The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – 25 December
Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, the feast celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, as a little baby in Bethlehem, within the realm of history. While many Christians recognise Christmas as celebrating Jesus’ birth, unfortunately many fail to see it as a festival of the Incarnation. Outside of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and a few others, the idea of Christmas as a season has nearly disappeared. Although secular traditions are fun and endearing, Christmas is primarily a Christian holy day and should be treated as such.
Even the term is an abbreviation of the phrase “Christ Mass,” which reflects the primary understanding of Christmas as a feast day within the Church year, connected to the Eucharist. Many people mention the need to put Christ back in Christmas but the need is greater than that. We need to put the “Mass” back in Christmas.
Christmastide is the name given for the time surrounding Christmas Day. In the current Catholic calendar, Christmastide lasts from Christmas Day until the Baptism of our Lord, which is the Sunday following 6 January. This time includes many other important Christian Holy Days. The 12 days of Christmas, the time from 25 December until the Epiphany, have often been recognised as a time for special feasting.
In fact, Christmastide used to refer to the 12 Days of Christmas and some still use “Christmastide” to refer to this period. The octave of Christmas lasts, in the Catholic Church, from 25 December until 1 January, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Of note, Christmas falls exactly 9 months after the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, the feast day commemorating Jesus’ conception.
The Christmas feast is a festival full of joy. The Eternal Word has become Man and dwells among us. The longings of the patriarchs and prophets are fulfilled. With the shepherds we hurry to the manger and adore the Incarnate Son of God, who for us and for our salvation descended upon earth. The purpose of the Christmas feast is beautifully expressed in the Preface of the Nativity:
“For by the mystery of the Word made flesh the light of Thy glory hath shone anew upon the eyes of our mind, so that while we acknowledge Him a God seen by men, we may be drawn by Him to the love of things unseen.”
The Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, proclaimed before Midnight Mass by the Holy Father and in most Catholic Churches throughout the universal Church, situates the Nativity of Christ within the context of human history generally and salvation history specifically, making reference not only to biblical events (the Creation, the Flood, the birth of Abraham, the Exodus) but also to the Greek and Roman worlds (the original Olympics, the founding of Rome). The coming of Christ at Christmas, then, is seen as the summit of both sacred and secular history.
The Twenty fifth Day of December,
when ages beyond number had run their course
from the creation of the world,
when God in the beginning created heaven and earth
and formed man in his own likeness,
when century upon century had passed
since the Almighty set His bow in the clouds after the Great Flood,
as a sign of covenant and peace,
in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,
came out of Ur of the Chaldees;
in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses
in the Exodus from Egypt,
around the thousandth year since David was anointed King,
in the sixty fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel,
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad,
in the year seven hundred and fifty two
since the foundation of the City of Rome,
in the forty second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence,
was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and when nine months had passed since His conception,
was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,
and was made man –
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.