On Monday night and Tuesday we will begin the joyful celebration of Christmas. And we should remember that Christmas Day is only the beginning, not the end of the Christmas season.
The Church celebrates the Christmas season from Christmas Eve until the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated this year on Sunday, January 13. And in between these glorious days, there are a number of sacred times that bring out the full splendor and joy of this time. Complementing Christmas Day as high points of the season are three other great occasions: the Solemnities of Epiphany and Mary, the Mother of God and the Feast of the Holy Family. Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas and recalls the veneration of Jesus and the Holy Family by the Magi, a first promise of the gathering of all peoples to Jesus. The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God fitting begins the new year with the guidance of Mary, who is Jesus’ mother and our mother. And the Feast of the Holy Family occurs on the first Sunday after Christmas, both to honor the first family of the new age of grace and to consecrate every family so that our homes and towns become new Bethlehems and new Nazaraths, welcoming Jesus to this world.
In the four days right after Christmas are also the feasts of: St. John the Apostle the youngest apostle; St. Stephen the first Christian martyr; the Holy Innocents, the first children to be consecrated to Christ through their deaths in Bethlehem; and St. Thomas a Becket who courageously defended the freedom of the Church in the twelfth century. It is ironic that three of these four days involve people who were killed for Christ and His Church. But their inclusion in this time reflects the fact that Christian joy and hope does not lead to mere contentment, but rather leads us, for the sake of the Gospel, to oppose the false joys and cynicism of world. Following these days are the memorials of St. Pope Sylvester I (December 31) and Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (January 2) who in the fourth century strongly defended the central truth that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. On January 3, the Church then venerates the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the name given by the angel. We then celebrate the memorials of two early American saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and John Neumann (January 4 and 5) and the great early Dominican leader St. Raymond of Penafort (January 7.)
All of these glorious days help us conclude and begin each year with a sense of joyful and courageous renewal as we welcome Jesus into our lives and bring His love to the world.