The Feast of Mary, Mother of God, concludes the celebration of the Octave of Christmas. Now, if you ask any person on the street (and most people in our Church), "How many days is Christmas?", you would probably get a variety of answers. Some would say, "Uh, just 1. December 25," others would say, "12, like in the song." A few people who have a bit more liturgical interest and training might say, "until the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus." (Note: That is one way of delineating the liturgical Christmas Season, but it is not the answer.)
No, the answer is in the title: The Octave. "The celebration of Easter and Christmas, the two greatest solemnities, continues for eight days, with each octave governed by its own rules." (General Norms of the Liturgical Calendar) The Octave of Christmas. 8 Days. Why An Octave?
It has often been said that Catholics know how to celebrate. The Church has a built-in pattern within the liturgical calendar that provides what man needs to celebrate the feasts of the year: times of preparation and penance building to major feasts that are prolonged, and multi-level feast days spread throughout the year. Rev. Pius Parsch sums it perfectly when he was writing about today’s feast, January 1, the Octave Day of Christmas:
Today is the octave or the eighth day after the feast of Christmas. In the spirit of the Church the great feasts of redemption should not be restricted to a single celebration but should continue on through a full week. Mother Church is a good psychologist; she understands human nature perfectly. When a feast comes, the soul is amazed and not quite prepared to think profoundly upon its mystery; but on the following days the mind finds it easy to consider the mystery from all sides, sympathetically and deeply; and an eighth day affords a wonderful opportunity to make a synthesis of all points covered. The octave of Christmas is not the best example because other feasts distract one from the Christmas theme; this octave day, therefore, takes on greater importance. Today for the last time the Church leads us to the crib at Bethlehem (The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume I, pp. 244-245).
The octave gives us time to impress upon our souls the mysteries, joys, and graces of the principal feasts of the Church year. So here's the thing. We can't leave our liturgical consciousness at the door of the church. The Liturgical Seasons are meant to inform the way we live our lives. We see what it looks like in Advent with the wreaths/candles at home and special Advent prayers. But with Christmas, we often fail at recognizing and celebrating the full feast. We celebrate December 25th and then forget about it. Growing up, I knew a family that opened one present per day throughout the octave. While not the most spiritual practice, it at least started to impress on the minds of their children that the celebration of the Lord's birth is so incredible and significant, it deserves a full 8 days of recognition. So, if you have not done something to celebrate and recognize the full octave of Christmas or Easter in the past, make a note for yourself for the future. Explore the internet (there are so many great traditions and spiritual practices). Be intentional about the culture you are forming in your household. And make it an authentically Catholic and liturgical culture.
Merry (Last Day of) Christmas! Do something special for Mary and Jesus today.