|Illustration by Allie Aucoin, age 6.|
So here we are on the third day of Christmas.
The Christmas Octave doesn't really feel like an octave. Not the way the Easter Octave does. In Easter Time (the new "Roman Missal "designation for the liturgical period formerly known as "Season"), the Octave takes precedence over every other feast, even a solemnity! That's because every day of the Easter Octave is considered a solemnity. But the Christmas Octave is scattered about with early and medieval saints. Yesterday brought the unlikely scene of a martyrdom with the feast of St. Stephen. But it has a profound link with Christmas, when you think about it. How many of our Christmas hymns refer poignantly to the suffering the Babe in the manger will undergo for us? St. Stephen proclaims that he will (to use Paul's words) "bear a share in the hardship the Gospel entails." Today is the feast of the apostle St. John, who wrote of "seeing" and "touching" the "Word of Life."
Tomorrow, more martyrs: the baby martyrs of Bethlehem, who died at the hands of Herod. Then Thomas Becket, then Wenceslaus (the "good king"). This year, the feast of the Holy Family takes the only empty spot in the Octave. (It is usually celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday.) St. Sylvester is the New Year's Eve saint, bringing us to Jan 1, the Octave of Christmas. These 8-day observances are one of those biblical influences on the liturgy. (Notice how Passover and Hanukkah also last for eight days?)
What about the "twelve" days of Christmas? That leads us to Epiphany (and the beginning, back home, of "King Cake season," which is an entirely unique semi-liturgical time of its own). It's a little tricky keeping track of the days of Christmas, given that here in the US we celebrate Epiphany on a different date every year: do the twelve days end with the liturgical observance, or with the universal (and traditional) date? What about in your family: Do you try to keep all twelve days of Christmas in some way?