Skip to comments.Catholic Caucus: The 16 Days of Christmas (Christmas to the Baptism of the Lord)
Posted on 12/25/2005 10:19:38 PM PST by Salvation
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The purest of Virgins gave us our God, who was this day born of her, clothed in the flesh of a Babe, and she was found worthy to feed him at her Breast: let us all adore Christ, who came to save us.
Ye faithful people, let us all rejoice, for our Savior is born in our world: this Day there has been born the Son of the great Mother, and she yet a pure Virgin.
O Queen of the world, and Daughter of a kingly race! Christ has risen from thy womb, as a Bridegroom coming from the bride-chamber: He that rules the stars lies in a Crib. Antiphon from the ancient Church of Gaul
Here are some suggestions on having the family dramatize certain parts of the Christmas story, such as the Wise Men's journey to Bethlehem, or the Shepherd's Mass.
There is another charming custom which by all means should not be forgotten on Christmas Day. This is the beginning of the Wise Men's journey to Bethlehem. The three kings start out separately in far countries, perhaps even in such remote places as the children's bedrooms. From there they continue to advance each day, assisted by the children, on their hazardous journey over bookcases and mantelpieces not forgetting their dramatic meeting in the hall about halfway to Bethlehem. At last, on Epiphany, they will arrive in all their splendor to pay homage at the crib.
At another time during the day, many families re-emphasize the central fact of Christmas by acting out St. Luke's Gospel. The living room becomes a stage with more imagination than effort and with a few odds and ends of material and old draperies the family and guests are transformed into the chosen group surrounding the Redeemer. Even the new Christmas dolls and animals can have parts to play.
The Gospel forms the basis of the play. One person reads the story slowly and with care while the others act what is being read. No one can lay down rules about how the actors should go about doing this. In one family the "cast" may like to mime the Gospel; in another, the narrator may be adept at spontaneous dialogue. Still others may like to work from a simple script, and for these, a short play is given at the end of this book. This play has been worked out with narration, dialogue and music chant selections for school production, familiar carol substitutes for the home. When done in the family, it is important to draw all present into the play. In this way, there will be no awkwardness because there will be no "audience" to satisfy. And then, those who join in will be able really to enter into the simple actions and to make an adoration of it.
For more ambitious families or parish and apostolic groups, effective prayer-dramas can be worked out on the whole history of salvation as the Church sets it before us in the Advent-Christmas liturgy. Beginning with the fall in Genesis, a script can be built around the great prophecies of Christ's coming, reaching a first climax in John the Baptist, and culminating in the Christmas and Epiphany texts from Mass and Office.
Activity Source: Twelve Days of Christmas, The by Elsa Chaney, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1955
St. Stephen's Day immediately follows Christmas, and the Church rejoices in this first testimony by blood to the fact of the Incarnation. Children love the Acts story about St. Stephen, who for love of God was stoned to death while praying for his enemies. It is also becoming a practice to pray particularly for our enemies, and it is appropriate to remember the persecuted Church throughout the world and all the people who, like Stephen, are being afflicted for their faith.
In some homes and communities a box is labeled and set beside the Christmas tree. Members of the family, in gratitude for their Christmas blessings, choose one of their gifts for the "St. Stephen's Box" clothing and other useful articles which are sent abroad to the poor or to a mission country.
"As the family gathers around the lighted Christmas tree in the evening to eat minced meat pie dessert, the mother or father reads the story of Good King Wenceslaus who "looked out on the Feast of Stephen" and who enjoyed eating his minced meat pie after sharing his meal with a poor peasant family. The story is delightfully told in More Six O'Clock Saints by Joan Windham, and can easily be acted out by the children. Afterwards all join in singing Christmas carols, especially "Good King Wenceslaus."
From Twelve Days of Christmas by Elsa Chaney, Liturgical Press.
Legend and Patronage of St. Stephen
The story of this saint can be found in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. 6 and 7). His feast was assigned to the day after Christmas because he holds a unique place among all the saints of the New Testament, having been the first martyr for Christ.
From early times, St. Stephen was venerated as the patron of horses. This patronage is probably based on the fact that in pre-Christian times horses were sacrificed at the winter solstice among the Germanic nations. Others use the fact that in medieval times 'Twelfth Night' (Christmas to Epiphany) was a time of rest for domestic animals, and horses, as the most useful servants of man, were accorded at the beginning of this fortnight something like a feast day of their own.
A poem of the tenth century pictures the saint as owner of a horse and relates how Our Lord miraculously healed the animal of the His beloved disciple.
In many rural sections of Europe, horses are still blessed in front of the church on St. Stephen's Day. In past centuries, water and salt, oats and hay were also blessed, to be kept by the farmers and fed to their horses in case of sickness.
St. Stephen's Horns from Central Europe (Podkovy) and Roast Suckling Pig (Maialino Arrostito), from Italy are some dishes to be served on this day.
From The Catholic Cook Book edited by William Kaufmann, pp. 73-75.
