If you go by the standards of the world, the Christmas season begins long before Thanksgiving Day and ends on Christmas Day. The radio stations in Rhode Island played Christmas season beginning in early November and returned to their normal programming format on Dec. 26. The stores are already removing their Christmas displays and are advertising gifts, including cards and candy boxes, for Saint Valentine's Day.
This begs the question: When does the Christmas season officially begin and end? Since it is a holy season established by the Catholic Church and concerns the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus who is the Logos, the Word made incarnate, then the answer can only be found in the Church's "General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar".
General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar
IV. Christmas Season
32. Next to the yearly celebration of the paschal mystery, the Church holds most sacred the memorial of Christ's birth and early manifestations. This is the purpose of the Christmas season.
33. The Christmas season runs from evening prayer I of Christmas until the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January, inclusive.
34. The Mass of the vigil of Christmas is used in the evening of 24 December, either before or after evening prayer I.
On Christmas itself, following an ancient tradition of Rome, three Masses may be celebrated: namely, the Mass at Midnight, the Mass at Dawn, and the Mass during the Day.
35. Christmas has its own octave, arranged as follows:
a. Sunday within the octave is the feast of the Holy Family;
b. 26 December is the feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr;
c. 27 December is the feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist;
d. 28 December is the feast of the Holy Innocents;
e. 29, 30, and 31 December are days within the octave;
f. 1 January, the octave day of Christmas, is the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It also recalls the conferral of the holy Name of Jesus.
36. The Sunday falling between 2 January and 5 January is the Second Sunday after Christmas.
37. Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January, unless (where it is not observed as a holyday of obligation) it has been assigned to the Sunday occurring between 2 January and 8 January (see no. 7).
38. The Sunday falling after 6 January is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
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"The Church primarily celebrates Christmas from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of the Epiphany, which commemorates the manifestation of Christ as the Savior of the whole world (cf. Mt. 2:1-12). The Church has also traditionally celebrated Christmas for 40 days, culminating on the Feast of the Presentation a.k.a., ""candlemas" (Feb. 2). During this time, the birth of Christ is celebrated as one continuous festival. It is just as important to celebrate during the Christmas season as it is to prepare for Christ during Advent."
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Since Pope John Paul II, the Nativity scene at the Vatican remains in Saint Peter's Square from Christmas Eve on Dec. 24 till the Feast of the Presentation on February 2.
The Liturgical Season of Advent by Fr. William Saunders
"The liturgical season of Advent marks the time of spiritual preparation by the faithful before Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30). It spans four Sundays and four weeks of preparation, although the last week of Advent is usually truncated because of when Christmas falls. (For instance, this year, the fourth Sunday of Advent is obviously on Sunday, and then that evening is Christmas Eve.)" Link
UPDATE: comments received concerning this post
Kristi Kille at 11:08am December 27
I celebrate the Birth of Christ all the way through the traditional date it ends---Feb. 2nd., Candlemas Day!! Most people don't know that that's the traditional ending of Christmas!!!
Rebecca Mansergh Long at 11:42am December 27
Kristi, that's what I do too, but I need a source for the skeptics, do you have one?
Kristi Kille at 12:13pm December 27
Hi, Rebecca. Perhaps this web site, that I just found, is a good source. It's definately interesting!!! http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=787
God bless you!!!
Laura G. Broussard at 12:23pm December 27
I'd never heard of Candlemas until a few days ago. We always celebrate Christmas until Twelfth Night (Epiphany), and that's when Mardi Gras starts!
Kristi Kille at 12:39pm December 27
Candlemas Day is also the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I don't think I've heard of Candlemas Day until within the last 15 years or so. It wasn't something I grew up with.
Rebecca Mansergh Long at 2:52pm December 27
Thanks Kristi, here's another article on Candlemass you might like
Désirée Caron at 7:20pm December 27
At our house the nativity scene and wreaths stay up until Candlemas (Feb. 2nd--also my birthday!), although the tree comes down at the end of the Feast of the Epiphany.
Krista Potter at 9:51pm December 27
I like that idea--January seemed like a drag, but not any more! Too bad my family won't go along with this. But I know that the real Von Trapp family did this (check out their liturgical celebrations book found in the EWTN document library!)
Emily Eidem at 10:41pm December 27
"Candlemas is also the day that Christmas is put away, since this is the last day we see Christ as an infant in the Gospel reading." - from 'Celebrating the Faith in the Home - Advent and Christmas for the Christian Family' by Teresa Zepeda and Laurie Gill. This is a great spiral bound sourcebook. They also have one for the lent and Easter seasons. It's at http://www.emmanuelbooks.com/product_detail.cfm?ID=491
Jessica A. Condon at 11:26pm December 27
I JUST started getting my family to leave things up until the Epiphany, lol! I always loved Christmas and celebrated it until Jan. 6th but my family is a bunch of scrooges! :oP
Fatherhector Perez at 11:29pm December 27
Fr. Gueranger following Tradition says that there are 40 Days of Christmas. In Rome all churches keep up their Nativity Scenes till the day after Candlemas (Feb. 2). Since Poep John Paul Ii started having the outdoor Nativity scene, and especially now with Benedict XVI, all the nativity scenes in St. Peter's are kept up. The Presentation is the end of the Christmas cycle while the season after the Epiphany or "ordinary time" are part of the Easter cycle and just overlap but do not contradict each other. So enjoy the Octave, the Twelve Days till the Epihany, and the Forty Days of Christmas! We have to be counter cultural. I was enjoying awonderful Christmas concert on Dec. 25, ca. 11pm when all of the sudden my XM-Sirius radion cut offf to some sports station. The Christmas stations were all gone in a flick. SO now I listen to my CD's - till Candlemas, at least. Marry Christmas!
Kristi Kille at 4:24pm December 28
Thank you, Rebecca, for the information!!! Thank you, also Father, for the info!!! God bless!!!