Christmas is just about everyone’s favorite time of year, so it’s not surprising that many, in anticipation, wish to push the start of Christmas earlier and earlier every year, and feel let down once it’s over. In that regard, then, when does the Christmas holiday season start officially, as well as end, by most people’s standards?
The start and end of the Christmas season depends on tradition and culture, which in some ways means, there is no official start or end, after all. For instance, Catholics start Christmas on December 25th and end on the Feast of Epiphany, while others begin day after Thanksgiving and end Dec. 26th.
Because one’s own family traditions and culture influence the beginning and ending of Christmas, there is some variation around the world for this popular holiday. I happen to enjoy Christmas and look forward to it every year (as well as feel sad to see it go when it does), but I also keep to our Catholic traditions for the sacred holiday.
I’ll share more about that in this article, plus other popular views for the start and stop of the Christmas season.
When Does the Christmas Season Begin?
Since a third of the world claims Christianity as its religion, it’s the largest religious sect globally, which also means that Christmas is a holiday celebrated all around the world. This means it also is connected to one’s culture and geography, making it not so standard as to when to start and stop the celebration.
When the Christmas season begins and ends varies depending on culture and country. In the US many start celebrating the day after Thanksgiving, when the official shopping season begins. Yet Catholic Americans, Christmas traditionally starts on Christmas Day, December 25th.
Catholics start the Christmas season with the first day of Christmas, December 25th, and celebrate for 11 more days, ending on the twelfth day, the day before Epiphany, January 6th.
For others, however, starting the Christmas season on December 25th doesn’t make sense, as that’s the ‘end’ of Christmas. Most people of this mindset begin celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and feel Christmas concludes on Christmas Day.
There’s another sect that see this as way too long for celebrating Christmas, and that it’s a sign of the commercialization of the holiday. Many of this perspective think Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated until December at the earliest and are likely to wait to put up their trees until one to two weeks before Christmas.
People who wait longer to put up their Christmas trees are apt to take them down later, too.
And then there are some who see the Christmas season starting at the first set of Christmas lights being strung in the neighborhood and Christmas Carols being played on the radio.
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When Does the Christmas Season End?
According to Catholic liturgy, the Christmas season ends on January 6th, the feast of Epiphany (also known as ‘Three Kings Day’). This means the season is for 12 days, commencing from midnight of December 24th and ending January 6th. Many others think Christmas ends the day after Christmas, though.
The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ song sums the start and stop of Christmas.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is about two full weeks to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the ‘reason for the season’ after all. Catholics commonly go to Mass on Christmas Day, and again on January 1st.
Both Christmas and New Year’s Day are generally ‘days of obligation’ for attending Mass, though there’s some year’s when New Year’s Day can be fulfilled with a regular Sunday Mass attendance.
Catholics celebrate the 12 days of Christmas by giving gifts and having special dinners. In our family, I tie in our main meal and/or dessert to the 12 Days of Christmas Song, making each day a bit special.
For instance, on the ‘first day of Christmas’ I prepared pear crisp for the ‘partridge in a pear tree.’ And on the ‘second day of Christmas’ I made turtle candies using Dove brand chocolates.
It can get tricky for some of these days, like ‘ten days of Christmas’ when I made popcorn for ‘ten lords a-leaping’. However, it’s a fun way to discuss the specialness of the holiday as well as study our religion.
Did you know that Catholics traditionally use the ’12 Days of Christmas’ song to teach their faith? Jesus is the ‘partridge in a pear tree’ for example, while the ‘nine ladies dancing’ represents the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Being that Christmas is celebrated worldwide, some people celebrate in different ways than Catholics, too.
Many Protestants, as well as non-religious people, for instance, see Christmas ending on December 26th and don’t celebrate the twelve days of Christmas.
Others wait until New Year’s Day to conclude Christmas, and the Christmas season, concluding it with the start of a new year.
What Other Holiday Festivals Are There During the Christmas Season?
As mentioned earlier, the Christmas season is made up of twelve days. During these 12 days, other festivals, Holy Days, and Christian solemnities occur as well. And in many ways, this makes Christmas even more special.
While some of holidays are related to Christendom, there are several other holidays during the twelve days of Christmas that originate from pagan cultures or just simply have no religious connection.
Below is a list of some of the Christmas-time holiday jamborees:
Boxing Day is one of the most popular Christmas season holidays in Europe. It falls right after Christmas, on the 26th of December. Boxing Day is a day to unwrap all the gift boxes gotten for Christmas. For others, it’s a day to go shopping. However, Boxing Day was originally a day set aside to give gifts to servants and peasants.
In Ireland, Boxing Day is known as ‘St. Stephen’s Day.’ Saint Stephen is credited with being the first Christian martyr, having lived during Jesus’ time and was stoned to death for professing his faith and denouncing Judaism.
St. Stephen’s Day and Boxing Day are often national holidays, giving people another day off.