St. John the Apostle, is the disciple "whom Jesus loved". It is a custom in the old countries to drink of "St. John's Love". The Church provided a special blessing of wine in honor of the Saint. According to legend St. John drank a glass of poisoned wine without suffering harm because he had blessed it before he drank. The wine is also a symbol of the great love of Christ that filled St. John's heart with loyalty, courage and enthusiasm for his Master; he alone of all the apostles was not afraid to stay close to Our Lord during the Passion and Crucifixion.
St. John's wine, blessed by the priest or sprinkled with water by the father of the family, is served with the main meal. In Catholic sections of Europe, even the children receive a little sip of it after the main course of the dinner. The wine is poured in glasses and passed around to the family and guests. As each glass is given, say:
"I drink you the love of St. John."
Response will be "I thank you for the love of St. John."
The following prayer is said over the wine:
Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who has made heaven and earth.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray. Be so kind as to bless and consecrate with Your right hand, Lord, this cup of wine, and every drink. Grant that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in You and drink of this cup may be blessed and protected. Blessed John drank poison from the cup, and was in no way harmed. So, too, may all who this day drink from this cup in honor of Blessed John, by his merits, be freed from every sickness by poisoning and from any harms whatever. And, when they have offered themselves in both soul and body, may they be freed, too, from every fault, through Christ our Lord.
Leader: Bless, Lord, this beverage which You have made. May it be a healthful refreshment to all who drink of it. And grant by the invocation of Your holy name that whoever tastes of it may, by Your generosity receive health of both soul and body, through Christ our Lord.
Prayer Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951
Here are some ideas and suggested prayers for celebrating the feast day of the Holy Innocents.
Little ones have always held the center of the stage on the feast of the Holy Innocents, some crowned as kings, some as boy bishops, some in convent schools as superior this day; there were processions and games and feasts all to their choosing. Perhaps we know someone who has no baby and would like to borrow a "holy innocent." Big families with their wealth of babies might lend one to reign over childless households for a day.
In some places children were spanked to remind them of the sufferings of the Innocents. We do not do this, but we do tell the story of their martyrdom and the madman Herod who valued life so lightly that he could order the slaying of his whole family, even his three sons. So why not the sons of others? Why not, if necessary, the Son of God?
There was a saying: It is better to be Herod's pig than his son. As a Jew he could not eat pork; so he would not kill his pig.
Dom Chapman wrote with gentle humor: "I drank milk all day in honor of the Holy Innocents."
Charles Péguy writes in his Holy Innocents:
That name for which they died, they did not know. . . .
And after many more lines, plunging new thoughts about them, he says:
These Innocents hat simply picked up in the scuffle
The kingdom of God and eternal life. . . .
If you do not as yet have the custom, this is the day to begin the beautiful practice of blessing your children. There is a traditional Blessing of Children given by the priest in church on this day. If it is not a custom in your parish, perhaps it could become one if enough parents inquired about it. This is the way it reads in the new English Ritual [Editor's Note:: This is actually from the older version of the Roman Ritual. See the newer blessings.]
Let us pray. O Lord, Jesus Christ, Who didst embrace and lay thy hands upon the little children when they came to thee, and didst say to them: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs, and their angels always see the face of my Father," look with a Father's eye upon the innocence of these children and their parents' devotion, and bless them this day through our ministry. By thy grace and goodness let them make progress in desiring thee, loving thee, fearing thee, obeying thy commandments thus coming to their destined home, through thee, Saviour of the world, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, God, forever and ever. Amen.
For parents there is the beautiful blessing of children for use at home: "Bless you, my child, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." It is a custom to add some loving petition such as "and may you have a sweet sleep"; or if a child is sick, "and may you be better by morning"; or if a child is anticipating some special occasion, something like "and may you have a lovely feast day tomorrow."
The father or mother places one hand on each side of the child's head as the words are pronounced and accompanies the invocation of the Trinity by making the Sign of the Cross with the right thumb on the child's forehead. It makes a beautiful end to a day, and it is an added source of confidence when starting on a journey, off to school, before exams, to the doctor, to the dentist anywhere. Let us who are parents ask our parents to give us their blessing.
Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956
The saints who are assigned immediately following Christmas are honored because of their special connection with Christ. December 29, the Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred in his cathedral by the soldiers of Henry II in 1170, is the true anniversary date of his death. Because of the great shock and sensation that this martyrdom caused at a time when all of Europe was Catholic, the Roman authorities, in the thirteenth century, deemed it appropriate to assign the celebration of his feast within the privileged days of Christmas week, thus adding him to the group of "Christ's nobility."
Carol singing from house to house is an ancient tradition in central Europe on the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany. The Poles call these nights the "Holy Evenings" (Stoiete Wieczory). Another widespread practice is the performance of religious plays portraying events of the Christmas story (such as the Nativity, the visit of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and the massacre of Bethlehem). In southern Germany and Austria many such plays are still performed in rural communities. Among the northern Slavs (Poles, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks) a puppet theater (szopka) is in vogue; its religious scenes alternate with secular dramatic exhibits. In the cities of Poland children put on Christmas dramas (jaselka). A similar performance (Bethlehemes jatek) is done by children in Hungary; a representation of the manger is carried from house to house, little dramatic plays are enacted and carols sung.
