Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Christmas to Candlemas: When is the Real End of the Christmas Season?

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 07, 2018 | In The Liturgical Year

This post was originally published in January 2014. It is revised and now includes the 1962 Calendar dates for Christmas. This post contains tables which may not be easily displayed on mobile devices.

The Christmas season ended on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Or did it?

It seems inevitable every Christmas that there will be polite disagreement among Catholics as to when the Christmas season officially ends. Usually the discussion revolves around when to take down the Christmas decorations. Most of my friends will wait until after the Epiphany or after the Baptism of the Lord. But every year someone will say that that they are following the traditional and official end of the Christmas season, February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas, which is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly called Candlemas, in Greek Hypapante).

I wonder if it is mainly an argument of semantics? Is the dispute over the actual length of the Christmas Season (sometimes referred to as Christmastide), comparing the current Church calendar with the older 1962 (or even earlier calendars)? Or is the disagreement over the Christmas Cycle (or Period or Section) and not the actual liturgical Christmas season? Or is this about “tradition” (small “t”) not related to the Church, but a longstanding secular family or cultural custom?


I have always enjoyed studying and understanding the structure of the liturgical calendar. I am from a family of seven children, and I know and celebrate all the birthdays and anniversaries and even death anniversaries of all my siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. When I was newly married, I added new celebrations to our calendar—my husband’s birthday, our anniversary, my in-laws’ birthdays and anniversaries. As the years progress, I’ve added my children’s birthdates, their sacrament anniversaries, and other milestone dates. These dates have become familiar to me and even more dear than my original family dates.

Through my baptism I became a daughter of God and a member of the Family of Christ. Shouldn’t I get to know the dates and ins-and-outs of the calendar of my other family, the Church?

The Liturgical Year has many intricacies. The Sanctoral Cycle (calendar with the feasts of the saints) is usually easier to follow because the dates are fixed (with some exceptions) but the Temporal Cycle of the liturgical seasons (which follows the redemptive life of Christ) is more changeable from year to year. How will the Church seasons fall during this particular Liturgical Year? How is the date chosen for Easter? Will Lent and Easter be late or early this year? Will Advent be short or long? What day of the week is Christmas? How long will be the Christmas season? I equate looking at the Church’s calendar to my family looking ahead to see what day of the week their birthday will be this year. So it is with this thought process I want to understand more closely whether or not Candlemas is or has been part of the Christmas season.

Although there are several differences between the current General Roman Calendar and the 1962 Calendar, the structure of both of the liturgical seasons is still very similar. Below is a combined calendar (created by Michele Quigley) of both calendars.

The table below breaks down the seasons in both calendars:



Advent (violet)
Sunday falling on or closest to 30 November and ends December 24 (4 Sundays).

Advent (violet)
Sunday falling on or closest to 30 November and ends December 24 (4 Sundays).

Christmas Season (white)
December 25, Christmas until the Baptism of the Lord inclusive, from 15 to 20 days long (2-3 Sundays).

Christmas Season or Christmastide (white)
December 25, Christmas until the Baptism of the Lord, January 13, inclusive, 20 days (2-3 Sundays).

Tempus per Annum or Ordinary Time (green)
Monday after the Sunday following January 6* (Baptism of the Lord) and continues until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday inclusive (4-9 weeks during this time before Lent).

Tempus Per Annum (Time After Epiphany, Basic Cycle) (green)
January 14 to Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday (0 to 5 Sundays).

Pre-Lent (violet)
Septuagesima Sunday to Shrove Tuesday (3 Sundays).

Lent (violet)
Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive, 43 days (6 Sundays).

Lent (violet)
Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, includes Passiontide (6 Sundays).

Sacred Triduum
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

Sacred Triduum
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

Easter Season (white)
50 days from Easter including Pentecost (8 Sundays).

Easter Season (white)
Easter to Saturday after Pentecost (8 Sundays).

Tempus per Annum or Ordinary Time (green)
Monday after Pentecost and ends the First Sunday of Advent (24-28 Sundays). Ordinary Time weeks total for the year, 33-34 weeks.

Tempus per Annum (Time after Pentecost, Basic Cycle) (green)
Trinity Sunday to Saturday before Advent (23 to 28 Sundays).

Comparing the two calendars, the colors and weeks do not vary except the three weeks of Pre-Lent beginning with Septuagesima (I do think the white section after Pentecost is the same for both calendars, for Trinity and Corpus Christi Sundays). In the sections of green, which is in both calendars Tempus per Annum, “The Season Throughout the Year,” the designations of titles differ. Both “Time after Epiphany” and “Time after Pentecost” are the two names used to designate which part of the Tempus per Annum falls in the 1962 Calendar, whereas in the current Liturgical Calendar these are both designated in English as “Ordinary Time,” but both calendars view this time/season as a whole.


