| Father Joe Waters

Simple Ways to Celebrate the Season of Christmas

Father Joe, I know Christmas is more than one day, but I am not sure how to celebrate the Christmas Season. What’s the best way for Catholics to celebrate the Christmas Season?

Many family and cultural traditions surround Christmas and are worthy observances. However, it is important to stay focused on why we are celebrating. The events at Bethlehem changed the world and brought all people of goodwill grace upon grace. By becoming like us in all things but sin, Christ made all human experience a gift. With that in mind, a good way to get ready to celebrate Christmas is to reflect on two familiar songs. 

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: A genuine celebration of the Christmas Season begins with the spiritual longing of Advent. If we recall our dependence on God during Advent and rekindle the hope that our loving God will provide all we need, we will rejoice in Christ’s coming all the more. 

The Twelve Days of Christmas: As your question notes, Christmas is not a day but a season for Catholics. Thinking of your Christmas celebration as 12 days will ensure you have enough time to grasp the many blessings that come from Our Lord’s Nativity.  In the song, the singer’s “true love” gives 364 gifts all together. In other words, a gift for every day until Christ’s birth is celebrated anew. The truth is that God dwells with us, bringing abundant blessings and sufficient grace for every day of the year.  Something worth celebrating!   

You have probably seen different versions of an Advent Calendar, where you count down the days until Christmas. I wish there were “Christmas Calendars” where we mark the days of the Christmas Season and all the graces of Christ’s birth. The joyful song can help you create a calendar for yourself; identifying a special way to rejoice in Christ’s gift of grace for each of the 12 days. 

Christmas day is already joyful, but you can make it a richer spiritual experience by exchanging prayers and graces, much like you exchange presents. For example, take a moment during your festivities to share with a family member or friend a grace you have experienced because of them, or a prayer you have for them. This can remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and spread its joy. You can plan for similar spiritual experiences for each of the 12 days of Christmas. One day, you could visit churches to see their decorations and pray at their crèche. You could dedicate one day to helping a neighbor, visiting a sick friend, or bringing Christmas cheer to an older adult or homebound person. 

The Church’s liturgical calendar provides other opportunities that can help you envision an activity in the spirit of Christmas each day. For example, on December 28, the feast of Holy Innocents, you can pray or do something nice for someone who has lost a child or lost a loved one of any age in a violent death. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was an instrumental educator and founder of the Catholic School System in the United States, and her Feast Day is January 4. On this day, you could do something special for a teacher or a religious sister.  

You don’t have to be showy or refrain from the normal festivities. You can keep your spiritual focus by marking the days of the Christmas Season with simple ways that celebrate your faith and spread the joy of the Word made flesh. 

Gathering before Christmas to create your family’s Christmas Calendar could be fun. Give it a try, and cap off the Christmas Season with a special Twelfth Night Celebration. As the rest of the world rushes away from December 25, I encourage you to pause and remember that Christmas is God’s gift to you and unpack it fully and discover all it has to offer.

Christmas Season Dates

This year, the Christmas season begins with the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity in the evening of Sunday, December 24, and goes through to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, January 8, 2024.

Two Masses for Christmas

In 2023, the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) falls on a Monday. This means Sunday, December 24th is both the 4th Sunday of Advent in the morning and early afternoon as well as the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord in the evening. The U.S. Bishops’ Committee of Divine Worship has clarified that Catholics are obliged to participate in two Masses, once for the 4th Sunday of Advent, and once for Christmas. Sunday evening Mass on December 24th does not fulfill both obligations.

Father Joseph (Joe) Waters is Judicial Vicar and Censor Librorum of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.