Today would be a good time to gather with family and friends enjoy some Christmas goodies and spend an evening singing Christmas carols.
The Church takes us today to Nazareth, into the blessed home that witnessed the Incarnation of the eternal Word in Mary's chaste womb. She shows us Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family, the "blessed trinity" on earth, the first Catholic Church in which "through Him and with Him and in Him" all honor and glory was given to the Blessed Trinity above. "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, 0 Lord, they shall praise Thee forever and ever" (text from the old gradual)
The Gospel in Year C is from Luke, which describes the life of the Holy Family, a life of prayer, love and obedience. In holy fellowship the Three go to Jerusalem, to God's Temple, to sacrifice to the Most High, singing in their hearts: "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." This spirit of prayer and sacrifice they take back to their little home, preserve it until the day when they return to the Holy City to renew and deepen it.
Furthermore, the Gospel shows the holy love which unites Mary to Joseph and both to the divine Child. "Behold Thy father and I were seeking Thee sorrowing." A loving seeking of the Beloved! And how touching are the few but significant words: "And He was subject to them." The Son of God subject, obedient to Mary and Joseph!
The virtues reigned supreme in the first Christian home. There is mercy, benignity, humility, modesty and patience. But above all these things, there is charity, which is the bond of perfection. There the word of Christ dwells abundantly in all wisdom. There continuous thanks is given to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A splendid pattern for everybody! "Truly to fathers of families, Joseph is a superlative model of paternal vigilance and care. In the most holy Virgin Mother of God, mothers may find an excellent example of love, modesty, submission of spirit and perfect faith. Whilst in Jesus, who was subject to His parents, the children of the family have a divine model of obedience which they can admire, reverence and imitate . . . The rich may learn that virtue is to be more highly esteemed than wealth. Laborers, and all who are seriously straitened by their slender means of subsistence, will not lack reason for rejoicing rather than grieving at their lot. In, common with the Holy Family, they have to work, and to provide for the daily wants of life" (from Leo XIII).
Lord help us "to order our lives after the example of the Holy Family, that with Jesus, Mary and Joseph we may obtain everlasting fellowship" (text from the old collect ). Adapted from Vine And Branches, Vol. One by Martin B. Hellriegel, ©1948, Pio Decimo Press.
Parents have the privilege of blessing their children. Today have a formal ceremony using the form from the Roman Ritual old form or from the Book of Blessings or from Helen McLoughlin's suggested prayers and blessings: Holy Innocents or Childermas Day: Parental Blessing of Children.
The family should take time especially today to pray together. The rosary, with the Joyful mysteries, is an excellent family prayer. If the family is too young to say the rosary, choose the Fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple and talk out loud about this event with the Holy Family. Explain the cultural reasons why Jesus would be lost: the "family" traveling was the whole clan, and men and women would travel in separate groups, but the children would be free to be with either parent. Find out how many days' travel this would mean, on foot. What would they eat, where would they sleep, how do you think Mary and Joseph felt losing their Son? What is the significance of Jesus "listening and asking them questions"? What does it mean when he said "I must be about my Father's Business"?
An excellent book that meditates on the life of the Holy Family is Family for Families by Father Filas. Excerpts could be read aloud at the dinner table during the Christmas season.
Also the Prayer of Consecration of the Family to the Holy Family, Prayer of Parents for Their Children and Prayer to the Holy Family can be said on this feastday as a family.
Plan a family dinner, having all the family members getting involved. Each member can plan or choose a favorite dish (depending on the age). From Elsa Chaney's Twelve Days of Christmas comes the suggestion of a centerpiece made by "surrounding the Christ-Candle with smaller white candles representing the Holy Innocents. The number of small candles might be as many as there are children in the family. Each child is allowed to light one small candle from the flame of the Christ-Candle, signifying that inasmuch as he received his life from Christ, he will live and if need be die for Christ just as the Holy Innocents did."
Before or after dinner, have family activity such as games, movies or an outing (ice skating, sledding, walk outdoors). If you prefer to stay indoors try making popcorn balls, an activity that can get all hands involved from young to old.
Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 by Jennifer Gregory Miller
Day Seven ~ Activities for New Year's Eve
The last day of the year is called "Sylvester" in Europe. This word is derived from the liturgical feast, celebrated on December 31, of St. Sylvester, pope and confessor, who died in the fourth century.
The end of the old and the beginning of the new year was, and still is, observed with popular devotional exercises. Special services are held in many churches on New Year's Eve to thank God for all His favors in the past year and to implore His blessings for the new one.
A distinctive feature of the traditional celebration of "Sylvester" is the feasting and merrymaking during the night, often combined with masquerades, singing, and noisemaking. This is a relic of the pre-Christian reveling in ancient Rome; its original significance was to salute the New Year and to drive the demons away.
The main item of Sylvester drinking is the punch bowl. Today we have quite a variety of punches. The modern form of punch originated in England in the early seventeenth century. It consists of alcohol, water, spice, sugar, fruit essence. The word seems to be an abbreviation of "puncheon," which was the name of the cask from which grog used to be served on English ships. For your celebration, make a bowl of your favorite punch, with alcohol or not, to share with your family and friends.
