The Length of Advent and Christmas

The following comes from Br. Eric Pohlman, a monk of St. John’s Abbey.

Below are the seven possible calendar scenarios for the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Transferring Epiphany to Sunday:
In scenario 2 Epiphany is already on a Sunday – no need to transfer.
In scenarios 3 through 6 Epiphany is moved “up” to take the place of the “Second Sunday after Christmas” (January 5, 4, 3, or 2).
In scenarios 1 and 7 the first available Sunday is after January 6 – Epiphany then displaces Baptism of the Lord.
In these years the Baptism of the Lord is instead celebrated the following day, Monday (January 8 or 9).

Other interesting things for this year (scenario 7):
We have the longest possible Advent – four full weeks – the first “O” Antiphon won’t be heard until the Vigil of the 4th Sunday.
Since Christmas Day and Mary, Mother of God (the Octave Day of Christmas) are on Sundays the feast of the Holy Family is on Friday, December 30.
The combined length of the two seasons is consistent  in six of the seven scenarios – 43 days (6 weeks plus one day).
A day gained in Advent is lost in the week after Epiphany as you move left to right through scenarios 2 through 7.
Only in scenario 1 do the rules collude to reduce the combined length by a week – 36 days (5 weeks plus one day).
Five years out of seven we in the USA start Advent during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The other two years it’s the feast of Christ the King.

In sum:
The shortest Advent scenario is number one: twenty-two days.
The longest is scenario seven at twenty eight days.
The shortest Christmas season is scenario number one, which is:
fourteen days if Epiphany stays on January 6.
fifteen days if  Epiphany is transferred to Sunday.
The longest Christmas season is scenario number two, at twenty days.
The shortest combined Advent and Christmas season is scenario number one which is:
thirty-six days if Epiphany remains on January 6.
thirty-seven days if Epiphany is transferred to  Sunday.
The combined Advent and Christmas season is scenarios two-seven, which is
forty-three days if Epiphany remains on January 6.
forty-four days if Epiphany is transferred to  Sunday: scenario seven.

Below is a chart showing this:



  1. I am not a fan of the transferring of Epiphany to Sunday (just as with Ascension Thursday), and would make the Baptism of the Lord a more clearly Trinitarian theophanic feast the Sunday after Epiphany to conclude Incarnationtide. I would ditch the Mary Mother of God holyday of obligation while we’re at it (frankly, I think national conferences should choose one Marian holyday to observe as a HDoO in their national calendars – be it Assumption (the default), Immaculate Conception, Mary Mother of God, or another national patronal title as appropriate).

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        In some countries Epiphany is not a holyday of obligation and a national holiday. If I remember correctly, in the Western calendar, Epiphany is ranked along with Christmas, Ascension and Pentecost as much higher on the liturgical calendar list than the solemnities of saints or Mary.

      2. @Lee Bacchi:
        If we ditched MMoG as a HDoO, we could make Epiphany one, though we don’t have to do that. I don’t think the existence of the New Year’s holiday has done anything to make MMoG a special feast in the USA – not seeing the churches particularly full when I attend Mass, even though it’s a civic holiday.

        In point of fact, in the USA, we have many immigrant Catholics who come from cultures where the celebration of the Epiphany on the 6th is usual, and to my mind ditching the transference to Sunday honors that cultural reality.

  2. I do not like losing the week between Epiphany and the Baptism in 2017. Why not push Ordinal Time off one more week and celebrate and nourish ourselves with the Christmas season Scriptures? What is the issue with Epiphany being on Jan 7 or Jan 8 as a reason to cut out that week?

    1. @Lee Bacchi:
      Because the rest of the Church that doesn’t transfer the feast will have already concluded Incarnationtide on that Sunday, so the calendar will be a full week out of sync with the rest of the Church.

  3. It seems that the longest possible Advent season (2016) gives us the shortest possible Christmas season (2016-2017), if I have done my math right.

  4. Christmas is twelve days (12/25 to 1/6); NOT as some now think 12/13-12/25! both Christmas and Epiphany should be HDoO, especially as we have so many new people who celebrate Epiphany instead of or in addition to Christmas. Replace MMoG as HDoO with Epiphany.

    STOP transferring (yes, reverse, if needed) solemnities to Sunday; we do it with some (Ascension in some places) and Corpus Christi, but not e.g. Peter and Paul, Joseph, Annunciation, et al.

    I would also suggest that Peter and Paul (ON JUNE 29) be made HDoO in place of Assumption.

    Annunciation would be another possibility for HDoO it makes the best Pro-Life statement EVER. This would be a seventh HDoO.

    1. @Bob O’Grady:
      Just a pop culture note: I date the origin of the 12 days of Christmas being erroneously counted as *culminating* on Christmas Day (rather than Epiphany) to a Macy’s department store (New York-based) ad campaign in the latter half of the 1980s that counted down the 12 final shopping days to Christmas. The thinking was: since the twelfth day of Christmas involved getting the most loot, as it were, that must of course be Christmas. I knew nothing good would come of this.

      PS: Annunciation makes a terribly HDoO in terms of ritual memory because of frequency with which it gets bumped by Holy Week or Easter Week to the Monday after Low Sunday.

