Monday, January 08, 2007

Does it still feel like Christmas to you?

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Perhaps it's just a reluctance to take down the tree and the lights this year. I've been doing some searching to find out exactly when Christmas ends, but the answer is not so simple as I expected it to be. The answer used to be pretty straightforward (if a bit confusing) as exemplified by Fortescue's notes on the liturgical year:

Christmastide runs from the first Vespers of Christmas to 13 January inclusive. This period comprises: (a) the Christmas season proper, which is from the first Vespers of Christmas to None inclusive of 5 January; (b) the Epiphany season, which runs from the first Vespers of the Lord's Epiphany to January 13 inclusive.

The earliest celebration was Epiphany (January 6), which was inclusive of the entire scope of the mysteries of the incarnation--the manifestation of the Word made flesh. Later, especially in the West, those mysteries began to be commemorated according to the historical realization (i.e., the annunciation, nativity, circumcision, purification). While the Eastern rites now mark a preliminary celebration of the nativity on December 25th, the Epiphany is still the focus of the Eastern rites. In many countries, the festivities associated with Christmas continue until Candlemas on February 2nd, which is the customary time to take down nativity displays. This is still the practice in Rome.

Epiphany is a part of the Christmas celebration in the same way that Ascension is a part of Easter. They have been historically and scripturally stuck together from the beginning. Both Christmas and Epiphany were octaves in the 1928 Prayer Book. The octave of Christmas Day (January 1) commemorated the circumcision of Christ since Jewish boys were circumcised eight days after they were born. The octave of the Epiphany (January 13th) commemorated the Baptism of Christ. The 1928 Prayer Book did not give a proper for that day, bet held the commemoration of Jesus' baptism on the following Sunday (the Second after the Epiphany).

According to the 1928 Prayer Book, we might say that Christmastide could theoretically last until January 20th. Of course, that Prayer Book does not give us an explicit statement about when Christmastide ends, although it is worth noting that the Office lectionary has propers assigned for each day through January 13th, but only until the next Sunday is reached. The Friday abstinence is dispensed only between Christmas Day and the feast of the Epiphany (see page li), but astonishingly not during the Easter season.

In the new Roman Missal and its revised calendar, the commemoration of Christ's baptism is moved from a fixed date on the octave of Epiphany (January 13th) to the First Sunday after the Epiphany. This is also the arrangement in the 1979 Prayer Book. However, the new Prayer Book is not quite clear about when Christmastide ends.

On page 31, it outlines a Christmas season (the traditional twelve days) and a new Epiphany season. Yet in the collects, Epiphany is not treated as a season at all. The collects are for Sundays "after the Epiphany." Of course, the collects before those are similarly described as "after Christmas Day."

Does the 1979 Prayer Book envision the Christmas season ending with the Epiphany or with the commemoration of the Lord's baptism? In the weekdays between the two, one may use either the collect and propers for the Epiphany or the Second Sunday after Christmas (see page 162 and 214). Is one allowed to choose whether Christmastide is over? and if so, how does that affect the observance of the Friday abstinence which is dispensed during the Christmas and Easter seasons (see page 17). Then again, what if you're in a 1928 BCP parish?

I realize I may be the only one in the world who is concerned about this.


Coppermouse Dolls said...

Umm, I know some people would like for Christmas to last all year long!;P

Anonymous said...

In his Opus Magnum, The Liturgical Year, the great Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B. states-"We apply the name Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2."

Fr. Christopher Cantrell SSC said...

I've a couple of parishioners from Germany who tell me their grandparents kept the decorations ujp until Candlemass - I've still got the Creche displayed at my house