By Fr. Troy Richmond
In a culture where the commercial Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends the day after Christmas, we often forget that the Liturgical Season of Christmas is rich in meaning. We need to take time to contemplate the miracle of the Incarnation and the wonder of Christ’s birth. The 12 days of Christmas complete the story of Christmas (but not the Christmas Season) and celebrate both people and events that are significant to the Nativity of the Lord.
Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, celebrates the witness of St. Stephen, the first martyr to shed his blood for love of Christ. One may ask, “Why celebrate this martyr’s feast day so close to Christmas?” Stephen’s heroic sacrifice shines light on the fact that the Christ child born in the wood of the manger would die on the wood of the cross. To fully love Christ the newborn king, we must be willing to imitate the self-emptying love of Christ our crucified Lord.
The Sunday following Christmas celebrates the Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph and Mary (Dec. 29). As we look inside their home at Nazareth, we are reminded that our homes are to be places where Christ’s love dwells. The family is the domestic Church, united in prayer and bound in Christian love.
We begin the New Year and complete the Christmas Octave observing the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Jan.1). Let us resolve to do as Mary said at the wedding feast of Cana, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” We behold the beautiful truth that Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is the mother of the Church. She is our mother.
The 12 days of Christmas conclude as we celebrate the Epiphany (Jan. 5), also known as the Feast of the Kings, recalling the visit of the Magi to offer gifts to the newborn king. This feast reminds us that all of us are called to offer our lives as gifts pleasing to the Lord, surrendering all that we have and so that his life may more fully be lived in and through us.
Finally, the Christmas Season comes to a close as we honor the Baptism of Jesus (Jan.14). We not only look to the Baptism of the Lord, but give thanks for the gift of our own baptism, promising to live more fully the faith we have received and continuing along the path of discipleship in the new year.
As the day of Christmas has passed, many of us will soon be taking down our Christmas trees and Nativity sets. I encourage us to leave them up for a few more days as we continue to celebrate the wonder of Christ’s birth.
(Father Troy Richmond is pastor of St. James Parish in Washington.)