Examining just the Christmas seasons of each calendar, Christmas begins on December 25 and has an octave of Christmas ending on January 1. Epiphany falls on January 6, except in the current US calendar where it is transferred to Sunday. Each calendar has the Christmas season end on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is moved to Sunday (with two exceptions) in the current (OF) calendar, but always January 13 in the 1962 (EF) calendar.

In the current calendar, the length of the Christmas season varies depending on what day Christmas falls. In 2017-18, the Christmas Season lasted 16 days, but it can vary in length from 15 to 20 days. The following table illustrates how the feasts would fall and the length of the season depending on the day of the week Christmas falls.

Christmas Season in the current Liturgical Calendar, US observation

Solemnity of Christmas December 25

Feast of the Holy Family, within the Octave of Christmas

Octave of Christmas & Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (in the US)

Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Length of Christmas Season


Friday, Dec. 30

Sunday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 8

Monday, Jan. 9*

16 days


Sunday, Dec. 31

Monday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 7

Monday, Jan. 8*

15 days


Sunday, Dec. 30

Tuesday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 6

Sunday, Jan. 13

20 days


Sunday, Dec. 29

Wednesday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 5

Sunday, Jan. 12

19 days


Sunday, Dec. 28

Thursday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 4

Sunday, Jan. 11

18 days


Sunday, Dec. 27

Friday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 3

Sunday, Jan. 10

17 days


Sunday, Dec. 26

Saturday, Jan. 1

Sunday, Jan. 2

Sunday, Jan. 9

16 days

*When the Solemnity of the Epiphany is transferred to the Sunday that occurs on January 7 or 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Monday (General Roman Calendar, Roman Missal 3rd Edition, 2011).

In the 1962 calendar, the length of the Christmas season (or Christmastide) is fixed at 20 days, because the feast of Epiphany is not transferred to Sunday and the Baptism of the Lord is always on January 13 (with one exception**).

Christmas Season in the 1962 Calendar

Birth of the Lord, December 25

Octave of the Birth of the Lord, January 1 (formerly Circumcision)

Holy Name of Jesus, 1st Sunday between Octave & Epiphany or January 2

Epiphany of the Lord, January 6

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, first Sunday after Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 13

Length of Christmas Season

Sunday Sunday, Jan. 1 Monday, Jan. 2 Friday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 8 Friday, Jan. 13 20 days
Monday Monday, Jan. 1 Tuesday, Jan. 2 Saturday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 7 Saturday, Jan. 13 20 days
Tuesday Tuesday, Jan. 1 Wednesday, Jan. 2 Sunday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 13 Not observed** 20 days
Wednesday Wednesday, Jan. 1 Sunday, Jan. 5 Monday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 12 Monday, Jan. 13 20 days
Thursday Thursday, Jan. 1 Sunday, Jan. 4 Tuesday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 11 Tuesday, Jan. 13 20 days
Friday Friday, Jan. 1 Sunday, Jan. 3 Wednesday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 10 Wednesday, Jan. 13 20 days
Saturday Saturday, Jan. 1 Sunday, Jan. 2 Thursday, Jan. 6 Sunday, Jan. 9 Thursday, Jan. 13 20 days

**When January 13 is a Sunday, Mass and Vespers of the feast of the Holy Family are said, omitting the commemoration of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

There are some shades of differences, but in both calendars the Christmas season does not continue after January 13 and cannot be longer than 20 days in length.


The main difference in comparing the two calendars is that many pre-Vatican descriptions divide the year by two cycles, the Christmas and Easter Cycles. Some use terms like “Period” or “Section” to try to illustrate the division of the year. The seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Time after Epiphany point to the Incarnation of Christ and the feast of Christmas, so the seasons make up the Christmas Cycle. The Easter Cycle consists of pre-Lent, Lent, Easter and Time after Pentecost. This was a later division and designation and not always mentioned in translations or missals that I have found.

While the official descriptions in Church documents of the current calendar don’t have these separate designations, I have found the separation of Christmas and Easter Cycles described in various books, including Adolf Adam’s Liturgical Year: Its History and Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy, which was written for the current (revised in 1969) calendar. There does seem to be a natural division, but the documents do continually emphasize that the Paschal Mystery is at the center and heart of the Liturgical Year, and all events of the Liturgical Year point back to that one central Feast of Easter. There is no balancing of Christmas vs. Easter; Easter is the highest feast of the whole Liturgical Year, and this is reflected in every Sunday being another Easter, and the length of the Easter Season is actually 50 days, compared to Christmas which is 20 days at the most.

