Just Exactly How Long is Christmas, Anyway?

It became apparent on my facebook page that there is a lot of confusion about the Liturgical Christmas Season for Catholics. Does Christmas last 1 day? 8 days? 12 days? 40 days? What’s the deal?!

how long is christmas

The Short Answer: The Christmas season runs from Christmas Eve Evening through the day before the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the Sunday after the Epiphany.

A more complicated answer: The Christmas Season begins on the first Christmas Vigil Mass, usually the evening of Christmas Eve. The Roman Catholic church returns to green vestments (Ordinary time) the day after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This feast day moves, but it’s never before the Epiphany. However, many churches and families celebrate until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Feb 2. The Vatican leaves up their tree and nativity until then. From December 25- February 2 is 40 days.

Liturgically, we celebrate an octave of Christmas, which is 8 days. (Just FYI- we also celebrate an octave of Easter starting on Easter Sunday). The octave of Christmas ends on January 1, which is a holy day of obligation (the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.)

The Epiphany (when the kings show up to see Baby Jesus) is traditionally celebrated on January 6, but it gets moved to the closest Sunday in the United States. There are 12 days from December 25- January 5 that lead up to the traditional Epiphany. These days are referred to as the “12 days of Christmas”, but because the Epiphany moves around, there are rarely exactly 12 days.

In conclusion, we move back to Ordinary time after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which moves, but is traditionally celebrated on January 13. However, many, including the Pope, celebrate through the Presentation on February 2. Man, it is no wonder that people are confused!

So, the big question- when should you take down your tree? I hear of a lot of Catholic families that leave up their Christmas tree until the Epiphany, but leave out their nativity sets through The Presentation. Of course, every family needs to find what works for them.

Here is a Liturgical Christmas Cheat Sheet with Dates and Information (which has now been updated thanks to a very awesome reader comment)

~December 24 –Christmastide or Christmas Season begins at the first Christmas Vigil Mass.

~December 25 –Birth of Jesus.

~December 25 to January 1 (Octave of Christmas) the 8 days of Christmas that we feast and celebrate.

~January 1 -Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Holy Day of Obligation) Also the Feast of the Circumcision (Jesus’ circumcision and naming 8 days after His birth –Genesis 17:10-12).

~December 25 through January 5 –“Twelve Days of Christmas” that lead up to Epiphany (because date of Epiphany moves from year to year there are not always exactly 12 days).

~Twelfth Night –night before Epiphany.

~January 6 (or closest Sunday) –Epiphany –Three Kings arrive to see baby Jesus (usually moved to the closest Sunday in U.S.)

~Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (date changes, but is never before the Feast of the Epiphany)

~The day after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we return to ordinary time – green.

~February 2 -Presentation of the Lord, also referred to as Candlemas, is about Mary’s presentation in the temple for Purification.  Presentation of Jesus to Simeon (and profecy of Simeon) also occurred, but ritual was about the mother.  (The Vatican leaves the tree and nativity up until February 2nd.  Many families and Churches celebrate Christmas up to this date.  Note that December 25 through February 2 is 40 days.  Also, see “Churching of Women” for more information on blessing for new mothers).

Hope this clears up some confusion! If you feel like I forgot something, feel free to share it kindly in the comments. Keep in mind that different rites and different countries have different traditions, so feast days can vary.

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Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I just have one little point to share: Jesus’ circumcision and naming would have been when he was 8 days old, in keeping with Mosaic law (see Genesis 17:10-12). In fact, in the Traditional calendar, the feast day we now celebrate as Mary, Mother of God is the Feast of the Circumcision. What we commemorate with Candlemas (Feb. 2) was about Mary’s presentation in the temple for Purification, another Mosaic custom. The presentation of Jesus to Simeon did happen at the same time, but this ritual was about the mother (and is something that Catholic moms can celebrate after a new baby, too — look up the “Churching of Women”).

  2. My husband spent a good bit of time yesterday morning proving to me that yesterday was not a day of abstinence, lol…if I had been keeping up with my email I would have seen this earlier! We leave our nativity up until Feb. 2. too. I started doing this when I heard the vatican did…for one thing, I don’t put the wisemen out until Epiphany, so I like to have some time to have the whole thing up! 🙂

  3. This means we’re exempt from abstaining from meat on Fridays and the such.

    Oh dear, I wish I had got this email yesterday! I have to say that my tinned tuna did look a bit sad next to my Protestant husband’s turkey and ham. 🙂

    Thank you for this interesting post, and also to Rose for explaining the two different Presentations in the Temple.

  4. Thanks Lacy! I love to read your posts! I think I’ll leave my nativity up until February 2nd also… and I’ll be reposting this on my facebook! Lots of wonderful information.

