December 31, 2013

Merry Christmas?

As every good Episcopalian knows, Christmas does not end on December 25; it begins on that date. Christmas continues through January 5. Epiphany, the following liturgical season, begins on January 6. Most of what secular society thinks of as the Christmas season is, liturgically, at any rate, Advent. Advent is a time of preparation for the Incarnation, but, in the population imagination, it might be designated the Shopping season.

Prior to December 25 of this year, I mostly refrained from wishing people “Merry Christmas,” though I did reciprocate if someone wished me the same. (I considered telling strangers “Blessed Advent” but concluded that people would simply find that weird.) Since Christmas is now here, I’ve decided that I should begin wishing “Merry Christmas” to people with whom I interact.

I must report that this is not going well. In doing Christmas shopping (i.e., post-Shopping-season shopping), I have wished a number of sales clerks “Merry Christmas.” So far, I have elicited three different reactions. The first person I greeted responded to “Merry Christmas” with “Happy New Year,” which is something of a non sequitur. Others simply ignored me. And the woman at Dairy Queen  closed her drive-up window before I could say anything at all.

Well, Merry Christmas!

Christmas wreath


  1. I was just told that the "12 Days of Christmas" actually begins Dec. 26, and continues through Epiphany Jan 6. So now I don't know what to think.

    1. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia defines the 12 Days of Christmas as December 25 to January 5. The confusion may center around Twelfth Night, which traditionally begins on the evening of January 5 but is now often identified with the evening of January 6.

  2. In New Orleans and the surrounding region, Twelfth Night is January 6, and Carnival officially starts with the "Twelfth Night Ball" that evening. The old custom of eating a Kings Cake, or Galette des rois, referring to the three magi, begins that evening and continues through Mardi Gras (although these cakes are now sometimes eaten year round, even in Lent).

  3. Hard to figure how December 25th wouldn't be "the First Day of Christmas," partridge in a pear tree, etc. In any event, I suspect the blurring of 12th Night and Epiphany happens in part because of the older monastic and ecclesiastical practice of beginning festal days at sunset--so that the first observance of Epiphany would be Vespers / Evensong on the 5th of January. In any event the broader theme of Incarnation embraces a season of Nativity and Epiphany, and I think we are perfectly on the right track to continue singing our carols and enjoying the decor of Christmas for a great 40 Days, right up to Candlemas and then Septuagesima. When the road out of Bethlehem makes that sharp turn towards Jerusalem . . . .


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