Imagine if Easter wasn’t always a Sunday, but sometimes a weekday. What would we do in church on that following Sunday? Well, given that the resurrection of our Lord is rather a big deal, it would make sense that we would continue to celebrate that holiday on Sunday, perhaps with slightly different lessons so as not to make Sunday a total re-run for those who showed up on Easter Day itself. That’s how it is with Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas: the Gospel is the same (John 1:1-18) but the other Scripture readings are different.
The Collect is changed, too. On Christmas Day it’s much more direct to the event:
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen
Whereas for the Sunday it’s a bit more general:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
This is consistent with the analogy I began with. The “primary” Christmas celebration is on the day itself (December 25th), but the Sunday after is a second pass at the holiday so that those who missed Christmas in church will still get the holiday covered, and that those who attend both will have an enriched experience of the season, not simply repeats.
However…. Something that is often overlooked is the fact that the First Sunday after Christmas is expendable.
If that First Sunday is December 26th, 27th, or 28th, then the Major Feast of that particular day is to be observed that Sunday. That is the traditional way to handle this Sunday and our Calendar for the Christian permits (if sadly doesn’t mandate) this method.
Furthermore, if Christmas Day is itself Sunday, the “First Sunday after Christmas” is to be omitted. Traditionally, what you do on that Sunday instead is celebrate the major feast of the Circumcision of Christ (now “the Holy Name”) (January 1st). Our Prayer Book also authorizes use of the Second Sunday after Christmas on that Sunday, but don’t. Just celebrate the major feast days in our calendar when they land on Sundays like that… most folks in our congregations have sadly lacked such experiences for the majority of their lives!
Anyway, tomorrow is the First Sunday after Christmas. Enjoy it!