It’s almost universal knowledge that Christmas is officially celebrated on December 25th, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. While some may be thankful that the hustle and bustle of planning family dinners and purchasing thoughtful gifts are over, the Christmas season is only just beginning on the 25th. While the most popular carol of all suggests just twelve days, it’s a topic of hot debate among Catholics. When does Christmas actually end?

It turns out that the answer to when Christmas officially ends is not so simple because there are technically three separate Christmas “seasons”: the Christmas octave, the liturgical Christmas season, and the traditional Christmastide season that concludes with Candlemas.

The Christmas Octave

An octave is an eight-day period within the Church in which Easter or Christmas is celebrated that includes the actual feast day. The eighth day is considered the “octave day,” and days in between are “within” the octave. Each day of the octave is considered to be an actual day of the feast and is celebrated as such.

Therefore, the Octave of Christmas begins Christmas Day on December 25th and extends until the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the January 1st.

The Liturgical Christmas Season

The liturgical Christmas season is situated after the Advent season and before the beginning of Ordinary time. It begins with the Christmas Eve vigil Masses and concludes with Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 8th.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also has a handy calendar available on their website, with descriptions of each feast day of the liturgical Christmas season.


In the older tradition kept in the liturgical year of Extraordinary Form of Mass, the whole “Christmastide” season lasts for forty days (corresponding to the forty days of lent) that concludes with Candlemas on February 2nd, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of the Lord.

When someone asks you when Christmas ends, ask them: Do you mean the Christmas octave, the liturgical Christmas season, or Christmastide?

Photo credit: Alena Ivochkina /
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  1. This is a very good information that I hope all Catholics should know about and celebrate according to the explanation provided. Most us Catholics think that Christmas begins and ends on December 25. Celebrating the entire season to the presentation of our Lord is very sensible and makes the joy that is associated with Christmas whole. Ryan thanks for your post.

  2. I like Epiphany for the end….but Presentation of Christ is good too. In Jewish culture Mary couldn’t be out in public for 40 days so this was her ritual purification even tho she was without sin.
    As to the 8 th day, it used to be called Feast of the circumcision when Christ was probably circumcised by a special rabbi or priest, maybe in the stable as Mary could not leave yet. Many times I’ve seen that and the 40 days presentation mixed up. That’s why I don’t like this Holy Day of obligation, now called Holy Motherhood of Mary, once called Day of Peace too. Whatever it is, being a Holy Day is fine but leave out obligation. I have spoken.

  3. We keep our outdoor lights on until the Baptism of the Lord. (The indoor decorations stay up until the wife decides they can come down. 🙂

  4. Then what about the “Epiphany” when the 3 Magi or Kings comes to Visit the Baby Jesus? Can the Epiphany Sunday be calls the End of Christmas Day? When it’s the best time to clear or dismantle the Christmas Crip or Manger in the Church?

  5. Catholic Christmas, as opposed to the commercial Christmas where little is actually said about Jesus, begins on Christmas Eve, includes the celebration of the mutilation of Jesus’s genitalia and formal naming, to Epiphany when the Three Wise Men arrived. If you follow the oldest tradition, Christmastide lasts for forty days until 2 FEB or Groundhog Day. In society today, Christmas has been commercialized and the focus is gifts not the birth of Jesus. Even in private homes, most decorations are not religious in nature.

  6. As a life long Catholic, I am both confused and disappointed in the Catholic Church. In the apostles creed it says we are “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church.” That Catholic means universal. Well this debate, one which should not even be an issue and the church indicates that we are not Catholic (universal). It keeps changing. At this point in my life, I now see that there are three choices as to when the end of Christmas season can be observed.. At least a very sour taste in my mouth but I try and believe that this is not what Catholicism is about. I try and brush your side man made decisions or issues or debates like this one… And seek the heart of God and hope that he finds mine and trying to follow the star in Bethlehem which keeps changing position. If you hear sarcasm in my message, it is because it is there. I pray that I can root it out and pay attention to what God says and not how man messes it up.


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