While much of the world celebrates Christmas the entire month of December, if not earlier, the liturgical Christmas season begins on Christmas Day, December 25, 2023, and concludes on January 8, 2024. So keep playing your joyful Christmas music and leave up your Christmas tree and decorations until the celebration of Epiphany!
Table of Contents
- Start and End of the Catholic Christmas Season
- Preparing for the 2023 Catholic Christmas Season
- Octave of Christmas
- 12 Days of Christmas
- FAQ: Catholic Season of Christmas
When does the Catholic Christmas season start and end?
In the United States in 2022-2023, the Catholic Christmas season begins with the Christmas Eve Vigil Masses, celebrating the Nativity of the Lord, and ends on Sunday, January 8, the Sunday Mass celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord. In 2022 – 2023, the Catholic Christmas season will be 14 days long.
Epiphany has historically been celebrated on January 6, but in the U.S., Epiphany is celebrated annually on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8.
Preparing for the 2023 Catholic Christmas Season
Advent is the season that precedes Christmas, beginning about four weeks before the Nativity. On the first Sunday of Advent in 2022, Pope Francis encouraged us to prepare our hearts daily for the coming of Christ. He said,
Let us bear this in mind: God is hidden in our life, he is always there – he is concealed in the commonest and most ordinary situations in our life. He does not come in extraordinary events, but in everyday things; he manifests himself in everyday things. He is there, in our daily work, in a chance encounter, in the face of someone in need, even when we face days that seem grey and monotonous, it is right there that we find the Lord, who calls to us, speaks to us and inspires our actions.Pope Francis (Angelus on November 27, 2022)
As you prepare your heart for the Christmas season, notice the everyday, common, ordinary moments. How does He invite you into relationship with Him?
Read more: The Complete Guide to the Season of Advent
The Octave of Christmas
What is the Octave of Christmas?
The Octave of Christmas includes eight days of feast days and holy celebrations in the Church, beginning on Christmas Day and concluding on New Year’s Day.
|December 25||Nativity of the Lord|
|December 26||Feast of St. Stephen|
|December 27||Feast of St. John the Evangelist|
|December 28||Feast of the Holy Innocents|
|December 29||Feast of St. Thomas Becket|
|December 30||Feast of the Holy Family|
|December 31||Feast of St. Sylvester|
|January 1||Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God|
How to celebrate the Octave of Christmas?
- Attend Mass: within the Octave of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord (December 25) and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, are holy days of obligation in the Church.
- Pray: pray alongside the highlighted saints, the Holy Family, and Mary throughout the Octave of Christmas. On Hallow, you can pray with the Daily Saint or “search” for the saint and see what kinds of prayers and reflections are on the app!
- Learn about the saints: research the saints you don’t know as well and learn about their lives!
- Listen to Christmas music: the Christmas season isn’t over until the Sunday after Epiphany! Keep listening to your favorite hymns, and check out all the Christmas music on Hallow.
12 days of Christmas
What are the 12 days of Christmas?
The 12 Days of Christmas fall between two major Christian feasts: the Nativity on Christmas Day and Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6; in the U.S. Catholic Church, Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday after January 6 at Mass. The 12 Days build on the Octave of Christmas, which ends on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (New Year’s Day).
Made popular by the sixteenth-century secular “12 days of Christmas” carol, this celebratory 12-day term likely had pre-Christian roots, similar to the Advent wreath, that was adapted into the Christian season of Christmas.
Byran Cones of U.S. Catholic explains,
Like many Christian festivals, the roots of the Christmas season can be found in pre-Christian religions and folk customs. The date of Christmas, for example, is likely connected to an ancient multi-day Roman feast related to the winter solstice.
The “12 days” are probably an adaptation of the pre-Christian winter festivals of northern Europe, “Yule” among them. These celebrations helped ancient Europeans get through the longest nights of winter.Byran Cones (U.S. Catholic)
Tradition also holds that it likely took the Three Kings, or “Magi,” twelve days to journey to baby Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, was revealed to them when they arrived. We celebrate this revelation on Epiphany.
12 Days of Christmas in the Catholic Church
The 12 days include the feasts associated with the Octave and four additional celebratory days. In 2022-2023, the liturgical season of Christmas extends another three days until the Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2023.
The first day of Christmas is the Nativity of the Lord.
ALSO: Check out Hallow’s guide to Christmas prayers and blessings.
The second day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen, who died a martyr condemned unjustly.
The third day of Christmas is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist.
The fourth day of Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a day in which we remember all the innocent infants slain by King Herod as he looked for the newborn Messiah.
The fifth day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop of Canterbury and martyr.
The sixth day of Christmas celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.
The seventh day of Christmas is the Feast of (Pope) St. Sylvester and New Year’s Eve in the secular calendar.
The eighth day of Christmas is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and New Year’s Day.
The tenth day of Christmas is the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and the entire month of January is dedicated to His Holy Name!
The eleventh day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first person born in the United States to be canonized.
The twelfth day of Christmas is the day before Epiphany. We also celebrate St. John Neumann’s feast day on the twelfth day of Christmas (January 5).
FAQ: Catholic Season of Christmas
The Catholic Christmas season starts on the Nativity, December 25, 2023, and ends on January 8, 2023, the Sunday Mass celebration of the Epiphany.
The Octave of Christmas includes the eight days between Christmas Day and January 1, which is both the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and New Year’s Day.
The 12 Days of Christmas are the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany. The “12 Days” likely had pre-Christian roots, though the term was likely adapted to fit the Church calendar in celebration of the Nativity. Tradition also holds that the Three Kings’ journey to meet the baby Jesus was twelve days.
Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God – here on earth with us. The feast is also known as “Three Kings Day,” the day the Magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem.
Merry Christmas from our team at Hallow!