Our culture starts commercializing Christmas on Thanksgiving or sooner. As soon as Christmas is over, many people throw out their tree on December 26th. This not only degrades the spiritual preparation of Advent, but cuts short the celebratory time of the birth of Jesus. Instead of rejoicing for just one day, here is information you can use to understand the Octave of Christmas in the Catholic Church and why we celebrate it.
The Octave of Christmas: Several “Little Christmases” Celebrated in the Catholic Church
The two greatest solemnities in the Liturgical Year are Christmas and Easter, and both actually continue for an octave, or period of eight days. Practically speaking this means:
- The Gloria is joyfully added back in to the Mass after being excluded during Advent.
- Since Christmas is a solemnity, celebration of Christmas Day begins the evening before.
- Christmas Day, the actual feast day, is day one.
- Days two through seven are said to be “within the octave”.
- Although there are other feast days within the octave commemorating saints, the Holy Family and others, each of these is still a “little Christmas”.
- The eighth day is referred to as either the “octave” or “octave day”.
- The octave day is kept with greater reverence than the days within the octave.
- The octave day of Christmas is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God on January 1st.
The two great seasons of preparation and penance are Advent and Lent, and both are followed by an octave of celebration. In the Church liturgy, every day of the octave is a way of reliving the principal feast all over again, culminating with the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
Why the Octave is Eight Days
The octave has roots in the Old Testament. Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, circumcision, certain sacrifices, and a feast of dedication and purification of the Temple were all eight days. From the fourth century forward octave celebrations are mentioned in historical records.
Over time the number of feasts with octaves has grown and lessened in number. What remains today are the octaves of Christmas and Easter. These are tremendous opportunities for reflection and celebration on two sacred mysteries of Our Lord’s earthly birth and death.
How the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, Fits Into the Octave of Christmas in the Catholic Church
At first glance, starting the octave with the birth of Jesus and ending it with a day for Mary may not make much sense. But Pope Paul VI discussed this in his 1974 Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultis, point 5:
“The Christmas Season is a prolonged commemoration of the divine,
virginal and salvific Motherhood of her whose “inviolate virginity
brought the Saviour into the world”. In fact, on the Solemnity of the
Birth of Christ the Church both adores the Saviour and venerates his
Just as the Catholic Church adores Jesus and venerates Mary on Christmas, the solemnity of Mary is a bookend to the Christmas octave because Mary is venerated as the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, who gave birth to Jesus, our Savior.
Enter More Deeply Into the Meaning of Christmas by Celebrating the Octave With the Catholic Church
Hopefully Advent was a fruitful season of preparation. But if “life” happened, all is not lost. Jesus, Emmanuel, is God with us. He is with us in the present moment, and this very moment is a great time to begin again and draw close to Our Lord.
It is not too late to reflect on the real reason for our joy at Christmas. Ask the Blessed Mother to show you her Son in the manger. Ask Our Lord to lead you to His mother. Celebrating the Octave of Christmas is a beautiful way to draw closer to both Our Lord, and to Our Lady.
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