From The Catholic Cook Book, by William I. Kaufman, ©1965.
New Year's Eve: An Hour of Watching
For centuries the beginning of a new year has been the source of many customs and ceremonies in every land. We find the Druids with their boughs of mistletoe, the wassail bowl, the rauchnacht or incense night in Austria, the search for the elbetritch, the Roman celebrations in honor of the two-faced Janus, the etrennes of the Jour de l'An. When the Roman emperors were Christianized, they did not prohibit all the customs which came from pagan times, but an attempt was made to "baptize" them, or at least to avoid any superstitious practices among Christians.
The Church celebrates the octave of the Nativity and the Solemnity of the Mother of God on the first day of the year. As a loving mother, she recognizes that the first day of the civil year is a holiday in every land, and as a consequence has made this day a holyday of obligation, desiring that we bring our first thanksgiving and homage to God. May the New Year cause all men to remember that the precious gift of time which God has given us is to be used according to His divine providence in the attainment of eternity.
New Year's Eve, along with its innocent gaiety, is really a day for serious reflection. It is true that for the Christian the real beginning of the year takes place with the First Sunday in Advent, and the children should be taught to make their annual day of recollection before that Sunday, which celebrates the New Year of grace. However, on the eve of the civil New Year as well the children may join their parents in a holy hour, in prayer and thanksgiving for the gifts and benefits which God has given them in the past year, and pray for necessary graces in the forthcoming civil year.
Hospitality is a hallmark of the evening. Christmas spirit should embrace the aged, the stranger, the poor and the lonely. None should be excluded from the family festivities on New Year's Eve. The Chinese, who are particularly devoted to elderly members of the family, could be imitated in their respect and deference to the aged. Family spirit during this season shows love and kindness to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family.
A serious note is added to the evening by an "Hour of Watching." The prayer hour should be carefully timed so that it reaches a climax at midnight. There is no better way to conclude the closing of the civil year and the opening of the New Year than by family prayer followed by midnight Mass. There should be contrition and thanksgiving for the past, and a prayer of peace and holiness during the oncoming year. The New Year hour of prayer should contain practically the same themes, concluding with the ringing of the bells and assistance at midnight Mass.
Many parishes offer a midnight Mass and sometimes serve a champagne breakfast afterwards. If no local parish offers an organized holy hour or midnight Mass, the family could assemble a half-hour or hour before midnight and pray together, perhaps a rosary, some meditations read out loud, and conclusion with the Act of Consecration of the Human Race. We are praying for peace and unity in our world, and for our church and civil authorities, and trying to make reparation for all the sins that are especially committed on this night of revelry.
End the Holy Hour and begin the new phase of our life by renewing the act of consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was first made by the great Pope Leo the XIII in 1899 and was intended to be a new "Covenant of Love" between the Heart of the Redeemer and the hearts of men. Let us offer it especially that there may be indeed "One flock and one Shepherd."
Adapted from True Christmas Spirit by Rev. Edward J. Sutfin, ©1955 and Twenty Holy Hours by Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC., © 1978.
Some ideas to celebrate New Year's Day at home, remembering to keep the spiritual focus.
Each family and country has different traditional foods to eat on this day, with lentils being the main superstition: ill luck befalling those who do not eat lentils at the beginning of the year. The most popular lentil is the black-eyed pea.
New Year's is a day of hospitality among many people, especially the French. In England it was a day set aside for godparents; and godcakes are still given to children on this day in many places. It should be easy to keep New Year's day as a feast on which we honor godparents and repay them for the responsibility they have assumed toward our children.
An idea is to hold open house. Have ready beer or ale for grown-ups, and a children's punch. Perhaps you might serve beer which has been blessed and pretzels for grown-ups, punch plus initial cookies for children. Pretzels, incidentally, were originally made in the shape of a hand by medieval monks who gave them to children visitors.
Blessing for Beer [Editor's Note: This blessing is from the older version of the Roman Ritual.]
This prayer attributes the power of brewing to God and asks Him to make the beverage beneficial to man. The father sprinkles beer with holy water and prays:
Bless, O Lord, this created thing, beer, which by Thy power has been made from kernels of grain. May it be a healthful beverage for men; and grant that by invoking Thy holy Name all who drink thereof may find it a help for the body and protection for the soul. Amen.
Jennifer Gregory Miller Jennifer G. Miller
Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 by Jennifer Gregory Miller
Day Nine ~ Activities for the Feast of St. Basil and St. Gregory
The Feast of St. Basil is celebrated on New Year's Day in Greece and has special significance as Orthodox Christians throughout the world commemorate the memory of one of the greatest fathers of the Church, St. Basil. The personality of St. Basil gives life and sparkle to the feast, and adds a host of traditions and customs that have spanned centuries to the present.
Many Greeks make Kollyva in memory of St. Basil and the departed family members. In Northern Greece, huge bonfires are again lit and villagers sing Kalanda and dance their traditional folk dances throughout the night.
