This year, Advent was the longest it can possibly be: four complete, full weeks. Hopefully, that means we have all had time to get spiritually prepared for the great feast of the Lord’s birth.
For many of us, however, the week between Christmas and New Year’s can be a blur. If we are blessed with vacation time, the days can seem like one long weekend. Or the travels and family commitments can mean the days blur together in a flurry of activity.
The octave of Christmas lasts for eight days. While the season of Christmas lasts until the Baptism of the Lord, the eight days of Christmas are those of heightened festivity. At Mass, each day is a little Christmas: the Gloria is sung and the feast is celebrated again and again.
In the hustle and bustle of the season, how do we keep our eyes on the meaning of these days? How do we celebrate this octave when our days threaten to blur together? Below are five ideas.
For many, these days are not marked with vacation or family. Many are alone during this time, and this week is not one of joyful celebration. If you know someone in your life who may not have someone to spend these days with, consider inviting them to join your family for dinner or a game night. Open your home and share the joy – even the chaos – with those who might otherwise go without this week.
1. Abridge Don’t Omit
If you have a daily prayer routine, the events of the holidays, vacation time, travels, or family visits can throw everything out of whack. If you try to cling to the routine or ritual, you can find that it quickly falls by the wayside. It is also tempting to simply omit it until life settles back into the other routines (you return to work, out-of-town guests go home, etc). Rather than doing either of these two things, decide now how you can abridge or alter your routine. If you usually pray when you wake up, how you can shorten that time so that it’s still doable? Perhaps you usually go to daily Mass, but you can’t. So continue to read the daily Mass readings. If you usually say an entire rosary at night, find a way to work a few decades in throughout the day.
Look ahead and plan ahead. Plan a few simple ways you can abridge your prayer routine. That will help you to keep it up even when other aspects of daily life might change for a few days.
2. Read Luke 2:1-21 every day.
It can be easy to celebrate the traditions of Christmas for a week – keep watching Christmas movies, eat Christmas cookies, listen to Christmas music. But sometimes in all of that we forget the why. It might have been in the forefront of our minds in Advent as we diligently did the Jesse Tree with our kids or celebrated Advent in our daily prayers… but now we get swept away in the Christmas vacation mode. Keep the joy of that Midnight Mass alive in your heart by reading Luke’s account every single day. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep the Scriptures alive in your heart, that you never grow tired of this familiar story and these familiar words.
3. Celebrate the feast days
The week between Christmas and New Years is full of wonderfully rich feast days: St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family…. Even if you can’t make it to Mass during this time, take note of the feasts on the Church calendar. Don’t let them be eclipsed by Christmas, but rather pray about why each feast is celebrated so closely to Christmas and what that feast can teach us about the great mystery of the Incarnation.
4. Read the Mass readings
Perhaps you find yourself with vacation time and can actually go to daily Mass more easily than during the year. Or maybe you’re used to going to daily Mass but travels and family visitors make it difficult during this time. Regardless, I encourage you to read the daily Mass readings each day of this week. The first reading is often from the first letter of St John, a beautiful discourse on the Incarnation, discipleship, and love. (If you want help reflecting on the daily readings, I highly recommend the podcast Letters from Home from the St. Paul Center. You might hear a familiar voice on Thursdays!)
5. Pray the Joyful Mysteries
While certain mysteries of the rosary are traditionally prayed on different days of the week, I often stick with the Joyful Mysteries every day of the Christmas octave. Even if you don’t get an entire rosary said, there’s at least three minutes in your day at some point to pray the third Joyful Mystery, I promise. Ask the Lord to continue to stir up in your heart wonder and awe for these great mysteries.
May these days be full of the Lord’s peace and blessings. If this is a particularly difficult time of year for you, know that you are part of the big family of God, the Church, and there are people praying for you and loving you. May we find time in this season to love each other, pray for each other, and allow the Christ Child to bring us closer to Him and to each other.