Why is Christmas Celebrated Mainly at Night?

by Travis Spencer Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 License

O Holy night! Yes, a silent night! and, it came upon a midnight clear. Christmas, it would seem, is a festival of the mid night. Jesus is born when it is dark, dark midnight. We are sure of it. And why not?

Even though we are not told the exact hour of his birth we are sure it must have been night. Scripture does say that the Shepherds who heard the glad tidings were keeping watch over their flock “by night” (cf Luke 2:9). Further the Magi sought him by the light of a star, and stars are seen at night, deep midnight. None of this is evidence that Jesus was born at 11:59 PM, but it sets our clocks for night, deep midnight.

Add to this the fact that Christmas is celebrated at the Winter solstice, the very darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere. More specifically Christmas breaks in on the very days that the light begins its subtle return. The darkest and shortest days of the year make their impression on December 21 and 22. But by December 23 and 24 we notice a definite, but subtle trend, the days are getting longer, the light is returning! Time to celebrate the return of the light, it is going to be alright!

How fitting now, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the true Light of the World, in a deep and dark December. Jesus our light, kindles a light and a fire that never dies away. Indeed, in the dark hours of December, we have noticed a trend. The light is returning, the darkness is abating, the days are growing longer from here on out. It is subtle now! But it will grow. And with the return of light, we celebrate our True Light: Jesus.

But light is best appreciated in contrast. We think most, and appreciate most, the glory of light when the darkness assails. There’s just something about Christmas Eve. As the time approaches through December, and the darkness grows, we light lights. Yes, all through December as the darkness grows, we light Advent candles, more as it grows darkest! Even the secular among us string lights in dark December, in malls, on their houses, as if to say, the darkness cannot win, the light conquers!

And lights have their true glory in contrast the darkness. Who sees the stars in mid day? And who appreciates the beauty of light until they have experienced the darkness? Yes, Christmas is a feast of the light. We confront the darkness of December and declare to it: “Your deepest days are over, the light is returning.” And for us of faith, we say to a world in ever deeper darkness, “Your darkness cannot remain. It wil be overcome and replaced.” For though darkness has its season, it is always conquered by the light.

An atheist recently scoffed at me on the com box of this blog that our day is over, the world has rejected faith… Sorry dear Atheist friend, the light always wins. On December 22, the darkness recedes, the light returns and all darkness is scattered. It seems subtle at first, but the light always returns, the darkness cannot last.

Light has a way of simply replacing the darkness. In three months the equinox (equal night and day) occurs, and in six months the summer solstice (the longest day) comes. And the darkness will once again seek to conquer. BUT IT ALWAYS LOSES. The light will return. Jesus is always born at the hour of darkness’ greatest moment. Just when the darkness is celebrating most, it’s hour is over, the light dawns again.

Yes we celebrate after sundown on December 24, in accord with a tradition going back to Jewish times that our Feasts begin at sundown the night before.  Christmas morning is almost an afterthought. Most pastors know, the majority of their people have come the “night” before.  In a deep and dark December, a light comes forth, a star, shines in the heavens.

We gather, in and on a dark night. We smile. We are moved by the cry of a small infant, by whose voice the heavens were made. His little cry lights up the night. The darkness must go, the light has come, day is at hand.

Yes, we celebrate at night to bid farewell to the darkness. It cannot prevail. It is destined to be scattered by the Light far more powerful than it, a Light it must obey, a Light that overwhelms and replaces it. Farewell to darkness, the Light of the World has come.

Jesus the light of the world.

The video below is a celebration of light. As a Christmas gift to myself on December 22nd, the darkest day of the year, I took an afternoon off and went to photograph the triumph of light over darkness. I went to a Mausoleum, Yes, to a place where thousands are buried in the walls. But also in those walls are windows, glorious windows where light breaks through, and Christ shines forth. Some of the most beautiful stained glass in the city of Washington resides in that place of death and darkness. The light breaks through and it speaks of Christ.

This video is a testimony to just some of those windows (I am putting together another video of other windows to be shown later). In this place, a place of death, a light breaks through, the light of faith, the Light of Christ. The text of the music in this video is from Taize, and it says, Christe lux mundi, qui sequitur te, habebit lumen vitae, lumen vitae (Christ, Light of the World! Who follows you has the light of life, the light of life).

As you view this video of the Life of Christ, ponder that stained glass begins as opaque sand. But when subject to, and purified by the fire, it radiates the glory of light which can now shine through it. So it is for us. Born in darkness, but purified by Christ and the Fire of the Spirit, we begin to radiate his many splendored Light shining through us, to a dark world.

