Observing the Christian Calendar: Christmas and Epiphany

Christian Calendar

The Christian Calendar, seven seasons:  Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, The Paschal Triduum, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

Last week we discovered (or were reminded) that the Christian year begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day with the season of Advent.

Advent, the season of waiting, is a time of thoughtful reflection and repentance.

This week we will continue on in the Christian calendar with the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, the other two seasons in the Cycle of Light which celebrates the Incarnation – God with us.

Christmas
Contrary to my previous understanding, Christmas is not simply a day.  It is a season – a season of celebration and of wonder.  As a season it consists of twelve feast days spanning from Christmas Day through Epiphany on January 6th.  The liturgical color of Christmas is white which symbolizes the light of Christ as well as His purity and innocence.  Sometimes gold is also used symbolizing Christ’s kingship and His triumph over sin and death.

Suggestions for Celebrating the Season of Christmas

December 24th – Christmas Eve

  • Light the Christ candle in the center of the Advent wreath. (white)
  • Hold a special family worship time. All place their shepherd’s pouches beside the manger of a special nativity scene.  (Choose another time if all family is not able to be together now.)
  • Hold a birthday celebration for Jesus on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Christmas – The Season of Celebration and Wonder.  How better to embody the mystery of the incarnation than by celebrating the birth of the Word, the Light of the World, the Son of God, in the middle of the darkest time of year?

December 25th – Christmas Day (The Twelve Days of Christmas Begin)

  • Light the white Christ candle in the center of your Advent wreath to mark the coming of the Light. Continue to light it each evening during Christmas.
  • Purchase twelve ornaments, one for each day of Christmas. Each ornament could represent a name of Jesus and have a Scripture passage that corresponds to it.  Every evening during Christmas, choose an ornament, hang it on the Advent wreath or your tree and read the Scripture.
  • Invite someone who is alone or far from home to Christmas Dinner.
  • Consider possibly inviting someone to dinner on one of the twelve days of Christmas rather than Christmas Day.
  • Spread gift giving over the twelve days of Christmas.
  • Sing Advent songs until Christmas Day, then sing Christmas Carols.
  • Keep tree and decorations up until the end of the season on January 6th.
  • Send Christmas cards during the twelve days of Christmas.
  • Celebrate with twelve days of Christmas gift giving—provide toys, school supplies, or personal care products for disadvantaged children.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
  • Surprise your mail carrier, elderly neighbor, etc., with an inexpensive yet meaningful gift.

December 26th – Boxing Day (In honor of Stephen –Acts 6-8)

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank or homeless shelter.

January 1st – New Year’s Day (coincides with the Feast of the Holy Name)

  • Sometime during the day meditate on His name, sing praises to His name, speak it or reflect upon it.

January 5th – Eve of Epiphany

  • Host a Twelfth Night party.

Epiphany (The Gift and the Call; Enlightened in the Telling)
Epiphany is a celebration of the good news of the coming of God the Son for the whole earth.  The final Sunday of Epiphany immediately precedes Ash Wednesday.  Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”  The word comes from the Greek verb phainein, which means “to cause to appear” or “to bring to light.”

Three events in the life of Christ are associated with the Feast of the Epiphany:  the visit of the wise men from the East (a star guides Gentiles to a future king), the baptism by John in the Jordan River (a voice identifies Jesus as the beloved Son), and the turning of water into wine at Cana (a set of wine-brimming pots reveals miraculous power). These are Epiphanies!

Epiphany is a season for seeing more of Christ’s glory by focusing on his life and mission.  It is a time to both inhabit the Story [COME & SEE (John 1:39)] and to tell the Story [GO & TELL (Luke 10:1-24)].

Suggested Activities for Celebrating/Observing Epiphany

  • Take down your Christmas tree and put away your decorations on Epiphany. This provides an intentional ending to Christmas.
  • Host a house blessing. Mark the lintel of your main door in chalk with the inscription 20 C+M+B 11 (or 12 if the year is 2012 and so forth).  The initials have two meanings:  (1) the traditional names of the wise men, (2) the first letters of the Latin phrase Christus Mansionem Benedicat (“Christ, bless this home).  The marking is to serve as a reminder to us, each time we enter or leave, that we are to be like the wise men, willing to leave all we have, if necessary, and follow where Christ leads.
  • Immerse yourself once more in the story of Jesus [COME & SEE].
    • Read an entire Gospel one or more times from start to finish, absorbing the full narrative sweep of Christ’s remarkable life.
    • Select a handful of episodes to explore more thoroughly, spending, say, a week on each one, reading and rereading, placing yourself imaginatively within them, quietly mediating on them.
    • Read one of the Gospels (or episodes from Christ’s life) in multiple translations.
  • Ask Jesus to increase your compassion for those who are far from God. Ask for greater courage to speak to them [GO & TELL].
  • Read a book to sharpen your thinking about sharing your faith.
  • Choose a few friends or coworkers or family members to pray for during Epiphany.
  • Become alert to openings in your everyday conversations where you can mention Jesus in a natural and interesting way [GO & TELL].
  • Invite a few folks to take a look at Jesus with you through a four-to-six-week informal, investigative Bible study.
  • Propose to a few friends that they serve with you in a volunteer opportunity like Habitat for Humanity.
  • Give a friend a thoughtful book on Jesus or the Christian faith.

The Cycle of Light:  Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  Over the next few weeks, we will continue on to take a look at The Cycles of Life and Love.  In the meantime, if you are thinking that this might be the year to observe the Christian calendar in your household, below are two free PDF downloads to get you started.  One is a brief overview of the Christian calendar along with some suggested ways to observe each of the seasons.  The other is a form on which you can make notation of your plans.  (The PDF downloads of these forms are also available on the Free Resources page.)

Christian Calendar Plan PDF
A brief description of the seasons of the Christian calendar along with some suggested activities.

Christian Calendar Planning FormPDF
A planning form for use as you plan out your observance of the Christian calendar.

 

For further reading:

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (InterVarsityPress)

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (InterVarsityPress)

Celebrating the Christian Year: Building Family Traditions around All the Major Christian Holidays by Martha Zimmerman (Bethany House Publishers)