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On the 18th Day of Christmas

By Patricia Coll Freeman
December 31st, 2008
Catholic Anchor (www.catholicanchor.org)

For an Octave of eight days, twelve days, and even eighteen days, the Church takes Christmas far beyond December 25.

Anchorage, Ak (Catholic Anchor) - Based on the number of Christmas lights, decorated trees and stockings that already appear along storefronts and neighborhood streets, one might think Christmas began the day after Thanksgiving.

According to the Catholic Church, however, the Christmas season runs from Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, and ends, almost three weeks later, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 11.

Along the way, Christians commemorate the miracle of the nativity as well as the mysteries of Jesus’ infancy.


God with us

The celebrations on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25 highlight the central “Christmas mystery” – the Incarnation.

As one ancient hymn explains, “the Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal and the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.”

In short, “God is with us,” Father Ron Licayan of St. Mary in Kodiak said in a recent interview with the Anchor.

And there is particular importance in the fact that God was born into a human family, he said. Namely, we can join Christ eternally in the “family of God.”

Jesus even calls us “brothers and sisters,” Father Licayan added.

Fittingly, at the Kodiak parish, Christmas begins with a “family Mass” on Christmas Eve. Then during the weekend of the feast of the Holy Family (celebrated Dec. 28), the church hosts a Christmas party for the whole parish family.


Marking Jesus’ infancy

As the season continues, Christians mark important moments in Jesus’ infancy. These include his circumcision on the eighth day after his birth and Epiphany, when the three Wise Men arrived on the twelfth day to adore Jesus.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus’ circumcision signifies his incorporation into Abraham’s descendants and into the people of the covenant.

And Epiphany, explained Father Licayan, is the “revelation of Jesus to the whole world,” which is symbolized by three pagan Magi.

The Baptism of the Lord (Jan. 11) is the official closing of Christmas as the church begins to reflect on Christ’s public life.

Throughout the full 18 days of Christmas, area churches will visibly and audibly reflect the season.

Priests’ vestments are white or gold to signify the celebration of Christ as the light of the world.

A special white candle – the Christ candle – is lit in the sanctuary to further illustrate the point, and Christmas-themed hymns are sung until Jan. 11.


Christmas reminders

Throughout the full 18 days of Christmas, area churches will visibly and audibly reflect the season.

Priests’ vestments are white or gold to signify the celebration of Christ as the light of the world.

A special white candle – the Christ candle – is lit in the sanctuary to further illustrate the point, and Christmas-themed hymns are sung until Jan. 11.


More than 12 days

So what of the 12 days of Christmas? According to some sources, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was a Jesuit catechism song for young Catholics who lived during the English persecutions of Catholics that began in the late 1500s.

Designed as coded messages, each of the items listed in the song – such as partridges in a pear tree and golden rings – secretly signified elements of the faith.

Three French hens, for example, stood for the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. “Six geese a-laying” meant the six days of creation. “Seven swans a-swimming” were the seven sacraments, and so on.

While many traditions — both popular and liturgical — point to the religious nature of Christmas, Father Licayan lamented that the wider culture is often a distraction.

“It’s buy this, buy that, then Santa comes,” he said.

Many forget that at the first Christmas, “it was silent night, it was holy night,” he added.

The 18 days of Christmas are an opportunity to reflect on how God sent his only Son into the world, Father Licayan said, so humankind would “think like Christ and live our lives like Christ.”

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