  5. Keep Epiphany on Jan. 6 for liturgical and cultural reasons. Ditch the MMofG holy day. In fact make Dec. 12 THE Marian holy day of the year.

  6. I am sympathetic to the non-transferring of feasts. However, Mass was not the only feature of these festivities. Epiphany was not a day for work-as-usual. If or when society at large (or Catholic employers, businesses, and such folk) were to recognize a mid-week festival, and a parish prepared to offer a meal, a dance, or such, then I think we’d be on the way to a full restoration.

    For parishes that do nothing but offer an extra Mass or two on an obligatory holy day: this is a church that has a more serious problem than transferring feasts to Sundays. I might agree with Mr Culley on 12 Dec: in my parish, they observed Mananitas at 7am, Mass at 6, followed by a meal with much festivity.

    A curious, possibly illustrative side note. Many years ago, a new bishop of mine declared Immaculate Conception to be a school and parish holiday (not that the latter made much difference to clergy and liturgists). The end result: hardly any children in my parish came to Mass that morning or evening; likewise a good number of parents and grandparents were absent for that mid-morning liturgical offering.

    1. @Todd Flowerday:

      I think the transferring of Epiphany helped to destroy cultural customs that once obtained among many American Catholics for it. I can still remember “Little Christmas” and associated minor gift-giving, et cet. It’s not like American Catholics ever had it as a civil holiday, or that the Church imposed an obligation to take a day without pay (there was a notional obligation, but what obtains today is not terribly different from earlier times of effective non-enforcement). And a discipline of festive parish meals for major observances even on Sundays are pretty scarce on the ground except in some intentional communities.

      I see the vision you outline: the parish following an enlarged conventual-but-active-apostolate model. It’s highly attractive, but likely to take root only in Benedict Option-style communities.

      While we have a new generation of American Catholics from cultures that take Epiphany more seriously, we have an opportunity to recover a festal sensibility that even the Sunday transferral is pretty bereft of.

  7. To those who’ve said as much: Why is the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God so undeserving of being a holy day of obligation that it needs to be ditched and/or replaced with something else?

      1. @Fr. Ron Krisman:


        But, for what, Father? 🙂

        @Norman Borelli:

        …it all become just a bit overwhelming.

        Is this a nicer way of saying, basically: It’s a busy time of the year and it’s just too much of a hassle to fit in one more activity?

        I have no high horse to get on, but, “for our convenience” really doesn’t seem like a good enough reason.

    1. @Elisabeth Ahn:
      Strictly from my perspective since in this country we already have two other Marian holy days of obligation (including the Immaculate Conception just three weeks earlier and January 1 coming just one week after Christmas Day) it all become just a bit overwhelming.

      I’d rather trade the holy day obligation for the Solemnity of Mary in for St. Joseph’s Day in honor of the forgotten member of the Holy Family.

      1. @Norman Borelli:

        “Strictly from my perspective since in this country we already have two other Marian holy days of obligation (including the Immaculate Conception just three weeks earlier and January 1 coming just one week after Christmas Day) it all become just a bit overwhelming.”

        And, if Epiphany were not transferred, and the bishops keen on not reducing the number of HHoOs for some reason (fear of laxity, perhaps), it’s a better switch given the above.

  8. Elisabeth Ahn : @Fr. Ron Krisman: heh. But, for what, Father? @Norman Borelli: …it all become just a bit overwhelming. Is this a nicer way of saying, basically: It’s a busy time of the year and it’s just too much of a hassle to fit in one more activity? I have no high horse to get on, but, “for our convenience” really doesn’t seem like a good enough reason.

    No. It is a way of saying that given vital responsibilities that many of us have perhaps a little consideration can be given and maybe spacing Holy Days of Obligations around the calendar might make more sense in the moderan world, but thanks for making assumptions about me.

    1. @Norman Borelli:
      Given how normal it is for most Catholics to confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Annunciation given its proximity to Christmas, which arises merely because the dedication feast of the church of St Anne in Jerusalem was on September 8th and gave rise a synaxis-type association with the Nativity of the BVM, and an extrapolation of her conception by St Anne 9 months earlier made its way into the calendar.

      Dedications rudder more dates on our sanctoral calendar than most people realize. For example, we have things like the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross arising out of the dedication feast for the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, and then having a 40-day echo of Lent before that marked by the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th.

    2. @Fr. Ron Krisman #21:

      ah. In that case, thank you to you, too!

      @Norman Borelli #22:

      um, yeah, that’s what I said and meant. You’re saying the same thing, in a roundabout (= nicer) way.

      but hey, have it your way.

  9. Then there are those who mourn the disappearance of the feast of the circumcision.

    For whatever reason, MMoG is actually one of the *better*-attended (usually) non-Sunday days of obligation around here. No doubt that is because it happens to fall on New Year’s Day (and New Year’s Eve in the early evening). Thanksgiving, not a holy day of obligation, is also very well-attended – somehow, people’s instinct seems to be to go to church that day. Same with Independence Day. Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the calendar but not a solemnity nor a holy day of obligation, is the occasion of large pilgrimages and liturgical celebrations.

    Maybe the church needs to try to get its calendar more in-sync with the culture than the other way around?

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