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Frequently Asked Questions about Christmas

Carla Maria Valenzi, 6, wears a Christmas hat in St. Peter's Square after Pope Francis' Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican Dec. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-CHRISTMAS Dec. 24, 2015.
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

What holy days of obligation fall during the Advent and Christmas seasons?

In the United States, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, is a holy day of obligation. Mary is the patroness of the US under this title. The others are Christmas Day, December 25, and Mary, Mother of God, January 1. In years when January 1 falls on either Saturday or Monday the obligation is lifted.

What are the other feast days and holy days during the Christmas season?

In addition to Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Christmas and Mary, Mother of God, Catholics celebrate: The Feast of the Holy Family, honoring Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a family. It is celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas or on December 30. When Christmas falls on Sunday, it is celebrated December 31.

The Epiphany, the oldest of the Christmas feasts, is also known as Three Kings Day for the three magi who found the Christ Child after following a star to Bethlehem. It is celebrated on Jan. 6 and is the major holiday of the Christmas period in the Eastern Church.

The Baptism of Our Lord brings the Christmas season to a close. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Epiphany.

When are the 12 days of Christmas?

The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day (December 25) and end on January 5, eve of the traditional date of the Epiphany.

What is “Little Christmas”?

In the Spanish-speaking world, Christmas Day is strictly religious, and gifts are exchanged on the feast of the Epiphany, when the wise men (or Magi) brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

What are the names of the three kings?

Tradition names them Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The custom of blessing homes on Epiphany developed because the feast commemorates the time that the three kings visited the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.