Hold That Tree: Christmas Ain’t Over Yet

The new calendar is one of the subtler corrosives the post-conciliar Vatican poured on the faith of an unsuspecting Catholic populace. From introducing confusion as to the existence of well respected saints to obliterating octaves to the chaos of weird concentric asymmetrical lectionary cycles, the new calendar’s pandemonium makes one pine for the days of semi-doubles.

Worse still is how the new calendar jackhammers a fissure between Novus Ordo-attending Catholics and those who make their spiritual home in the Church’s liturgical traditions.

Take an upcoming feast day: the Circumcision of Our Lord, also called the Octave Day of the Nativity – or, as the date is popularly known according to the Novus calendar, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. Pope Paul VI, arguably in a fit of archaeologism, snipped the Circumcision and transferred the Blessed Mother’s feast to January 1 from October 11, where it had been celebrated universally since 1931 and locally since much earlier. Post-Paul VI, January 1 is a holy day of obligation. But since Catholics who abide by the traditional calendar don’t celebrate the Feast of the Maternity on that day, they’ll hear a Mass setting that doesn’t line up with the obligation day…whose setting, or at least its parallel in the traditional calendar, they will hear ten months later. (Things not lining up became a theme post-1968.) Yet they’re not obligated to assist on October 11, meaning they may never hear the prayers meant to correspond with the obligation day’s Mass.

All this confusion and more from the expectation that two groups abiding by two radically different calendars be considered part of one rite. Don’t even get me started on Low Sunday.

January 1 fast approaches, but when it comes to the Church’s calendar, the timelier point concerns the One to Whom the Blessed Virgin’s maternity applies. According to many Catholics, most non-Catholics, and all radio stations, Christmas is done, finito, one minute before midnight on the 26th. Already, a number of people have wished me a “belated merry Christmas.” The USCCB, not quite that bad but still not great, doesn’t help: “The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the Vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.”

The secular, godless radio stations deprive us of 39 days of merriment. The bishops, our not secular and not godless shepherds, split the difference, give or take, and deprive us of about twenty.

This is a Novus concept, and a shame. We’re lucky that the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord survived, kind of, the temporal wrecking ball of the ’60s and ’70s. (At least in name – here are Year A and Year B and Year C, and figuring out which is which is like unraveling Samson’s not exactly fair riddle.) What didn’t survive – or at least what exists below the false floor of Catholicism – is a concept called Christmastide: after a season of penance and preparation, we get forty days to feast and be merry.

One site calls this period “a long 40-day ‘Christmastide’ that corresponded [sic] to the 40 days of Lent.” Not exactly – if anything, the forty days of Christmastide correspond to the forty days of Easter-tide, after which we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord, paralleled at this time of year by the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, or Candlemas.

Thus, ever since Paul VI, not only is there reigning confusion over how long Christmas lasts and when it ends, but the faithful living by Novus temporal conventions are deprived of 27 days (26 days? uh, 25 days? 21? when is the Baptism of the Lord, anyway?) of Christmas merriment. It might never occur to the Catholics I pass after the 9:30 Mass walking into the 11:00 Novus Ordo that I had a Christmas wedding, but I did. I have poinsettias in my wedding photos because my wife and I tied the knot just before Septuagesima Sunday, and that was way late in January.

Now, you can be Catholic according to whichever calendar you prefer. But I offer here a suggestion, having tremendously enriched my family’s faith life by following it myself: remember Christmastide, and celebrate it. Keep your Christmas tree decked out, lit up, and glowing until February. Hold off on “merry Christmas” until 25 December, and then bust it out ’til Candlemas for everyone you meet. Buy your Christmas cards “late” for a bargain and send them out on the Epiphany. Defy the radio stations and blast Christmas music through January. This Faith, for which we so often are called to suffer terribly, also provides a treasure trove of joys, even in its glorious and venerably longstanding calendar. Don’t turn your nose up at the opportunity to celebrate.

One other thing: Pick a calendar and stick to it. In this long haul of miserable confusion emanating sixty-plus years from the Vatican itself, it’s more important than ever to fight disorientation, inconsistency, and personal hypocrisy. “You can’t go to both.” Guarding your integrity in small things, like keeping consistent track of whose feast day it is, will steel you for bigger things, like when your Catholic cousin invites you to witness his invalid underwater destination “wedding,” and your whole extended family threatens no more Christmas presents if you don’t go.

But how to resolve the January 1 issue?! As for me and my house, we get ourselves to Mass on 11 October…and we acknowledge that the Feast of the Circumcision happens to be a very, very good day to assist, too.

For now, merry Christmas – yesterday, today, tomorrow, and on and on for a good long while. Sing another round of “Adeste, Fideles,” and bake more cookies.

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