Christmastide (6): These Forty Days

Dom. Prosper Guéranger, on the History of Christmas:

We apply the name Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seems able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels [Lk ii. 10] on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. (1)

It is a regular feature of American Christmas practices to begin the celebration of “Christmas” right after Thanksgiving and conclude ‘the holiday’ right after the 25th, as New Years Eve and New Years Day have their own gaiety (wholly separate from Christmas), and already the commercial machine is moving us towards Valentine’s Day. The lights and holly will come down, our trees will be discarded by the roadside, and the Twelve Days of Christmas will be nothing more than a carol sung before Christmas — to say nothing of Christmas days leading us to the Epiphany, when we welcome the Magi to the Bethlehem crib. How strange were these travelers from the East to arrival and find St. Joseph, the Virgin, and the Christ child no longer in Bethlehem and none to adore and lavish those most costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Moreover, the current Church calendar will already switch over to the green vestments of Ordinary Time as early as January 9, only one day subsequent the Baptism of the Lord.

I wish we could resist these restless, impulsive actions and stay in Bethlehem a while longer, nestled betwixt the oxen who knows its master and the donkey who know its master’s manger [Isa I. 3], and contemplate with the Virgin Mary the mystery of her Son’s Nativity.

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Christmastide (6): These Forty Days