When Does the Christmas Season Start?

It's Probably Much Later Than You Think

12 trees of Christmas
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Some Christians complain—quite rightly—about the commercialization of Christmas, how Christmas is associated with the purchase of more, bigger, and better gifts for one another. That has helped drive the starting date of the "Christmas shopping season" earlier and earlier in the year. Decorations are often even available for purchase before Halloween.

Anticipating the Christmas Season

A couple of decades ago, the slogans "Christ is the reason for the season" and "Put Christ back in Christmas!" were widely espoused. Yet judging from the number of people waiting in lines at stores not just on Black Friday but, in recent years, on Thanksgiving Day itself, the commercialization of Christmas continues apace. That should come as no surprise because stores obviously want to do whatever they can to increase their sales figures, and we consumers are willing to go along.

Yet the problem runs deeper than store owners who want to provide for their families and those of their employees. Much of the blame for the extended Christmas season falls squarely on our own shoulders. We get out our Christmas decorations in November, and we put our trees up too early—the traditional date is Christmas afternoon. We have started holding Christmas parties even before the Thanksgiving turkey is all gone.

The Christmas Season Starts on Christmas Day

Judging by the number of Christmas trees that are put out to the curb on December 26, many people believe that the Christmas season ends the day after Christmas Day. They couldn't be more wrong: Christmas Day is the first day of the traditional Christmas celebration. You've heard of the 12 days of Christmas?

The period of Christmas feasting continues until Epiphany, Jan. 6, and the Christmas season traditionally continued until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas)—February 2—a full 40 days after Christmas Day!

Since the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, however, the liturgical season of Christmas ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the first Sunday after Epiphany. The liturgical season known as Ordinary Time begins the next day, typically the second Monday or Tuesday of the New Year.

Advent Is Not the Christmas Season

What most people think of as "the Christmas season" is the period between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. That roughly corresponds to Advent, the period of preparation for the Christmas feast. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (the Sunday closest to November 30, the Feast of Saint Andrew) and ends on Christmas Eve.

Advent is meant to be a time of preparation—of prayer, fasting, alms-giving, and repentance. In the early centuries of the church, Advent was observed by a 40-day fast, just like Lent, which was followed by the 40 days of feasting in the Christmas season (from Christmas Day until Candlemas). Indeed, even today, Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, still observe 40 days of fasting.

Put Christ Back in Advent—and the Christmas Season

In our world of instant gratification, however, we don't want to wait until Christmas to eat a Christmas cookie—much less fast or abstain from meat on Christmas Eve! Still, the church gives us this season of Advent for a reason—and that reason is Christ.

The better we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Nativity on Christmas Day, the greater our joy will be.