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Making the Most of the Christmas Season (liturgically)

Raul Espericueta
Written By Raul Espericueta
On Dec, 29 2021
6 minute read

The History of Christmas


As you may imagine, the day and time of Jesus’ birth was not accompanied by a birth announcement or a social media post. In the early years of Christianity, the main celebration was Easter, and it wasn’t until the fourth century that Christmas even became a thing. That’s when Pope Julius I chose a date and named the holiday we know as Christmas the “Feast of the Nativity”. By the end of the sixth century, the celebration of the birth of Christ had spread in some parts of what is now Europe.


The word Christmas comes from the old English term, Cristes maesse, meaning “Christ’s mass”. In the third century, Christian chronographers (recorders of historical information) believed that the creation of the world took place at the spring equinox – thought to be around March 25. Nine months from March 25 (the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb) to December 25 resulted in the birth of Christ. In the sixth century, the Church set both Christmas and the Epiphany as feast days on December 25 and January 6, respectively, and the 12 days of Christmas was instituted, better known as the Christmas season.


Advent is the beginning of the Church Liturgical Calendar and marks the time of preparation for the coming of Jesus into the world as an infant. The Advent season ends and the Christmas season begins on December 24, lasting three weeks.


The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated the Sunday after Christmas day. The Church celebrates this feast day to highlight the importance of family as the nucleus with Mary, Joseph and Jesus as our model so all families can aspire to live the way they lived. 


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The Epiphany is also celebrated during the Christmas season. Epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning “revelation from above”. This feast day commemorates the revelation that Jesus is God’s Son. Tradition associates it to the journey of the Three Wise Men who visited baby Jesus and brought Him gifts of gold (kingship), frankincense (divinity) and myrrh (humanity)


The baptism of Jesus is celebrated within the context of the Christmas season because of baptism’s close relationship with birth and infancy. In 1955, the Church assigned the feast of the baptism of our Lord to January 13, and soon after moved the celebration to the Sunday after the Epiphany. 


Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the feast of the Lord's baptism in a homily:

“Jesus shows His solidarity with us, with our efforts to convert and to be rid of the selfishness, to break away from our sins in order to tell us that if we accept Him in our lives, He can uplift us and lead us to the heights of God the Father.  And Jesus solidarity is not, as it were, a mere exercise of mind and will.  Jesus truly immersed Himself in our human condition, lived it to the end, in all things save sin, and was able to understand our weakness and frailty. For this reason, He was moved to compassion, He chose to “suffer with” men and women, to become a penitent with us. This is God’s work which Jesus wanted to carry out: the divine mission to heal those who are wounded and give medicine to the sick, to take upon Himself the sin of the world.” 

(Homily on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 2013, BENEDICT XVI)


A Christmas Meditation


To aid your journey in this Christmas season, consider praying with one of these three Nativity Scene Meditations: 


    1. Imagine you’re a journalist sent to chronicle the nativity scene for an Instagram story. Your job is to show the world what’s really happening in the scene, and you only have one minute to get your point across. How would you cover the story? What aspect of the manger scene would you highlight? What music would you play in the background? How would you answer some important questions about what’s really going on in that manger? Remember, the world is not fully aware and the idea that God would be born, in a stable no less, doesn’t really make sense. You are also given 15 seconds to say something that could really make a difference for faith to become real. What would you say?

    2. The manger scene holds many characters deliberately chosen by God. Think about each individual and angel present and have a conversation with each about their role and perspective. Here’s some of what you might hear from each of the characters; Let this take you further into a dialogue to grow your faith.

      Mary – Come near! Would you like to hold Him?... 

      –Go ahead and speak with Him. Tell Him what you want most and/or what hurts the most. He can understand, even though He’s little. 

      Shepherds – Remember, bring few worldly goods and things when you come near.  He speaks most clearly to those who travel light in life.  

      Ox and Lamb – As we are accustomed to come to the stable for nourishment, so you too can come for the Bread of Life. 

      Angels – The eyes of faith permit you to see us.  As we remained with our Lord always, we always remain with you! 

    3. Just about everything in our modern world seems to work at lessening the reality that God came to earth as a baby over 2000 years ago. What used to be the Christmas holiday is now just the holidays. If Christmas is no longer what we celebrate, then lost is the meaning of popular hymns like Silent Night or O Holy Night. And if we persist in removing the truth of God being born as a baby in a manger, then lost is the meaning of Joy to the World or Hark the Herald Angels Sing. And if we remove from history the impact of Emmanuel, no longer will we sing along to O Little Town of Bethlehem or It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. For truth be told, God came at night to make the darkness bright. Yet darkness wants to permeate again to hide THE infant child. For to a world that suffers, still He comes and comes again. Let every Christmas carol you hear or sing affirm your faith again. For every heart that beats for God is light that darkens night. 


May your Christmas Season be filled with a thousand blessings. And may God as an infant in your arms remind you that He is always near and wanting to be loved by you, that you may be saved by Him. 🙏🎄🎁

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