No, I’m not talking about the ups and downs of family dynamics during the holidays. I am talking about the very interesting Christmas liturgical calendar.
On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of our Savior. It is, by any measure, a true celebration, a day of joy. So much joy that it can’t fit all in one day. Liturgically, Christmas “Day” actually lasts for an octave, or eight days!
Amidst this octave of celebration and pure joy are four very interesting feast days. The day after Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen the first martyr, followed by the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, then the Feast of the Holy Innocents and then the Feast of the Holy Family.
Why would the Church do this? Why go from the high of the birth of Jesus to the low of St. Stephen’s death? From the only Apostle not martyred, to the death of the innocent children killed by Herod. Finally to the Feast of the Holy Family, a remembrance of life and death.
All this and we are still within the Octave of Christmas. Do you see what I mean by a roller coaster? What’s the connection here? Is there one or was this just a chance occurrence that these feast days occur back to back? Perhaps the Church, in her Spirit led wisdom, has a reason to lead us from joy to persecutions.
The theme of martyrdom runs through each of these days. St. Stephen desired and endured martyrdom. St. John desired martyrdom, but did not have to endure it. The Holy Innocents never desired martyrdom, but endured it anyway. The Holy Family, the cradle and model of martyrdom, were each willing to surrender their lives for the other, with Jesus ultimately surrendering His life for all.
In Romans 6:3, Paul says, “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The Church is reminding us here that the wood of the crib becomes the wood of the cross. Martyrdom is the call of every Christian. We should all desire it out of love for God. And some of us may even have to endure it.
Venerable Pope John Paul I writes, the “manger and Bethlehem are only a beginning. Nazareth, Jerusalem, Calvary, the cross, the Resurrection complete it and say to us, “He has done so much for you. You, what will you do for Him?””
So, yes, celebrate Christmas fully! Embrace the joy. And remain sober enough to know that we have been baptized into His life and into His death. And praise God for that.