The main attraction of the St. Basil's Feast, in typical Greek fashion, is the table. It is believed that the more abundant the table, the more abundant with good luck the family will be. Pork is again the staple dish of the traditional Greek New Year's table. Many dishes are are also prepared, depending upon the region.
But the staple at every Greek home is that of the St. Basil's Cake, or Vasilopita. The cutting of this special cake will reveal what the new year holds in store for the family, and the one who gets the silver coin that is hidden in the cake will be the lucky person of the year.
The round cakes are baked in different ways, but always have the year etched or embossed on top with dough or confectioner's sugar. A coin is slipped into the bottom of the cake after it is baked and placed at the center of the table. The master of the house cuts the cake with much solemnity, always making the sign of the cross over it with the knife that he/she holds in his hand.
Again, customs vary from region to region, but individual pieces are first cut for Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Basil, the poor, and then the members of the household. The pieces that have been cut for Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Basil and the poor are usually taken to the Church, where the priest will bless them and distribute them to the villagers who are elderly, poor or sick. Many people make entire Vasilopitas and donate them to needy families.
Unlike in the Western tradition, gifts are exchanged on "St. Basil's Day," or New Year's Day, commemorating the gifts that the real St. Basil brought to the poor children of the villages of Asia Minor where he lived.
There is a popular belief that saints come down to earth on their feast day. Thus, St. Basil is said to visit every house on New Year's Eve or Day and he expects to be offered something! Much like the western tradition of leaving something for Santa, Greeks leave food on the table for St. Basil. In some regions, it is even customary to have a place setting for him, in case he decides to join the family for dinner.
A good way to observe this feast in the domestic church would be to use the Blessing of the Bread of St. Basil and have an evening of family festivity while enjoying the delicious Vasilopita and singing Christmas carols.
A Reading from St. Basil the Great
The bread you store up belongs to the hungry; the cloak that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold that you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor. If everyone would take only according to his needs and would leave the surplus to the needy, no one would be rich, no one poor, no one in misery.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery
If riches increase,
do not set your heart on them (Ps 62:10).
The Lord's Prayer
We bless you, Lord, our God, for you enlighten the church of the East and the West, with the solid doctrine of our teachers in the faith, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzus. May we always be ready to live according to these teachings, as we seek to follow the path of the gospel shown to us by Christ, your Son. Bestow your blessing upon our table and all those dear to us, and make us always mindful of the needs of others. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
From Table Blessings: Mealtime Prayers Throughout the Year by Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, ©1994.
Oops, I see I missed Day 10!
Day Ten ~ Activities for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
Today is the tenth day in the octave of Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. From Apostolic times, the Church has professed that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10). Through the particular efforts of St. Bernardine of Siena, devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus was promoted through the inscription of the monogram of the Holy Name (IHS) and the addition of the name Jesus to the Hail Mary. In 1597, Pope Sixtus V first granted an indulgence for the uttering of the phrase used so often by the present Holy Father and included among the pious invocations of the current Enchiridion Indulgentiarum: "Praised be Jesus Christ!"
DIRECTIONSTo celebrate this feast we can begin by explaining to our children why we must show reverence for Our Lord by bowing our heads whenever we hear His name, and by making prayers of reparation to Him whenever we hear His name taken in vain.
Gather your family around the creche and recite the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Read the Story of St. Bernardin and the Monogram of IHS (from the Latin Jesus Hominum Salvator meaning "Jesus, Saviour of men") and serve sugar cookies which the family has cut out shapes of symbols of Jesus (see this month's overview for some ideas), including the initials IHS.
Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 by Jennifer Gregory Miller
From the preface is a nice explanation:
In the long, long ago, before there were printed books in the world, there were story-tellers everywhere. And about one hundred years after the first Easter, the people of many nations began to wonder about the childhood of Jesus. So the storytellers asked questions of all who knew anything that might be true about that little Boy and His friends. At last they collected stories that became legends. Many of the legends were put into the APOCRYPHAL books. It was harder for me to learn to say that queer word than it was to write seventeen of the legends to suit myself; so do not laugh at your big brothers and sisters if they too, stumble over the words APOCRYPHY and APOCRYPHAL.Before reading these together as a family, discuss St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the time she lived, Colonial America. Prepare some refreshments, and make only foods that were around at that time. These links can give ideas: Colonial Christmas Customs and Teaching suggestions of Colonial Christmas Customs, including recipes.
Somebody on a summer night in the ong ago thought up a beetle story to make little children smile. The story was told over and over in lands beyond the blue sea, until it became a legend.
Under the roof of the stable where the little Lord Jesus was born, there lived a tiny beetle. He must have had wonderful ears because he heard the angels singing on the faraway hills where shepherds were watching their flocks.
He heard the voice of the angel saying: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
Then, so the story goes, the little beetle heard the multitude of angels saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men."
The little beetle looked down from the roof of the stable and there he saw the Baby lying in the manger. There He was, asleep in the hay.
Straightway the tiny beetle longed to tell all of his friends, the birds, the butterflies, and the animals, about the birth of the wonderful Baby. First though, he wished to see the angels, to be sure that he had the story straight. So away he flew to the hillside where still the glory shone around from the sky. He was just in time to catch the last angel of the multitude of angels, as he was about to leave the earth. Straight he flew to speak with him.
