Although most people tend to see Christmas as a day (December 25), actually Christmas is a season on the Church calendar. It lasts from December 25 through January 5: Twelve days – and yes that’s where the song comes from, though I’ve never understood why anyone would want so many birds – 23 by my count! I’ve said in another place, our culture conditions us to celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, and then on December 26 crash in relief that it’s all over. This is all backwards. Advent, which precedes Christmas, is a season of self-examination and spiritual preparation so that we may fully enjoy Christmas when it arrives – and enjoy it for twelve days, no less. What if God’s people would do things that way?
January 6 marks Epiphany, a Greek word meaning “manifestation,” in reference to the manifestation (revealing) of the Christchild to the nations, marked by the Scripture passage of the “Visit of the Magi” (Matthew 2). Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas Season.
These traditions go back, not to the New Testament Church, but to a few centuries afterwards. Those who scoff at them as manmade traditions without Scriptural warrant may just as well scoff at celebrating Christmas and Easter since these also are manmade traditions with no Scriptural basis (and many early Baptists did not observe either day). But these are ancient traditions, nonetheless, the purpose of which is to provide some regularity to Christian devotional practice. Of course, it is not required. But I have found that the Church calendar does provide a time-tested and proven way to guide one’s thoughts, prayers, and meditations.
Merry Christmas & Happy Epiphany!