In Singapore, the seasons shift as abruptly as the monsoon rains. One day it is Christmas Day on the 25th with the supermarkets playing canticles of joy, jolly jingles, and cheery Christmas carols, when it is suddenly the 26th and the clamour of gongs and cymbals clashing a dissonant chord, begin to pulsate out of all plausible manner of retail avenues – heralding in the most ostentatious of ways, the arrival of Spring and the Lunar New Year.

It may be surprising to know this, but there are many Catholics who are just as confused as these secular retail establishments.

  • Does Christmas end after 8 days on the 1st of January, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God?
  • Or is it 12 days of Christmas?
  • Could it be that the Christmas season extends beyond 12 days?
  • What about Christmastide? Or is known as Yuletide?
  • What about Epiphany and the Season following Epiphany?
  • Is Advent part of Christmas?
  • What about “Xmas”? Can we call Christmas, “Xmas”?

According to the Roman Breviary, where the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours are found (cf. Lallou, n.d.), the Christmas season starts with the vigil celebrations on Christmas Eve and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Advent is the preparatory season for Christmas and is not part of the Christmas season.

The confusion about Christmas extending beyond these days comes from the pre-Vatican II 1962 Extraordinary Form calendar that celebrates 6 weeks of the season known as, Time after Epiphany and a pre-lenten season called Septuagesima (Miller, 2020). To make things a little more confusing, the six weeks of Time after Epiphany are marked by the liturgical colour green, which is the colour of Ordinary Time, and Septuagesima – a short liturgical period of 17 days that includes 3 Sundays before Ash Wednesday, is marked by the colour purple. According to this Extraordinary Form calendar of 1962, Christmas includes Epiphanytide (where the liturgical colour is now green); and ends on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, on the February the 2nd – making the celebration of Christmas 40 days, before Septuagesima begins.  What makes it interesting is that because Epiphany is a movable feast, Christmastide could extend all the way up to Alleluia Saturday, the day before the first Sunday of Septuagesima, making the celebration of Christmas 40-days-ish (The Guild of St. Peter ad Vincula, 2018).

In 1969, as part of the call for reforms in Vatican II, Pope St. Paul VI released the Motu Proprio Mysterii paschalis which approved the universal norms on the Liturgical Year, and the new General Roman calendar. The liturgical season Septuagesima was suppressed and removed, and the season that was named, Time after Epiphany, rightfully returned to Ordinary Time:

“Septuagesima time, an anticipation of Lent, is suppressed.. This revision returns Lent to its original unity and significance. The season of Septuagesima is abolished since it had no meaning of its own. It was difficult to explain this season to the people, and even the names of its Sundays were obscure. Most of all, it took away from the ‘newness’ of the penance theme, proper to the liturgy of Lent.” (United States Catholic Conference, 1976, 21)

Since 1969, the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite and the General Roman Calendar state the Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays as Ordinary Sundays (Miller, 2020).

Interestingly, the Eastern Church still observes Christmas until the Feast of Candlemas, or in other names, the Presentation of the Lord, which is the 2nd of February. Pope St. John Paul II as a nod to this, kept the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square until the 2nd of February (Catholic Straight Answers, n.d.).

What about Christmas as Xmas, and the term Yuletide?

This is a problem that is only verily found in English and the languages that English has influenced, as other cultures and languages term the Christmas season as Navidad (Spanish), Noël (French) and Natale (Italian) (Akin, 2014), Pasko (Filipino), to name some examples.

First, Yuletide. The reason why we would not call the Christmas Season Yuletide, is because the English word, “Yule” can be traced etymologically to an Old Norse celebration jol, a pagan festival that was celebrated in the Germanic regions to mark the Winter Solstice (Online Etymology Dictionary, n.d.a). During this time, the people would carry a Yule log and set it on fire, to signify the passing of the old year and the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere. That act of burning the log and the subsequent festivities had nothing to do whatsoever with the celebration of Christmas (Macmillan Dictionary Blog, n.d.). While the trend in recent years is to call Christmas the Yuletide, as popularised by some songs sung during this period, it is erroneous to do so.