  5. Margaret O'Grady says:

    Hi Lacy,
    I enjoy checking your website for ideas and information. Thanks for all that you do to educate Catholic moms. I put the information in a little different format that may be helpful.
    God bless

    Christmas Season Dates and Information

    ~December 24 –Christmastide or Christmas Season begins at the first Christmas Vigil Mass, usually Christmas Eve Mass.
    ~December 25 –Birth of Jesus.
    ~December 25 to January 1 (Octave of Christmas) the 8 days of Christmas that we feast and celebrate.
    ~January 1 -Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Holy Day of Obligation) Also the Feast of the Circumcision (Jesus’ circumcision and naming 8 days after His birth –Genesis 17:10-12).
    ~December 25 through January 5 –“Twelve Days of Christmas” that lead up to Epiphany (because date of Epiphany moves from year to year there are rarely 12 days).
    ~Twelfth Night –night before Epiphany.
    ~January 6 (date changes) –Epiphany –Three Kings arrive to see baby Jesus (usually moved to the closest Sunday in U.S.)
    ~Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (date changes, but is never before the Feast of the Epiphany)
    ~The day after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we return to ordinary time – green.
    ~February 2 -Presentation of the Lord, also referred to as Candlemas, is about Mary’s presentation in the temple for Purification. Presentation of Jesus to Simeon also occurred, but ritual was about the mother. (The Vatican leaves the tree and nativity up until February 2nd. Many families and Churches celebrate Christmas up to this date. Note that December 25 through February 2 is 40 days. Also, see “Churching of Women” for more information on blessing for new mothers).

  6. Wonderful info, thank you for taking the time to post it for us =)

  7. Thank you for putting all of that info in one post! I’ve heard or read bits of it, but putting it all together makes it easier to understand. My only complaint? Why doesn’t the Church give us a homily or two on the liturgical season, with all of the definitions about Christmas & Advent? Merry Christmas and happy new year to you & yours!

  8. Lacy,

    Great overview of the confusion of the season, and when the different significant events occur therein. One note of discrepancy I’d offer is on the nature of the Octave. Only the Easter Octave extends the solemnity; in the Christmas Octave, the next 7 days are not solemnities (except January 1st, the Mother of God). Meat abstention (or some suitable sacrifice) is therefore still required, as only solemnities get dispensations:

    Can. 1251 — Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

  9. We went caroling last night and some responded nicely but we got some weird looks and some rudely opened then closed doors in our faces from others. I shudder to think how folks would respond if we went caroling on Feb 2! 🙂 But we will keep our decor up til then. One of the blessings of having a fake tree.

  10. Thanks for all this great info! I had no idea that the Vatican still had the tree and nativity out on Feb.2!

  11. Thanks for sharing this! I found it very helpful. I forgot about it being feasting time and thus no fasting! Ha! I’ll have to remember that for next year. 🙂
    God Bless,

  12. I just learned that we are not exempt from abstaining during the Christmas Octave. Please read what Father Z wrote in regards to abstaining ( he too thought it was fine, but just posted he was wrong)
    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/12/quaeritur-friday-penance-in-the-octave-of-christmas-revisited/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wdtprs%2FDhFa+%28Fr.+Z%27s+Blog+-+What+Does+The+Prayer+Really+Say%3F%29

    • Lol! Well, if Father Z was wrong, then I’m not going to feel bad about mis-understanding. 😉 I took it out of there. Thanks for the link.

  13. We like to leave our decorations up until Candlemas as well – and since this is the day we traditionally bless liturgical candles for the church year, a nice family idea is to bring a couple of candles from home to be blessed at Mass. Lighting the newly blessed candles at home helps with that empty feeling the house has when the tree and all the decorations are put away.

  14. Thanks for this post I teach second grade CCD and have 30 children, I can’t tell you how much you website and your ideas have helped me out. YOU are the best. congratulations on your new home and your beautiful nw baby!

  15. Thanks Lacy! I enjoyed this post immensely! It’s been a season of learning & sharing that knowledge… I reposted your info about Christmas & look forward to reading more…

  16. Dear lacy,
    I want to say: Happy New Year to you and your fam.
    I realy injoy your idea’s and cooking web-side.
    But what most of the Christain don’t know, is that King Jesus is born on the day of the Trumpet. the 1th of september. The Shepers watch there flooks by night. It must have been summer or the end of the summer.
    Even in Israel winter start in september, and when it is cold/winter the flooks stay indoors. they go out again in the Summer.

