As Christmas lights around town come down and people pack their ornaments away, it would be easy to assume Christmas has ended. But not at the Monastery. Eight trees (five in the chapel, one in the dining room, one in the community room, and one in the entry way) stand tall and fresh with lights and decorations. Brought from the Monastery forest just before Christmas Eve, the trees are still fragrant and green. In the chapel you will still find the manger scene, reminding us of the miracle of Christ in the world.
“According to the liturgical calendar, Christmas really starts on Christmas Eve,” explains Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth. “The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ are not before, but after.” That would put the official end of Christmas on January 6 which is the Feast of the Epiphany that celebrates when the Three Wise Men arrived with their gifts. At the Monastery, the figures of the Three Wise Men are not immediately presented with the crèche. They start at the far end of the chapel and are moved a little closer each day by Sister Placida Wemhoff until they arrive at the stable on the Feast of the Epiphany.
“The whole point of it is the Mystery of God becoming one of us. It is such a profound Mystery, you can’t possibly acknowledge it in one day. That’s why the Church gives us 12 days to do what Mary did: ponder these things in our hearts.”
Sister Clarissa Goeckner added, “The reason we celebrate so long is because there is so much in it.”
So what is before Christmas?
The preparation for Christmas is Advent, which begins around the first of December. This is a time of waiting, anticipation, relaxation and prayer. No decorations are hung at the Monastery until it is over and Christmas officially begins on the 24th. “If you really do Advent right,” says Sister Carol Ann, “with all the anticipating and waiting, then you come to that Mystery, to the celebration of Christmas with plenty of time to ponder. Advent is such a vivid reminder to our culture that if something is worth having, it is worth waiting for and it often becomes more precious in that waiting. Our culture is so immediate – they want it and want it now.”
Between the beginning of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, there are also many feast days that keep the focus on the Mystery: St. Steven, Holy Innocence, Holy Family, Mary Mother of God. The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday after January 6th. This is also a day when the community does a special blessing of the Monastery, moving through the house together with prayers and Christmas carols. Only then do the decorations come down.
How can you celebrate these last days of Christmas?
Sister Carol Ann has some advice: “Before you pack your manger scene away, spend some quiet time with it and the story it tells of the profound Mystery of Christmas. If you’ve already packed it up, you can visit your local Catholic church who will have one up until Epiphany Sunday.”