How to Make the Most of the Christmas Octave (& Season!)
Christmas is one of the most climactic times of our year. It opens the door, in a sense, to the rest of the Liturgical year. The Church has set it apart (along with Easter), on a higher plane than other feasts, to emphasize how important Jesus' birth truly is to the whole world. She has given this solemn celebration an "Octave" so that we, Her people, can celebrate and feel the importance of God becoming Man. An Octave means that for eight consecutive days we are to extend our celebration of Christmas Day. Starting with Christmas Day itself, it concludes with another solemn feast, January 1st, Mary, the Mother of God. The spiritual significance of Christmas is so important, that the Church does not even end the liturgical celebration of Christmas with the Octave. Instead, the season of Christmas follows until the feast of Baptism of our Lord.
Unfortunately, in our secularized world, Christmas ends the day it begins. The moment Thanksgiving concludes, we spend all our time "Christmasing'' in order to have it peak and end on December 25th. The Church presents a completely different approach. In order to live out the Christmas season fully, we must first enter into the season of Advent in order to incorporate it into our daily living. The four Sundays prior to Christmas set a crucial tone needed to prepare our hearts and homes for the coming of our Lord. Living Advent means entering into more intentional prayer and silencing many of the noises that distract us from contemplating the mystery of the Word made Flesh. The Church urges us to live our lives attuned to the Liturgy's lead. The Gloria is excluded from the Mass and there is a somber more reflective tone. Our days should be one of preparation both spiritually and physically, especially through the Sacraments. Maria von Trapp (from The Sound of Music) would call Christmas Eve, “Confession day,” illustrating the great appreciation she had for readying one’s soul for the splendor of Christmas day. Going to Confession during the season of Advent is a crowning act of preparing our hearts for the Birth of our Lord.
Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Jesus. For western minds, a birthday means giving gifts to the person whose birth we are celebrating. On this day and during this season, we should likewise be showering Jesus with gifts. We should be encouraging children (and all family members) to give something to Jesus rather than expect a plethora of gifts themselves. Participating in the Church's threefold Liturgies (Midnight Mass, Mass at Dawn, and Day Mass) is an excellent way to shower Jesus with gifts on his Birthday. Gifts can and should be given to one another as well, but temperately, and in the spirit of joy. Families should encourage all members, especially children, to make or purchase gifts for the other members of the family. It should be a mutual participation out of Love for Jesus to be generous with one another, rather than our culture’s tendency toward reinforcing selfishness.
Our celebration should continue in accord with the liturgical season of Christmas, all the way until the Baptism of our Lord. This year it is January 10, 2021. Also, the Church has filled the liturgical calendar with so many wonderful feast days that fall within the Christmas season. If possible, pick a few and find a special way to celebrate them. Be it with a special meal, game, prayer, or dessert. Some of these feasts/solemnities include:
- December 26 - St. Stephen, first martyr
- December 27 - St. John the Apostle and Evangelist
- December 28 - Holy Innocents, Martyrs
- December 29 - St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr
- January 1 - Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
- January 3 - The Most Holy Name of Jesus
- January 6 - Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
This season should set us apart. Our joy should be visibly apparent and cause others to question, even if interiorly, “why are they so happy?” Well then, why are we so happy? Why does the Church celebrate for so long? Because God, in His Infinite Mercy, would choose to redeem us by sending His only Son to be born of a Virgin Mother. “...For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16).” The intense love of our God should arouse immense joy within our hearts and souls. This too should be our deepest intention in giving Christmas gifts. Love wants to share. May our hearts slowly prepare the way for the coming of our Lord. Casting aside all sin and imperfection will pave the way for virtues to spring forth in our everyday life, particularly joy. Joy that Jesus, the Son of God, would become the Son of Man out of love for us sinners.
For additional resources for practically living out (within the home) Advent, Christmas, and all the Liturgical seasons, I highly recommend Maria von Trapp’s book: Around the Year with the von Trapp Family: https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/around-the-year-with-the-von-trapp-family
Also, for greater insight as to why Christmas is an Octave look here: https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/octave-christmas/