Nonetheless, in today’s modern context, the Swedes in their language today, call Christmas time, Julklapp, Julen, or Jul which harkens back to a time of the Old Norse heritage. Language aside, for the Christian Swedes, this season starts on the 13th of December, the Feast Day of St. Lucia all the way through until Christmas Eve – the highlight of the season. The Advent calendar otherwise known as  Adventskalender, counts down 24 days from 1st December, all the way to 24th December, and was invented by the Swedes and is celebrated concurrently with the Advent Wreath. On the 25th of December, the Swedes sleep in until late (Olsson, 2016).

On the other hand, the term, “Xmas” deserves a little more scrutiny. On the surface, it seems that “Xmas” is a modern and secular attempt to scrape out “Christ” with a literal crossing out. This was compounded by the press release sent out in 1977, by Conservative New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson, telling journalists to avoid the word, “Xmas” and to “Keep Christ in Christmas Day” (The Montreal Gazette, 1977, 40). The word, “Xmas” has been around longer than we would believe. If we look at the etymology of the word, “Xmas” can be traced to as early as the 1st millennium, around A.D. 1100 and was used by the medieval Anglo-Saxons. Corresponding to the Greek chi, the first letter in Greek for Christ, Χριστοςthe word, “Christmas” was abbreviated as Xp-mas, X’temmas, Xr-mas , or Xres mæsse (Online Etymology Dictionary, n.d.b).

Nomina Sacra – or literally, sacred names like the name of Jesus (Iota-Sigma) were also abbreviated rather than writing them in full to retain their sacredness (Akin, 2014; Wilkinson, 2015). This was a writing convention that the early Church used and that was understood univerally by early Christians (Roberts, 1938; Hurtado, 1998).  At the same time, without this crucial background knowledge and history, it is easy to see why “Xmas” may be seen as irrelevant to “Christmas”, and worse, fuel the lie that the secular world invented the term, “Xmas” (Cain, 2017).

Concluding Remarks:

Christmas is the second-most important Liturgical Feast in the Church’s calendar and comes after Easter. In it, is embedded the mystery of God’s incarnation, and its celebration reminds us that because we are so dearly loved, the Divine chose to become one of us, and to walk among us. Perhaps, the invitation this Christmas season, is to be like the magi, who ventured forth in faith to seek out the King of kings, despite not knowing where they were eventually to land. They did not know the answers, but they went forth seeking the Truth. As informed Catholics, we need to carry out our own research like the magi did and align our knowledge to the teachings of Scripture and the Magisterium. This exercise is augmented by taking the time to seek out reputable theological sources, and by doing the best of our capacities to dispel the cloud of confusion that surrounds the celebration of this most Holy time.


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan







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Cain, A. (2017, Dec. 10). What the biggest “War on Christmas” controversy gets wrong about History. Business Insider. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


Catholic Straight Answers. (n.d.). What is Candlemas Day? Catholic Straight Answers. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


Hurtado, L. W. (1998). The Origin of the Nomina Sacra: A Proposal. Journal of Biblical Literature 117 (4). 655–73.


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Macmillan Dictionary Blog. (n.d.) Yuletide. Macmillan Dictionary. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


Miller, J. G. (2020). What Is Septuagesima? (And Why It’s No Longer in the Current Calendar). Catholic Culture. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


Olsson, S. (2016). The Swedish Christmas Traditions You didn’t Know About. Culture Trip. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from


Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.a) Yuletide. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.b.) Xmas. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


Pope St. Paul VI. (1969). Mysterii Paschalis. [Motu Proprio]. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from


Roberts, C. H. (1938). Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library Manchester, Vol. III, Theological and Literary Texts. Manchester: Manchester University Press


The Guild of St. Peter ad Vincula. (2018). The Roman Breviary. Guild of St. Peter ad Vincula. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from


The Montreal Gazette. (1977, Dec 8). Xmas is ‘X-ing out Christ’. The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from,1874288&dq=xmas+christmas+x&hl=en


United States Catholic Conference. (1976). Roman Calendar: Text and Commentary. Washington, DC: United States.


Wilkinson, R. J. (2015). “2 The First Christians and the Tetragrammaton”. Tetragrammaton: Western Christians and the Hebrew Name of God. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. doi: