Tree needles are covering the floor. The Wise Men are nearly
at the manger door. So just when do Catholics bring the
celebration of the Nativity of the Lord to a close and
return, quite literally, to ordinary time?
Some take the tree down on New Year's Day. Others pack away
the crèche with the arrival of the Magi on the Jan. 6
feast of the Epiphany (this year celebrated on Sunday, Jan.
8). But technically the liturgical season of Christmas isn't
over until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year
celebrated not on a Sunday - because of the way the calendar
falls - but on Monday, Jan. 9.
According to Father Paul deLadurantaye, diocesan secretary
for catechetics and sacred liturgy, the Baptism of the Lord
is included in the Christmas season because it is a
continuation of "the manifestation of the Word of God" - what
the Christmas season is all about.
Jesus' baptism is His "public manifestation," Father
deLadurantaye said - a manifestation that began privately to
shepherds on the feast of the Nativity of the Lord and the
Magi on the feast of the Epiphany.
Catholic homes usually leave Christmas decorations up until
at least the Epiphany, if not the Baptism of the Lord, Father
deLadurantaye said. If your tree is fading fast, however, the
Nativity scene could always stay out until the Christmas
season officially ends.
Though it isn't the official teaching of the Church, some
view Feb. 2, or the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, as
a suitable ending to the Christmas season. This reasoning
dates back to the "Law of Moses" when, in the Old Testament,
the firstborn sons were presented in a temple 40 days after
their birth and their mothers were purified, as outlined in
the Book of Leviticus.
But, said Father deLadurantaye, "We don't consider that the
Christmas season any longer."
"If you go back to prior to the (Second Vatican) Council
(and) the old calendars, yes, some churches did leave their
Nativity scenes up until the Presentation of the Lord, but
most of them took (them) down after the Epiphany or the
Most years, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the
Sunday following Jan. 6. But this year, according to the
current liturgical calendar, because that Sunday (Jan. 8) is
being used to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the
Baptism of the Lord falls to Jan. 9. Ordinary time begins
Next year, however, Jan. 6 falls on a Sunday. Epiphany is
celebrated that day, and the Baptism of the Lord is
celebrated the following Sunday, on Jan. 13.