There are several weaknesses in the argument that the Christmas season or celebration continues through February 2nd. Some confusion can stem from older writings, such as Dom Prosper Guéranger’s The Liturgical Year, citing the importance of the number 40 (which ends at Candlemas) and the parallelism with Easter, and his use of the term “Christmastide” for that whole time period from Christmas to Candlemas. But in The New Rubrics of the Breviary and Missal (1962), Christmastide is defined as “(tempus Nativitatis) from I vespers of Christmas to none [midafternoon] on 5th January inclusive.” The current calendar does not use this term.

Secondly, Pre-Lent (or Septuagesima) in the 1962 calendar, which begins with Septuagesima (the ninth Sunday before Easter), often falls before February 2. For example, 2015 it fell on February 1st, and in 2016, January 24. So the focus in the 1962 calendar cannot continue celebrating Christmas when pre-Lent arrives. Even the Christmas Cycle ends earlier during those years.

Also, the Christmas season always ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in both calendars. I have never found any traditional Church calendar that continued the “Christmas Season” all the way through Candlemas. It is more of the “Christmas Cycle“ that one can see prolonged Christmas focus for 40 days of Christmas which ends on Candlemas. The Christmas Cycle is different than the actual Christmas season. After the Baptism of the Lord, the Christmas Season ends. The priest wears green vestments, and “Time After Epiphany” begins.

The green in the “Basic Cycle” or “Tempus per Annum” is not a celebration like the Easter and Christmas seasons, but does continue to focus on the Manifestation of Christ. It is not Christmas anymore, but a time of spiritual growth, applying the gifts we have learned through the Advent and Christmas seasons. And it is a time of rest before the Easter Cycle begins. But the time is not the Christmas “celebration.” No one says it is still Easter as the summer months continue or on All Saints Day, or the Solemnity of Christ the King, even though that time could be considered part of the “Easter Cycle.” The same rules apply to the Christmas Cycle. The green vestments signal a time of no feasts.

As mentioned under the tables above, tempus per annum or Ordinary Time is included in both calendars and is considering liturgically one seamless time. Although there are designations of “Time after Epiphany” and “Time after Pentecost” in the pre-Vatican calendar, the masses are interchangeable and linked through both time periods. In the 1962 Latin Mass, the masses not used during the first part of the year in “Time After Epiphany” are tacked on at the end of the “Time after Pentecost” cycle, showing the seamlessness of the readings and liturgy.


In looking at the calendar, cycles, and seasons, it seems Candlemas was born as a date fixed to Christmas, and originally this feast was February 14, forty days after Epiphany. The Emperor Justinian in 542 shifted Christmas to December 25 for the whole eastern Empire, which moved the Presentation to the current date of February 2, 40 days after Christmas. This feast day, not part of a season, concludes the focus of the Christmas Cycle. It is a feast that points back to Christmas, when the Light of the World was born, but even more so leads forward to Easter, where we celebrate Lumen Christi (the Light of Christ).

The only remaining liturgical hint of the Christmas Cycle is within the Liturgy of the Hours. The Marian antiphons of the Liturgy of the Hours do reflect the change of focus on the Incarnation of Christ to the Paschal Mysteries. The Marian Antiphons sung at the end of the Night Prayer shift after the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Alma Redemptoris Mater began the first Sunday of Advent. Ave Regina Caelorum is sung from February 2nd until the Easter Vigil.

There is evidence of cultural customs to keep Christmas decorations until February 2. Robert Herrick (1591-1674) has a poem entitled Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve which describes this tradition:

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

Christmas decorations before the Victorian period were minimal, mostly evergreens and herbs and crèche scenes. Modern times tend to have much more decorations, including lights and Christmas trees. So while decorations might have remained until Candlemas, they weren’t as invasive as current Christmas decorations. I do think many people like to follow this tradition because the actual Christmas season is exhausting, and waiting until February 2nd is easier than having to take down all those decorations after a harried Christmas.

While there is no proof that the Church has continued the Christmas season for 40 days until Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord does stand very prominently and is considered a “Christmas feast day.” The tradition including the feast of Candlemas as part of the Christmas season is not liturgically historical, but indicating that it is part of the Christmas Cycle during the Time after Epiphany is liturgically correct. The Vatican takes down the Christmas decorations after the Baptism of the Lord, except the crèche/nativity scene. There seems to be more indication that keeping up the Christmas decorations is a cultural custom rather than an official religious Tradition.

In our own homes and families, we can follow familial or cultural traditions in our homes. But if we are trying to follow the Liturgical Year, it is important to know the Church’s calendar and liturgy to know what is correct to form our domestic churches.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 16, 2014 11:03 AM ET USA

    The combined liturgical calendar and associated table are worth their weight in gold. Thanks for posting them.