The Light wins, He always wins.

14 Replies to “Why is Christmas Celebrated Mainly at Night?”

  1. I remember as a little girl how still my house would be. My mother kept the lights dimmed and the carols playing very softly in the background. Back then every channel all 6 of them all celebrated the birth of Jesus. Dinner was a simple celebration consisting of 7 types of Fish in remembrance of the 7 years the Holy Family spent in exile in Egypt. All was quiet my Mother would tell us we needed to remain quiet contemplating the birth of Jesus. Oh how I loved that time. I was so young but I would imagine the joy of the Holy Family. In retrospect it was the greatest gift my Mother gave to me @ Christmas. She would tell me the celebration would begin after midnight Mass. I carry on the tradition as well Christmas Eve is meant to be a quiet time filled with Chant and prayer and anticipation of Midnight Mass. Truly the best time of the Christmas Season is that time leading up to the big moment when all the lights are lit in the Church and everyone sings the Gloria! That is truly Christmas for me!
    Merry Christmas Father may you be blessed for all you do to spread the good news and glad tiding of our Lord and Savior! I pray you are filled with the same joy as the Holy Family as they contemplated the greatness and goodness of God!
    Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment
    At which the Son of God was born
    Of a most pure Virgin
    At a stable at midnight in Bethlehem
    In the piercing cold
    At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
    To hear my prayers and grant my desires

    1. How moving. This is a novena I have often said in years past. I did not think to say it this year. As I read the words I glanced at the clock. It was exactly midnight on Christmas Eve. Thank you Jesus!

  2. Thank-you for your wonderful teaching, God Bless, a good and blessed Holy Christmas to you.

    The birth of Jesus at night is a reminder that truly Jesus is the LIGHT of the world, and the light that helps us when we need Jesus the most.

  3. Merry CHRISTmas, Monseigneur. Thank you for the LIGHT you propagate. It is a lamp unto my feet. YHWH SHEKINAH!!! We pray for you and all the priests of GOD all over the world who lift up the Sacred Host and Chalice of The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our LORD JESUS CHRIST from which The Glorious LIGHT emanate for us that our eyes may see and touch HIS Eternal Truth.

  4. “And the darkness will once again seek to conquer. BUT IT ALWAYS LOSES.”
    Thank you Monsignor, for this beautiful reflection, and observation of the truth. And it made me think, why does the light always conquer? Because there is a God. Light is proof there is a God. Without God and His creation, there is only darkness. In Genesis, after He created the heaven and the earth, God created light. Light in itself, from the beginning, overcame darkness, and the void. There is both literal darkness, and symbolic darkness, without God. And in the same way the sun gives us light to make life on earth function, so Jesus gives us spiritual light so we can know God and accept His salvation. Merry Christmas and God bless you.

  5. A happy Christmas to you, Msgr Pope. Thank you for all the deep insight you have given to us in your thoughtful articles over the past year. I look forward to many more in 2014.

  6. I pray you are right monsignor. This has got to be the darkest Christmas I can remember and I look forward to the light of dawn.

  7. Wonderful posts, Father. You reflect the Light of Christ beautifully. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!!!

  8. There is a reason Jesus was born at midnight on the solstice December 25, 1 BC and it corresponds to why the sun was darkened at His death April 3, AD 33, and that is the sun was darkened and the moon turned to blood at His birth and death so the the sun and moon bowed down before His face to do Him homage. Joel 2:31. Also He was conceived at Midnight on Passover Wis 18:14. See http://www.scripturescholar.com/VenusStarofBethlehem.htm
    Love grace and Merry Christmas,

  9. Bless you Msgr.Father,Jesus is truly the light and will always be. Jesus, is the Son of God who came down from heaven to save us miserable creatures through the Blessed Mothet. Thank you Mother Mary for your Fiat and thank you Jesus. Hope to be in the Holy Land by mid year to see where it all first came to be and to help me to be able to meditate on the Rosary more heart fully as I pray the 4 mysteries everyday which I love so dearly, our BEST WEAPON! Merry CHRISTmas Father. God bless, please pray for me.

  10. Thank you for the wonderful article and especially the video with the stained glass which depicts our redemptive history and the latin chant is beautifully haunting. I have played it many times. Thank you Lord for coming into our dark world with your gift of salvation. Merry Christmas Father.

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