This is a traditional Japanese festival held on the eve of New year’s Day, aka ‘New Year’s Eve’. During the festival, families gather in large numbers and celebrate the end of the old year and all the troubles it might have brought.
The families each prepare a bowl of Toshikoshi-soba or Toshikoshi-udon, a traditional noodle dish, which they eat communally throughout their all-night wake into the new year.
The Mardi Gras (French for ‘fat Tuesday’) festival has a similar significance to the feast of Epiphany, as both connect to the Magi, or three wise men.
The feast of Epiphany marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas as well as the Christmas holiday season.
While Epiphany is closely aligned to Christmas, as well as Advent, Mardi Gras is connected to Ash Wednesday and Lent. Mardi Gras occurs on the day before Ash Wednesday (the Tuesday prior) when the people of New Orleans, who are widely known for their extravagant street parties, have a large parade and other festivities of indulgence before the period of penance (Lent).
Kwanzaa is one of the earliest holidays, and is celebrated primarily in the US by around 2 percent of the population. It’s a festival to acknowledge African roots. Kwanzaa is a Swahli phrase, “matunda ya Kwanza,” which translates to ‘fresh fruits’.
It is not a religious festival per se but rather a traditional festival observed by individuals with African-American ancestry. Thus, those who celebrate Kwanzaa often celebrate Christmas, too.
Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26th to the 1st of January.
The Las Posadas carnival is celebrated in memory of the voyage of Joseph and the pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where she was put to bed. Las Posadas holds from December 16th to 24th.
During the festival, processions are made from home to home, with periodic stops for scripture readings, songs, and a Mass service at the end. Las Posadas is an interactive way to remember the birth of Jesus.
But there are other Christmas season celebrations asides from the aforementioned that occur sometime in December and early to mid January. Here are a few more, which you might enjoy researching.
- St Lucia’s Day
- Feast of St Nicholas
- Solemnity of Mary
- New Year’s Day
What Are the Highlights of the Christmas Holiday Celebrations?
During the Christmas season, the fun just never ends, making it a joyful holiday time. There’s always something to keep you excited and ‘in the Christmas spirit’. Here are some common Christmas practices around the world.
What’s Christmas without Christmas carols? These joyous songs add color and upliftment to the season, and their melodious tunes keep you in the spirit of merriment at all times. You are sure to hear a Christmas hymn just about everywhere you go during this season.
Some of the more popular Christmas songs for kids are Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells.
‘White Christmas’ and ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ top the list for most adults.
This is probably every child’s favorite Christmas custom and it occurs just about all over the world.
Relatives, friends, neighbors, and several other people are sure to stop by the house during Christmas and many will come bearing gifts.
Some families wait until Christmas morning to unwrap (give) presents, while others do it on Christmas Eve. Many Catholic families give small gifts on St. Nicholas’s Day (Dec. 6th) while giving larger gifts during the 12 days of Christmas.
For a few years, in our Christmas zeal, we gave 25 gifts to our four children (yes, that’s 100 presents I wrapped!), one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. However, before you faint from imagining our Christmas expense, know that most gifts were small like candy or trinkets and we still kept to a semi-modest $100 per child total.
The mistletoe is an iconic part of Christmas celebrations. For many homes, a Christmas decor cannot be complete without mistletoe hanging from somewhere. It is one of the traditional plants used, much like holly and evergreen trees.
The evergreen vegetation of the plant connotes fertility, bountiful yield, success, growth, and several other positive notions we wish for ourselves and family in the forthcoming year.
Now to be true, most adults look forward to Christmas season food as much as gifts. The Christmas tradition commonly invokes flavors and smells as iconic as good ol’ St. Nick himself.
Many homes will have a large feast on Christmas Day centered around roast beef, ham, or turkey. But Christmas desserts are what truly make the spirit of Christmas alive for many.
Popular Christmas desserts include cakes, candies, and pies, but probably decorating Christmas sugar cookies are the most common.
There are also some quintessential holiday drinks at this time too like Eggnog, Gluhwein (mulled wine), Cider, and Hot Cocoa that make the Christmas feast complete.
Santa, as beloved and connected to Christmas as he is, is also probably one of the most controversial figures of Christmas. While some people argue positively about his existence, others swear that Santa is just another character from a bedtime fairytale that’s responsible for commercializing the sacred holiday.
Nevertheless, whether you like it (or him) or not, Santa is a part of Christmas!
And according to Santa’s fans and believers, he is otherwise known as ‘Father Christmas’, and gets credit for the gifts found under Christmas trees of children who have been good all through the year.
Wrapping Up When Christmas Starts and Ends Officially
So to wrap it all up in a nice red bow, when Christmas starts (and ends) officially is not really official at all!
Catholics start the Christmas season on December 25th and celebrate through Epiphany, January 6th.
Others tend to start Christmas celebrations the day after Thanksgiving and end the day after Christmas Day (on December 26th).
And of course, there are always those somewhere in between. But for the most part, none of that really matters.
The important thing about Christmas is to “…honor it in your heart and keep it all year.”Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
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