As we conclude the season of Advent, we enter into the true Christmas season. And with that, we must not let the celebration end.
As Archbishop Robert Carlson noted in this week's column, there was a huge anticipation leading up to the historic eclipse in August. After totality came and went, we quickly moved on with our lives.
With Christmas, we must resist the urge to move on. The culture sends its signs that Christmas is over, with the abrupt end of Christmas music on the radio, for example. By January, stores are stocked with items for Valentine's Day — and yes, even Easter.
A recent Pew Research Center survey indicated that the percentage of Americans who see Christmas as a religious holiday continues to decline. Nine out of 10 adults said they celebrate the holiday. Half say they plan to attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
"Most respondents in the new poll say they think religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less in American society today than in the past. But relatively few Americans both perceive this trend and are bothered by it," according to the Pew survey.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that many have succumbed to the commercialization of Christmas. We must do our part to put Christ at the center of Christmas. During the Christmas season, we should share the Good News of Jesus' birth, and the important role it plays in salvation history. We must not keep that to ourselves.
Pope Francis recently noted that in Advent, we must make time to renew our commitment to prayer and caring for others. By doing so, we are making space for Christ in our hearts, thus filling the holes that no physical gift could ever replace.
Reflecting on the empty manger, he encouraged others to pray before it, saying "Come Lord, fill the crib, fill my heart and encourage me to give life, to be fruitful."
During Christmas, let us fill our hearts with a love and joy that is meant to be shared with others. By being fruitful with our good thoughts and works, we can share that fruitfulness with all of God's children.
>> Ways to extend the Christmas season
Christmas is a celebration that lasts beyond Dec. 25. The 12 days of Christmas extends from Christmas Day through the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6). Here are some suggestions for how you can keep the spirit of Christmas alive past Dec. 25:
Send out Christmas cards after Christmas
Make a batch of cookies and share with a neighbor
Sometime in the new year, make an effort to volunteer with an organization that helps others in need.
Find a way to have a retreat — even if it is just for a day or for an hour in the eucharistic adoration chapel
Use blessed chalk to mark your doorway on the Feast of the Epiphany
Wait until Christmas to put the star on the tree or Jesus in the creche, or wait to take down your tree until Epiphany
Examine your conscience and go to confession
Extend the season by singing carols in your neighborhood
Host a Twelfth Night party and invite family members or friends you didn't get to see on Christmas Day
Wait to open gifts until after Dec. 25
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Christmas Day is a Holy Day of Obligation
Christmas Day this year falls on a Monday, and it is a Holy Day of Obligation. This means that Catholics are obliged to fulfill their duty to attend Masses for both the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas.
Evening Masses on Saturday, Dec. 23, and morning Masses on Sunday, Dec. 24, are for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Evening Masses on Sunday, Dec. 24, and morning Masses on Monday, Dec. 25, are for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas).
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, which falls on Monday, Jan. 1, is not a Holy Day of Obligation in 2018. The U.S. bishops decreed that whenever the solemnity falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the rule to attend Mass is abrogated.