Christmas Ain't Over Until The Old Man Sings!
By now, Christmas Day has come and gone – and we might just be slowly recovering from the non-stop barrage of Christmas sales, and presents, and food, and TV shows, and… you get the gist of things. The fact that Christmas is coming soon bombards our senses from at least November – though I’ve been told it could start as early as September in the Philippines!
Usually in the lead up to Christmas, a lot of people get all excited, decorating their houses and buying gifts, humming carols as they go about their day. However, after Christmas Day (and perhaps the lie-in on Boxing Day), most people are quite over and done with Christmas, and the previously-persistent strains of Christmas carols become absent nearly overnight.
Some of you might be thinking, ‘Well, hold on – isn’t there a carol called the Twelve Days of Christmas where 364 gifts get given?’ – and I say, well spotted (and did you actually calculate that number?). Indeed, our current tendency to cram all that Christmas cheer into one day, and have it spill into those days before Christmas has somewhat disconnected us from how the celebration of Christmas was traditionally prolonged to include the days after it.
If one were to look at the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, Christmas Day is one of the most important feasts of the Church (alongside Easter Day). As such, the Church adds an octave to the feast, which are seven extra days (in addition to Christmas Day) where the joy of Christmas continues on – because, let’s face it, one day is definitely not enough to pack in all the joys of Christmas.
In addition to that, the Church also adds another four days – which altogether make the Twelve Days of Christmas, ending on the Feast of the Epiphany, on which the Gospel account of the visit of the Magi is read. On this day, we contemplate on the revelation of Christ to the Magi, at His baptism in the River Jordan, and at the wedding of Cana – and it is rather rewarding to make the connections between these three events in the life of our Lord: God-with-us, true God and true Man.
However, that’s not all, because the Church extends the joys of Christmas over another 28 days – making 40 days of Christmastide! Such fun that we get to celebrate the birth of our Lord for 40 days, which reminds us of His first 40 days on Earth as an infant. The end of these 40 days is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord (also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary) – where these two episodes take place in the Temple of Jerusalem, as per the precepts of the Law of Moses.
At this point, you might be thinking, ‘This is all fine and dandy, but who is this mythical old man whose singing brings Christmas to an end? You haven’t even mentioned him thus far!’ I say unto you, this old man comes in now, for it is Simeon, that man whom God had promised he shall see the Messiah before he died! And his song? None other than the ‘Nunc Dimittis’, which goes:
Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
This song of Simeon is sung nightly at Compline (also known as Night Prayer) by all those praying the Divine Office of the Church, the official daily prayer of the Church. Such is the esteem the Church holds for these inspired words uttered by Simeon.
Therefore, don’t be too quick to stop listening to Christmas carols, or take down the Christmas decorations too quickly! It is still Christmas after all, even if it is late January! I think this approach is especially helpful in these times of pandemic where we must practice social distancing, and may be prevented from visiting shielding family and friends in person.
Take this time to rediscover fun traditions of Christmastide that you might not have previously. If you have a Nativity scene, have the Magi wander around the house from Christmas to Epiphany! Why not bake and eat one of the many versions of King Cake for Epiphany – or chalk the lintel of your door with blessed chalk on this day too? Cook and eat crepes and pancakes (or even tamales!) for the feast of the Presentation, and give baby Jesus a whimsical outfit on this day!
There are many more traditions of Christmastide out there that you can explore and pick up – as long as it reminds you of the joy of the season of the birth of our Saviour and Redeemer, Christ the Lord. Merry Christmas!