And it pleased the angel to learn that even a tiny beetle was filled with joy because he had heard the glad tidings of the birth of the little Lord Jesus. So, just before he went up and up to enter the open gates of Heaven, the angel took a sparkling jewel from his hair, and placed it on the back of the tiny beetle for a Christmas gift. There it shone with a wondrous light, now here, now there.
And from that minute the little beetle went flying, up and down and around, flashing his light over all Bethlehem. And wherever he found his friends on the earth, in the bushes and on the trees, he told the glad tidings of great joy about the Baby in the manger.
And his friends, the lowly worms, all the insects, and the birds, marveled at the shining, flashing gift the angel had placed upon the beetle's back. They named him, the FIREFLY.
In our country at Christmas time the fireflies are sleeping under the snow. But when we see them flashing their lights in the fields and gardens, on summer evenings, making all the world so lovely, suppose we tell them about the angel who gave flashlights to their family in the long ago at Bethlehem.
Legend of the Animals on Christmas Eve
One of the loveliest legends told in the old books is about our four-footed friends and the birds on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve the world around, something wonderful happens at midnight, At that solemn hour all the animals in the barns, the fields, the plains, and the forests, fall upon their knees; and all the birds sing praises because Jesus was born at Bethlehem, and the angels sang for the shepherds.
Once on a beautiful moonlight Christmas Eve in our own country, a traveler found an Indian creeping through the forest on his hands and knees. The Indian motioned for the traveler to be still. Then in a whisper he said
"Me watch to see the deer kneel. This is Christmas night, and all the deer fall on their knees to the Great Spirit, and look up."
Perhaps the famous artists of the olden time were the first to tell the story. They made pictures of the Infant Jesus and His mother in the stable at Bethlehem, showing the animals, the ox and the ass, on their knees, in adoration of the Child.
Little French children of the long ago were told that after the ox and the ass had knelt before the manger where they had adored the Baby lying on His bed of hay, they walked into the night. But the stars shone so bright, and the air was so filled with mystery, they scarcely dared to step. They heard the wings of angels. At their feet the grass became a wondrous green, and flowers bloomed. The pebbles on the path were shining like jewels. The trees were bowing their heads. The birds sang gloriously. Roosters were crowing, and everything that lived and breathed knew that the King of Heaven had come down to earth to live.
The ox knew that he was a clumsy animal, and outside the stable he feared that he might bump against an angel if he moved about. He was hungry but he dared not eat the grass at his feet, that seemed, to be alive and listening; nor had he dared to touch the hay in the stable because it too had come alive, with flowers lifting their bright heads to bow before the little Lord Jesus in the manger.
Softly those two animals, the ox and the ass, went back into the stable, and there on his knees the ox told the beautiful Baby to have no fear of him. He said that he wore his long horns only for looks. He never never had used them to frighten any one. He loved the little Lord Jesus.
But perhaps the most interesting legend of all is told as a play, in which the Rooster, the Raven, the Ox, the Sheep, the Ass, and the Hen, were actors. Others in the play sang in the angel chorus. The rooster speaks first.
The Rooster: Christ is born.
The Crow: This night!
Ox: Where, where? (Of course this is not the ox of the stable)
Ass: Let us go.
Hen: Go there. Go there at once!
While they wait, the angels sing, and the shepherds pass on their way to the stable. When the angel chorus sings, the animals fall upon their knees and look up.
Boys and girls may give this play on Christmas Eve, with little brothers and sisters taking the parts of the birds and animals.
Others may be angels in the chorus, or shepherds.
How beautiful it would be if all the animals in the world should, as the Indian said, "fall upon their knees to the Great Spirit and look up." Anyway, we may do so.
And on Christmas morning, it may be wise to be especially kind to all the animals and birds, and to give them their favorite food and water, as all good children do in Europe, even unto this day.
From Legends of the Christ Child by Frances Margaret Fox, Copyright 1941, Sheed & Ward.
Day Twelve ~ Activities for the Twelfth Day in the Octave of Christmas
The following is an apocryphal story or legend of the Christ Child, but it is a sweet story to read to children. We have also included the traditional German sweet bread, or Stollen, recipe. So prepare the Stollen in the morning and have story-telling time at night and enjoy the Stollen.
One of the shepherds at Bethlehem who heard the angels sing, was the father of a little girl. She was with him on the hills that night. But she was asleep in the tent when the angels came down to earth where the shepherds were watching their flock. She did not hear the angel of the Lord when he said to the frightened shepherds:
"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."The child stirred in her sleep when the angels sang together, and then, as in a dream, she heard these words:
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."The shepherd who was the little girl's father was sure that his child was sound asleep when he set forth with the other shepherds on the way to Bethlehem. But suddenly the little girl was wide-awake. She sat up and wondered why all the earth was still and why such brightness filled the air. Softly she arose and walked into the night.
