The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) “The 8 Days of Christmas” PDF Version
The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas 2017)
Whenever my family spent Christmas at home in Millarville, Alberta, we would often spend the days after Christmas at either the local skating rink (despite us being horrible hockey players) or tobogganing down the hill that stood above our local school, which was actually incredibly dangerous and did result in me hitting my head and having a day marked by amnesia, but that is a story for another time…
A vivid memory I have of these post-Christmas outdoor activities was how we would drive by many of our neighbours’ homes, and to my surprise, I would see that many of them had already took down their Christmas trees and had them laying in the snow in their front yard awaiting disposal. This always struck me as very strange as the understanding in my family home was that Christmas had only just begun with the celebration of Christmas Mass on the eve of December 24th and so it was proper that the Christmas tree, Nativity scene and other festive decorations in our home would remain until we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, and how we even kept the Nativity scene up in our home until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.
This observation is not to cast judgement on my neighbours or others for abandoning their Christmas tree the day after December 25th. Rather, it just seemed so odd that they would stop celebrating Christmas when the festivities of our Lord’s birth had only just begun! In fact, many Catholics do not fully appreciate that because we consider Christmas to be the second most important celebration of our Liturgical year, the celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection at Easter being the most sacred day of the year for as Christians, that we do not consider the celebration of Christmas to be a one day affair.
Starting on the eve of December 24th, the Church enters into what is known as a the Octave of Christmas. This means that from December 25th until January 1st, each day is understood to be Christmas all over again. The birth of Jesus Christ, He who is the Eternal Word of God, who has existed in His Divinity for all eternity and who in the fullness of time chose to be born of a humble Virgin, is an eight day celebration where we are invited to imagine ourselves in the quiet peace of Bethlehem and to take time to speak with this tender child who awaits us with love and affection.
Now the reason our Church has us celebrate Christmas for 8 days has an important theological significance. The only other time during our liturgical year that we have another 8 day consecutive celebration is Easter. The First Christians often spoke of the day our Lord’s Resurrection as the 8th day.
The Book of Genesis tells us that through poetic but true history that our Lord created the world in 7 days, allowing the symphony of creation to unfold according to God’s design to create a universe that was good.
But when Our Lord rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning, time as we know it could not longer adequately measure the magnitude of that day in which new, resurrected life came into the universe and so the Early Christians called the Day of Resurrection the eighth day, the day that stands outside our usual measurement of time and so this day we would need many successive days to celebrate it properly and ponder the great mysteries that had unfolded.
The First Christians made the 8 days after Easter to be the first celebration of an octave of feasts to help them both rejoice in the Lord’s resurrection and consider the ways in which they were called to proclaim His message of salvation to the world. In time, it was decided that Christmas would also be celebrated with an octave, to allow Christians to rejoice in the birth of our Saviour and allow the peace of that Holy Night to enter more deeply in our hearts.
In summary my friends, what I am trying to say is the next 8 days are a time for us to party and celebrate! The majesty and awe of Christmas, that God decided to live among us as a new born baby boy, a God that we can touch and see, a God that we can receive now in the Holy Eucharist, a God that is near and if we are daring can be imagined to be cradled in our arms as a tender and vulnerable infant, is a holy reality that if we are honest with ourselves, requires a number of days to pray over and ponder in our hearts!
I encourage each of us to make the most of these next 8 days. May we take more time for prayer this week, perhaps in front of a nativity scene or in a church, and speak to Jesus, Mary and Joseph about that Holy Night.
May we take more time to gather with friends and family, to share a good meal, good wine and meaningful conversation and rejoice that Christ was born to give us life and life eternal.
May we take time to visit a friend or relative who is ill and alone, bringing the joy of the Christ Child to someone who needs to be affirmed that they are loved.
May we take time for a quiet, snowy, winter walk, rejoicing in the gift of God’s creation, and considering how these 8 days of Christmas are also days to prepare ourselves to one day enter the joy of that eternal 8th day, the day of resurrection, the day of heavenly glory.
May Jesus Christ bless each of us in these 8 days of Christmas. May He bring us joy and peace, may He draw us back to Him if we have been far from God, and may He bless us in this new year to come.