It has been a quiet day in the Vatican as Pope Francis prepares for his first general audience of the New Year tomorrow. As Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020 both fell on a Wednesday, Francis’ last general audience was December 18.

It’s always good to return from a vacation and have some down time before jumping into a busy routine full time – and that’s what life is like when you cover the Vatican and the papacy. There are never-ending private audiences, from heads of State or government to groups of all sizes, general audiences, papal trips, a busy liturgical schedule, expected (and unexpected) documents, and surprises of all kinds, like the Pope popping up in unexpected places such as religious houses, hospitals, schools or the 100 Nativity Cribs exhibit.

Upcoming liturgical events include next Sunday’s celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord when the Pope usually baptizes babies in the Sistine Chapel during Mass, then vespers in St. Paul’s Outside the Walls on Saturday, January 25 for the solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul and start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and on Sunday, January 26, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s basilica to mark Sunday of the Word of God.

If you recall, last September, in the Motu proprio “Aperuit Illis,” Francis decreed that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.

On another matter: the following article from Aleteia is in response to questions I have been asked, in person and via email, about the end of the Christmas season. In the years I worked at the Vatican, I was always struck by the fact that the nativity scene and Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square stayed up until the February 2 feast of the Presentation and I have adopted that date as the end of the season, the time when I take down decorations, change my dining table settings, etc. However, a real tree usually had to come down earlier. Pope Francis marks the Baptism of Jesus as the end of the Christmas season.

However, my Lladro nativity scene is up all year!

As you will see, February 2 once was the date the Church considered to be the end of the Christmas season.

Philip Kosloski | Jan 06, 2020
Is it December 26? January 6? February 2?

In secular culture the Christmas season begins around Halloween and ends on December 26. However, in the Roman Catholic Church, the liturgical season of Christmas only begins on December 25 and lasts much longer!

The USCCB explains, “The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him…including the fact that he was born to die for us.”

For those dioceses in the Roman Rite that celebrate Epiphany on January 6, the Baptism of the Lord falls on the Sunday after it. In other places where Epiphany is celebrated on the first Sunday that falls from January 2 through January 8, then the Baptism of the Lord could occur either on the following Sunday, or on a Monday (this happens if Epiphany is celebrated on January 7 or 8).

The latest that the Baptism of the Lord can occur is January 13. The season of Ordinary Time starts on the day after this feast.

This means that typically, the Christmas season runs roughly from December 25 – January 13.

For many Eastern Catholics (as well as Orthodox Christians), the birth of Jesus is celebrated on January 6 (or sometimes on January 7).

At the same time, the historical Christmas cycle extends even past the Baptism of the Lord. Traditionally the feast of Candlemas (the Presentation of the Lord) occurs on February 2 and marked the final conclusion of the “Christmas cycle.”

Candlemas celebrates an event that occurred 40 days after Jesus’ birth and was his first introduction to the Temple. In other words, it is the final “baby Jesus” feast day on the Church’s liturgical calendar.

Christmas is a beautiful season in the Catholic Church, one that doesn’t end on December 26, but extends as far as February!