Then she saw the shepherds hastening on their way to Bethlehem. Timidly she walked a few steps away from the tent, and wondered why the very stones beneath her feet seemed alive. All the flowers that bloomed on the hillside seemed to be listening, and they bent their lovely heads toward Bethlehem. Slowly at first the child followed the shepherds. Then she ran, hoping to overtake her father, to put her little hand in his. But the shepherds hastened on their way and the little girl followed them to the manger at Bethlehem, where she saw that they worshiped the Baby born that night.
No one noticed the little girl, as at last she stood at the entrance to the stable and saw the little Lord Jesus lying on the hay in the manger. At first she looked with eyes that were round and bright in wonder. She forgot the shepherds and she forgot her father, as she too, worshiped the beautiful Baby. And oh, how she loved Him!
Then her eyes filled with tears. She longed to give Him a treasure because she loved Him. She knew that He was the King of Glory, Who had come to earth as a little baby, because He wished to make plain the way to Heaven. Oh, if only she had a gift to show the love in her heart! Her tears fell over her face and fell upon her bare feet.
The child filled her arms with roses, and with radiant face she walked in, carrying the lovely blossoms nodding on their stems. Straight she went to the manger and laid her flowers at the Baby's feet.
He opened His loving eyes wide, and seemed to smile upon the shepherd's little girl as she fell upon her knees before Him.
Straightway her father took her by the hand. He knew not what to think. Together they walked out into the joyous night, where white blooming roses, crowding about their path, filled the air with wondrous beauty.
From Legends of the Christ Child by Frances Margaret Fox, © Sheed & Ward, 1941.
Remembering that Christmas is the feast of lights, and we are celebrating the coming of the Light of the World, try your hand at making candles with the family.
The first step at making candles is deciding what kind of candle do you want to make: rolled, dipped, or poured candles, in taper, pillar, votive, or other shape? Think about the year ahead and what kind of candles you would like to use through the Church year. There are Advent candles, candles to have blessed on February 2nd, baptismal candles, Christ Candle, Mary Candle, Lumen Christi or Paschal Candle.
Making a Paschal pillar candle now would be a great idea, so it can be blessed on Candlemas day, February 2nd. Then during Lent everyone can decorate it. Starting now can help the learning curve. A great thing about the craft medium of candles -- if you make a mistake, it can be melted down and started again.
If you can, try to find some beeswax and make at least 51% beeswax. The candles smell wonderful, burn cleaner, less drips, and burn longer.
Candle kits and candle making supplies are readily available at most craft stores and many stores online. For detailed directions on how to make candles, see Candles 101.
Candles and beeswax have played a large role in the liturgy, including in the older translation of the Exsultet (or Exultet )at the Easter Vigil, which honors the bees for their beeswax. For more reading, see
Day Fourteen ~ Activities for the Fourteenth Day in the Octave of Christmas'
This Christmas season (2005-2006) Epiphany is celebrated on the January 8. With New Year's activities to distract us, today would be a good day to plan and make materials needed for the feast of the Epiphany or your Twelfth Night celebration.
Epiphany House Blessing: You will need different colored chalk and holy water at minimum. Invite a priest over for dinner to do an Epiphany house blessing. You could also have the three kings (or more) come and put their marks on the lintels the kings can be the children or the male adults.
Crowns for the Kings: These may be easily made of colored paper, gold poster board, poster board decorated with gold or silver wrapping paper or aluminum foil. Take a piece of stiff paper about three inches wide and 24 inches long. Cut diagonals in the top section of the strip so as to leave points for the crown. The ends may be glued together or tied with a ribbon. Pearls and other gems of cut paper may be added for effect.
The gospels don't reveal that there were only 3 kings, just that there were 3 gifts, so as many children you have can be the kings. No time to make crowns? Remember that the Kings were actually "wise men" or "magi" in the Gospels, and so creativity can rule on what kinds of costume Persian magi would wear! Have multiple depictions of the three kings at the Nativity, so that the children can decide how they want to be portrayed. Web Gallery of Art has multiple images. Search for "Epiphany" and "Magi".
Some websites with crown patterns and ideas:
Other Paraphanalia: Depending on time, budget, etc., perhaps scepters, royal capes. Also having something that represents the actual gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (the latter two are available at many stores) and containers to hold them in. The gold can be gold foil covered chocolate "coins".
Epiphany Drama Plan an Epiphany drama or play, either for adults or children. Plan a simple stage, the costumes for the Kings and a little nativity scene and of course, Herod.
These links can offer some ideas:
Procession to the Royal Crib If part of your Christmas decoration incorporates a manger with the Christ Child, for Epiphany the Christ Child can be crowned as King. Our family had a homemade wooden manger, placed on our family altar. The manger was filled with straw (from the sacrifices made throughout Advent), and Jesus was represented with a small rubber baby doll, about 8", dressed in swaddling clothes for Christmas. A doll was used instead of a statue so that young children could hold and "love" Baby Jesus without fear of breakage. At Epiphany, the doll was crowned and had a red cape with gold trimming. Gold fabric was arranged around the manger, and white lights and candles all around it.
