The new year is us upon us, and it is still the Christmas season. We are still celebrating the amazing gift of Christ come in the flesh, the Incarnation. Often people take down their Christmas decorations soon after Christmas day, yet the Christmas season does not end until the celebration of the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, January 9th, 2012. That means there are 16 days of Christmas. The traditional 12 days were intended to mark the period from Christmas to Epiphany (traditionally Jan. 5th), however Epiphany is a movable feast here in the U.S. and as such is placed on the Sunday following January 6th, thus making it 16 days this year. So, you will notice our Christmas decorations in the Church will continue, and I encourage you to do the same in your homes. Pragmatism, however, may dictate taking some decorations down such as the Christmas tree. I know that mine is already getting very dry and is ready to find a new place out of the house.
The date for today's solemnity, Mary, Mother of God, concludes the octave or eight days of Christmas. We have a long tradition of celebrating large feasts with special devotion for eight days. Today, we have simplified the number of these feasts and focus on the biggest ones: Christmas and Easter. Our Jewish heritage did this same thing by extending the celebrations of their liturgical year, the "Feast of Tabernacles" and "Dedication of the Temple" are two fine examples. Constantine followed this tradition by celebrating the consecration of basilicas for eight days. This approach of emphasizing eight days helps us to meditate more, amidst all our distractions, on the mysteries being celebrated.
Whatever your plans during this Christmas season, let us all remember with devotion the reality that God emptied himself in his Son to become one like us. This gift is wondrous indeed. May you spend time pondering on this great gift to us. May the mystery of God's love in this season be poured into your heart to begin a new year full of faith and hope.
Fr. William Holtzinger