown in the recycling on Christmas Day. Others say it comes with the ringing-in of the New Year. Still others, and this is the position probably most common among invested Catholics, say Christmas is over Jan. 6 or the nearest Sunday, which celebrates the Epiphany of Our Lord.
However, the Church’s tradition celebrates Christmas all the way up to Feb. 2, which is jointly the Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I would venture to say that not many people have heard of the latter feast, dealing with the impurity after childbirth taught under Mosaic Law, in which mothers remained impure for 40 days after giving birth. Feb. 2 marks 40 days from Christmas on Dec. 25, which is why that date has traditionally been seen as the closing mark of the Christmas season.
This feast day is also known as Candlemas Day because of a tradition representing the scene in Canticle of Simeon in which the Spirit-filled elder calls the fruit of Mary’s womb the “Light for the revelation of the Gentiles.” For centuries, Catholics have taken Simeon’s words to heart and lit candles before processing into Mass on this day to symbolize the truth he spoke.
These traditions are more than just connected to Christmas. They can rightly be seen as the closing of the Nativity’s chapter and the opening of the new. It makes sense, then, that we should continue celebrating the Christmas season as the Church has done so for years, all the way up to Feb. 2.
So, keep up the decorations, blast “Joy to the World” and light your Christmas candle well into the new year. While on the one hand these may seem frivolous things to do for five weeks after Dec. 25, it is the birth of the Redeemer we celebrate. Why shouldn’t we celebrate it for as long as we can?