For your royal crib, make a small crown for the statue or doll. We used the back of a Christmas card with gold foil cut in the shape of a crown, and arranged small "jewels" and other decorations. Another touch would be a royal cape red, purple, or gold, or some type of regal fabric. All you need is a square or rectangular piece of fabric, and some type of drawstring. Add trim to the fabric, if desired. Turn under about 1/2 - 1" at the top of the cape and sew a seam. Through this seam pull through the drawstring. Gather together and tie around the doll or statue. Decorate around the manger with gold and fancy materials, lights and candles, all fit for a king. See Procession to the Royal Crib and The Crib Enthroned on Epiphany, Enthroning the Christ Child for Christmas Eve.
Foods for Twelfth Night: Prepare the menu and shopping list. The hardest decision will be deciding which country's recipe for Epiphany bread you will want to make. See the long list of different breads or cakes from various countries. Perhaps try a one new one every year. And of course, there's always a simple crown cake you can make. Lamb's Wool is the traditional beverage served at Twelfth Night, and there are recipes for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.
Day Fifteen ~ Activities for the Feast of Epiphany
The feast of manifestation, or Epiphany, is traditionally celebrated the 12th day after Christmas, January 6th. In the dioceses of the United States this feast has been moved to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8.
Presented here is the background of Epiphany and some traditional customs that can be implemented for the feast in your home.
Another custom peculiar to this feast and prevalent in Germany and other European countries is "star caroling." Three young men, colorfully dressed, accompanied by a star-bearer, go singing from house to house. In return for their "star songs" they receive some little recompense. In many localities these young men are altar boys who are thus rewarded in some slight way for their serving at Mass.
Epiphany is a large celebration, especially in Spanish speaking countries. Things look different around the household: the infant Jesus in the manger now has a small gold crown and is wearing regal robes. The figures of the wise men have reached Bethlehem, completing the nativity scene.
Reminiscent of Christ's baptism in the Jordan and the administration of Baptism on the vigil of the Epiphany is the blessing of water as it is still done in many churches. This "Water of the Three Kings" is then used in the blessing of homes on the following day.
According to a central European custom pastors also may bless pieces of chalk for each family to use in inscribing the names of the three Magi over their doorways, as a manifestation of their Christian faith and a protection against the powers of evil.
The Church extends itself on Epiphany to the homes of the faithful. The custom of blessing the home probably grew up on account of the words in the Gospel, "And entering into the house, they found the Child with Mary, His Mother, and falling down they adored Him." The priest blesses the house if he can be present, but if not, the father of the family may do so. He leads the family (and any guests who may have been invited for the occasion) from room to room, blessing each and inscribing the initials of the three Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) above the doors with the chalk that has been previously blessed. The doors are inscribed with the following:
20 + C + M + B + 05The initials are separated by crosses and the year above the door. The initials CMB also stand for the words "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" which means "May Christ bless this house". This inscription above the entry of our house should be a reminder to us that we should be with and go to Christ in all our comings and goings.
A Twelfth Night Cake or Bread is usually baked, and the "Three Kings" are invited: either members of the family or other guests. If they are older, they can get involved in blessing the house by marking their "initial" over the doors. The children can prepare for the "Kings" by creating crowns and perhaps royal capes to wear.
Compiled from With Christ Through the Year, Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B. by Jennifer Gregory Miller
Jennifer Gregory Miller Jennifer G. Miller
Activities for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ
This is a wonderful day to recall to mind and renew our baptismal vows, and to celebrate the wonderful gift God has given us. Invite your children's godparents to drop in and take part in the day's festivities.
DIRECTIONSBring out the baptismal gowns if you have saved them. Reminisce about each child's baptismal day, which is his or her rebirth in Christ. With godparents and family gathered in the living room, light the children's baptismal candles, or light a holy candle for each child. When the candles are ready, the father presents one to each child and prays as the Church did at baptism:
You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.Grown-ups and children repeat together their baptismal vows:
I (name--) promise to reject Satan, and all his works and empty promises.Then recite the Apostles Creed, which repeats the basic beliefs of our faith:
I believe in God the Father almighty. Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting. Amen.Then follows a Christmas song.
This ceremony takes only a few minutes, but leaves a memory that lasts a lifetime and builds a sense of security in children. It also focuses their attention on the wonderful gift of Baptism.
After the ceremony, serve children's punch and Initial Cookies, cut and baked in the initials of each present. Also serve Christ's diapers. Although He was grown when he received the baptism from John the Baptist, we are reminded of his infancy and our baptism at childhood.
Activity Source: Christmas to Candlemas in a Catholic Home by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota
Now we go to Ordinary Time until Ash Wednesday.
How charming! Thank you for the ping.
Very different, wasn't it?
I'm still playing my Christmas music. Sorry to see the season come to an end.
Me too! But we are into Ordinary Time since the priest was wearing green today.
Thanks for pinging your list.
BTTT for Days One, Two and Three of Christmastime, 2006!
BTTT for Day Four of Christmastime, 2006!
BTTT on Day Five of Christmas, 2006!
BTTT on Day Six of the Christmas season.
BTTT on the Eighth Day of Christmas, January 1, 2007!
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