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Liturgical Highlights: New Year, and Transition of the Seasons

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 02, 2024 | In The Liturgical Year

I’ve been really quiet in my writing in my column the past few months. My New Year resolutions includes writing more. I usually hate to pin myself down, but I have made a few resolutions. A few years ago I wrote about Fitting Resolutions. It helps me to see a more spiritual reason for making some changes.

After a restful vacation, I’m starting the year with a look at the upcoming liturgically jam-packed week:

How Long is the Christmas season?

The month of January and the first two days of February are a time of controversy and confusion among some Catholics, all stemming from the question, “How long is the Christmas season?” Answers include terms such as “days of Christmas,” “Christmas octave,” “Christmas season,” “Christmastide,” and “Time after Epiphany,” but more often it’s an answer of keeping the Church’s old tradition of the Christmas season until February 2.

I discussed this at length in my posts:

If in doubt, look through old missals and see what the liturgical color is for the different feasts and Sundays. Green indicates Tempus per Annum or Ordinary Time (Time after Epiphany and Time after Pentecost) even in the older calendars, and the green vestments begin after the Baptism of the Lord. This year is an example of Septuagesima beginning January 28, which occurs before February 2nd. There can’t be two liturgical seasons occurring simultaneously.

We also need to remember that while we like symmetry, the Liturgical Calendar is “built” around the Paschal Mystery, with it being the center, the core of the Liturgical Year. The Paschal Season should express that emphasis, even by having longer periods of preparation and celebration. The Cycles of Christmas and Easter shouldn’t be exactly parallel with that viewpoint.

When does Ordinary Time begin?

And within the above are the questions of how many Sundays are in the Christmas season, and is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord a Christmas feast or not?

The Last Week of the Christmas Season

Before Epiphany and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this week is packed with many saints’ days, particularly for those of us who live in the United States and Canada.

Epiphany of the Lord—Twelfth Day of Christmas?

I have heard of the “12 Days of Christmas” but I never can make the count come out correctly. No matter how I try to count it, the 12th Day of Christmas always seems to be January 5, not January 6, the traditional feast of Epiphany.

The real “days of Christmas” are actually in the Octave of Christmas, and that always ends on the eighth day. Liturgically, after January 1st, these are days of the Christmas season. After the Christmas Octave, the days are designated “of Christmas Time,” and have different readings depending on whether the day is before or after Epiphany. And if we are counting the “days of Christmas” within the season, why does the song end at twelve?

Regardless, it’s time to prepare for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, a feast of Manifestation:

The Last Day of Christmas

We end Christmas season with a Feast, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It marks Jesus entering into His public ministry, as we must do, also.

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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