    King Jesus told me Himself with His Word/Bible that it is on this day. the 1th of September. Also He show it me true the Word/Bible (according to the Jews people, that the first day of the Earth as been made on the 1th of September. That is why the New Year of the Jews/ Israel is on the 1th of September). Pascha start in mar./april, but the Jews had to leave the 1th of September alway’s as the New Nex Year. 25 is the birthday of an pagan- thing. King Constantijn, pull down the semiramiss & nimrod idol wordship and transform there tempels in the Church’s of today. The worship was in processie walking on the street with a half human half fish female, and have been transform in Mother Maria and Child Jezus it is still the same worship only Mother Maria became Head of the Church and Child Jesus. Jesus went on the Cross when He was 33 years of age. He stand- up after 3 day and nights and is a growing up Man.
    Maria bow down for Him when He arise from dead. She bow down for her King. King Jesus is know the Head of all Church’s. Maria could not do nothing, even she had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. The Holy Spirit is THE HEAD MOTHER OF ALL CHURCH’S, BUT MARIA WAS AND IS HER GOOD FESSEL. THe Clean Church’s OF GOD with no spot or rinkel. From a simple person to a Head Mother, God Bless Her Name. But the church has to follow King Jesus and be spotless like Her. And go in every thing for Peace. Not human thinking but King Jesus and the Holy Spirit thinking. And Blessing the Saints in the past and the one who do the work of God now, spotless. Not looking for him/herself but God. King Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus Said: With out Me, you can do nothing. Jesus is King.

    This is a piece of information i want to give you. I hope you don’t mind. Have a Blessed New Year saint Lacy. when you have take Jesus as your King and and Saver and your bab. You are holy. because King Jesus Light shine’s in you. When your work is good you become more blessed, but when Christ inter you,( your body/temple) you Become holy, and you are already a saint in life. Paul say’s pray for oure Saint he was alive. He called himself saint, so you are already one. when your dead you can do nothing your work has end. your work in live that matter. if the Holy Spirit life is you, She is Holy, so you must becalled holy, because She dwells is you and you are Her Child like Maria. ps 8: 4, 5, 6. proverbs 8 :15 ,16-20,21, the birth of the Lord Jesus in Heaven 8: 22-30 is constanly at his side, I was filled with delight day afther day–35. 36 but those who fail to find me (the world) harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”” Provebs 3: 13 wisdom, She is more than silver,She is more than Gold,15 She is more than rubies, nothing you can compare with HER,16 Long life is in HER Right Hand in HER Left hand are Riches and HONOR,17 HER WAY’S ARE PLEASANT WAY’S AND HER PATHS ARE PEACE. SHE IS A TREE OF LIFE TO THOSE WHO TAKE HOLD OF HER;THOSE WHO HOLD HER FAST WILL BE BLESSED.

    IN POVERBS 3: 19 YOU SEE WHAT GOD THE FATHER HAS DONE. HE LAID THE EARTH’S FOUNDATIONS.ECT. BY KNOWLEDGE, NOT BY WISDOM, HE ALREADY HAVE THAT BUT KNOW HE RULE WITH WHAT HE KNOWS, KNOWLEGE THE WATERY AND DEPTHS WERE DIVIDED ECT.

    THAN HE TALK TO MANKIND ABOUT WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE.

    I DON’T KNOW WHY I WRITE THIS DOWN, BUT BE BLESSED WITH IT.

    LOVE & PEACE FOR ALL THE YEAR TO COME, SAINT lACY

  17. Father Omar says:

    Permit me to clarify that the Feast of Epiphany is not universally a movable Feast. In fact, in many countries, such as Spain and Italy, as well as in Latin America, Epiphany is kept on the 6th of January.

    Why in the United States Epiphany was made a movable date is beyond me; such determinations weaken the universal observance of feasts. In the same fashion, changing the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord from Thursday is a travesty. The Ascension on the fortieth day after the Paschal Feast is the biblical basis for the devotional practice of novenas, since from the Ascension to Pentecost the Apostles and the Mother of God remained in united prayer and on the day of Pentecost the Spirit was poured from heaven upon them. All the reasons I have heard for the change are shallow at best. I ask myself, what is this compulsion to make changes?

    So, in the united States we do not have an incarnate, in the world chance to live the twelve days of Christmas, or the novena in anticipation of Pentecost, not in real days, anyway. And yet, the liturgical life of the Church is ment to sanctify Chronological time, discovering kyros in the very days we live.. Maybe, some day we will come to our senses!

    Fr. Omar

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  20. Anthony Langford says:

    I wish our secular society realises that Christmas does not start sometime around Halloween and finish on Boxing Day but does indeed start with the first Mass of Christmas and does not end till 2nd February.
    Oh well soon be Lent!

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