For the rest of the world, the Christmas season ends on December 25. But for Catholics, the real Christmas season is just getting started!
Which raises the question: When does the Christmas season officially end?
Turns out, the answer isn’t so simple.
That’s because there are actually three separate Christmas “seasons”: the Christmas octave, the liturgical Christmas season, and the traditional Christmastide season.
The Christmas Octave
An octave is an eight-day period in the Church to celebrate Christmas or Easter, starting with the actual feast day. The eighth day is considered the “octave day,” and the days in between are “within” the octave. Each day of the octave is treated like an actual day of the feast and is celebrated as such.
Therefore, the Octave of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and ends on January 1, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Liturgical Christmas Season
The liturgical Christmas season is situated after the Advent season and before the beginning of Ordinary time. It begins with the Christmas Eve Vigil Masses and concludes with Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 8.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a handy calendar available on their website, with descriptions of each feast day of the liturgical Christmas season.
In the older tradition kept in the liturgical year of the Extraordinary Form of Mass, the whole “Christmastide” season lasts for forty days (corresponding to the forty days of Lent). It concludes on February 2 with Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of the Lord.
So the next time someone asks you when Christmas officially ends, you can tell them: It has three endings!