Celebrate the Octave of Christmas with your family

By Michelle Martin | Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2014

The kids wake up at zero-dark-thirty on Christmas morning, dig through their stockings for the good candy, rip the wrapping paper on the presents that were placed beneath the tree scant hours before and look up: Now what?

If the family did not go to Mass on Christmas Eve or attend Midnight Mass, then it might be time to get ready for church. If they have relatives in the area, the rest of the day might be taken up with traveling to someone else’s home for Christmas dinner. If they have a lot of relatives, they could be in for multiple Christmas dinners. Really. It happens.

But by the time the sun sets on Dec. 25, for most families, Christmas is, for all intents and purposes, over.

That’s a shame, according to Catholic writer and speaker Susan Vogt, because despite what retailers and radio stations might say, the Christmas season actually starts Dec. 25. It doesn’t end there.

The church celebrates several feasts and solemnities within the Octave of Christmas — that is, the eight days that start Dec. 25 and end Jan. 1 with the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Traditionally, Christians have celebrated the 12 days of Christmas, ending with the Epiphany.

Extend the holiday

While some families might want to focus on the church-based feasts, others can find plenty of ways to extend the Christmas holiday by enjoying time as a family, Vogt said.

Vogt, who also has enrichment activities posted on her website,, suggested that families that want to extend their celebration of the Nativity of the Lord start by thinking about the actual nativity, when Mary gave birth in a stable and the Holy Family huddled together while receiving visits from shepherds and kings.

The first thing, Vogt said, is to limit alone time. Christmas is a holiday to celebrate with others. Take the time in the days after Christmas, days when children generally are out of school and even many adults have lighter work obligations, to visit friends and family. Such visits might involve travel, as they did for the Magi, or they might be more local, as they were for the shepherds.

Next, she said, is to limit time inside, as much as possible. Being outside necessarily cuts down on isolation, and can build solidarity with the people in the nativity story.

Not directly related, but an outgrowth of the other two, is to limit screen time for children and adults, to encourage human-to-human rather than human-to-device interaction.

Things that have worked for her family include spending time together playing games or doing activities that members received as Christmas gifts. One thing they started on a trip was allowing each member of the family to choose an activity that everyone else would participate in.

That could involve screen time, Vogt said, if someone wants the whole family to play a video game (Wii bowling anyone?) together, or even to come together to watch a movie. The key is that everyone is involved.

Vogt, who lives in Covington, Kentucky, said the first time her family tried having everyone choose an activity, they were on a trip to Chicago. One child chose laser tag.

“Jim and I, being lifelong peaceniks, never took our kids to laser tag or to anything else that involved shooting people, even in a simulation,” Vogt said. “We swallowed hard and decided one afternoon wouldn’t affect them too much, and we went, and it was a lot of fun.”

Christmas is also about a baby — the newborn Jesus — and Vogt said she would encourage families, when possible, to take the opportunity to visit a baby during the Christmas season. If they don’t have relatives or friends with infants, they could look for ways to help babies they don’t know, perhaps by donating baby goods to food pantries or crisis pregnancy centers.

Importance of families

Kathleen Laffey, who coordinates the family association at St. Mary of the Woods Parish, 7033 N. Moselle Ave., said this year, the group is emphasizing the Feast of the Holy Family, which falls the Sunday after Christmas. Different families will fill liturgical roles for each of the weekend Masses, she said.

Part of the goal is to remind people of the importance of families, and part of it is to encourage people to come to Mass that weekend.

“A lot of times, people think, ‘We went on Christmas, so we’re good,’” she said. “We’re trying to let people know they are welcome at Mass.”

Vogt said that celebrating Christmas early was always a pet peeve, and she and her husband worked to keep Christmas from encroaching on Advent, not even decorating the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.

Keeping Advent, she said, reinforces the importance of waiting.

“You can get ready and prepare,” she said. “But the actual celebrations don’t start until Christmas Day.”

For more ideas to extend the Christmas celebration, visit

This year’s liturgical celebrations within the Octave of Christmas

  • Dec.25: Christmas
  • Dec. 26: Feast of St. Stephen, deacon and the first martyr
  • Dec. 27: Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist
  • Dec. 28: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
  • Dec. 29: Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr
  • Dec. 31: Memorial of St. Sylvester, pope
  • Jan. 1: Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

St. Stephen’s day

St. Stephen the Martyr is seen in a mural painted by Lorenzo Sabbatini in this photo taken during the restoration of the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. There is much to celebrate and there is a lot to remember during the octave of Christmas. After honoring the birth of Christ on Dec. 25, the following day, on the second day of Christmas, the church honors St. Stephen, deacon and martyr.


  • christmas
  • midnight mass
  • susan vogt

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