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Christmas Lasts More Than A Day
CHRISTMAS LASTS MORE THAN A DAY
The liturgical texts for Christmas are among some of the most wonderful prayers of the Church."Today a new day dawns, the day of our redemption, prepared by God from ages past, the beginning of our never ending gladness".
This response, which comes from the Office of Readings for Christmas, sums up so well just what it is the Church celebrates during this season - the beginning of the mystery of salvation which had been God's plan from all eternity.
The second of the Christmas prefaces also expresses this concept powerfully and poetically:"Christ is your Son before all ages, yet now he is born in time. He has come to lift up all things to himself, to restore unity to creation, and to lead mankind from exile into your heavenly kingdom."
A high point of the Christmas celebrations is the reading of St John's prologue: "The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory---", the Gospel reading for Mass on Christmas day.
Many of the Mass prayers use the image of light: "Father, you make this holy night radiant with the splendour of Jesus Christ our light. We welcome him as the true light of the world" (Opening Prayer, Mass at Midnight).
This Christmas image of light, of night giving way to day, is reinforced by the sequences of Masses for Christmas. While there are two different Easter Masses, one for the Vigil and another for Easter Sunday, four different sets of Mass texts are provided for Christmas - the Vigil Mass, Mass at Midnight, Mass at Dawn and Mass during the day. It is important that the texts chosen fit the actual time of the celebration as they include images corresponding to the gradual movement from darkness into daylight.
Christmas is not only a celebration of Christ's birth. It is a time for remembering also the revelation of Christ to the Jewish shepherds and to the Gentile magi, his baptism by John in the Jordan and his changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. In all these saving events, we know that "the Word is made flesh and dwells among us".
All this cannot be fitted into one day. Despite what the commercial world might try to suggest, Christmas celebrations are not over and done with as the sun sets on December 25 and the shops prepare for "post-Christmas" sales!
Christians have always kept Christmas as a season from 25 December until the Epiphany on January 6th. Our current liturgical calendar extends the celebration until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Sunday 11 January in 2004).
That means keeping the party going through the octave of Christmas, which includes the feasts of St Stephen (Boxing Day), St John (27th), the Holy Family (28th) and the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (1st January), and beyond. Lots of feasts, plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Leave the Christmas tree and decorations up, keep singing Christmas carols and continue spreading Christmas goodwill.