There are so many things to remember at this time of year – last-minute gifts, the location of your favorite sugar cookie recipe, pick up the egg nog, water the Christmas tree, times for family events…

Yes, there’s a lot to remember, but they pale in comparison to the six dates coming up that you should not forget:

December 26, December 28, January 1, January 8, and January 9.

All those dates occur after Christmas Day, but they’re still part of Christmas. Most of the world seems not to know this. Consequently, Christmas shuts down around us on December 26. Unless you count the after-Christmas sales, which don’t really celebrate Christmas but rather are a means to unload unsold inventory for merchants. I’m not just picking on merchants; businesses and media of all kinds stop Christmas-ing the very next day.

But for Catholics, December 25 is only one of the days of Christmas. We have an entire Octave to celebrate Christ’s Birth. Basically, an Octave is the repeating of a solemnity (high feast day) for eight days in a row. Each day of an Octave is the same in the liturgy as the original solemnity. The Catholic Church observes two octaves annually – Christmas and Easter. The Christmas Octave begins on Christmas Day and ends on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. On that day, we honor Mary and gives thanks for her motherhood. Without that, there would be no Christmas!

But there are days during and after Christmas Octave that deserve our attention as well.

On December 26, we honor St. Stephen, who was the first of the disciples to be martyred for Christ. He was one of the first seven deacons ordained by the Apostles, and was known for his wisdom beyond his years. As he was being stoned to death, he begged God not to punish his murderers and then said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”

December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These are the tikes who were slaughtered for Jesus’ sake. In his rage after having been duped by the Magi, Herod ordered his cronies to kill all male children aged 2 and under, expecting that one of them would be the One.

January 1, as mentioned above, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. What many might not know or may forget is that it’s a holy day of obligation and we are required to attend Mass. Tough as it may be to rise early (or at a reasonable hour) and get over to church, it’s a most beautiful Mass honoring our Blessed Mother. It’s a can’t-miss not only for its obligation, but also for its beauty and meaning.

On January 8, we celebrate Epiphany – the feast of the Three Kings visiting the Holy Family. Traditionally, Epiphany is observed on January 6, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have decided that the feast should be observed on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8 (as is the case this year). Epiphany literally means “manifestation,” and so the word fits the feast. The visit of the Magi revealed Christ as the Light of the nations, as they came from different countries and were the first gentiles to pay homage to Jesus.

January 9 marks the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. It also marks the end of the season of Christmas. On this day, we commemorate the second epiphany (manifestation) of Jesus which took place when he was baptized in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. It was at the glorious moment that the heavens opened, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." As when the Magi appeared, it was revealed that this was an exceptional Man – the Son of God, Messiah, Chosen One, King of Kings, the Christ.

Look at all that we’d miss out on if we shut down our Christmas on December 26 along with the secular world! These are dates that we not only want to remember, but that we want to celebrate, savor, and from which we’ll receive abundant graces.

Merry Christmas Season!