When Does the Christmas Season Start?

It's Probably Much Later Than You Think

Girls looking at Christmas presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve. Klaus Vedfeldt/Getty Images

Some Christians complain—quite rightly—about the commercialization of Christmas, which has helped drive the starting date of the "Christmas shopping season" earlier and earlier. A couple of decades back, the slogans "Christ is the reason for the season" and "Put Christ back in Christmas!" were popular. 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.

And that's no surprise, because stores obviously want to do whatever they can to increase their sales figures, and we "consumers" are willing to go along.

Anticipating the Christmas Season

Yet the problem runs deeper than store owners who want to provide for their families. Much of the blame for the extended Christmas season falls squarely on our shoulders.. We get out our Christmas decorations in November; we put our trees up early (see When Should You Put Up Your Christmas Tree?); we start 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 (see When Should You Take Down Your Christmas Tree?), many people believe that Christmas Day ends the Christmas season. They couldn't be more wrong: Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas. The period of feasting continues until Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas, 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 liturgical season known as Ordinary Time begins the next day.)

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. It's meant to be a time of preparation—of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, 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. (See What Is Philip's Fast? for more details.)

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 His coming on Christmas Day, the greater our joy will be.