The following are excerpts from:
CELEBRATING ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS, A SOURCEBOOK FOR FAMILIES
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Advent Wreath
Counting Down to Christmas
The Jesse Tree
The O Antiphon House
The O Antiphons
The Creche and Christmas Crib
Origins of Christmas Customs
The Christmas Mass
The Christmas Tree
The Christmas Feast
The Hymns and Carols
Feast Days and Holy Days
A Word of Introduction.
Pope John Paul II has repeatedly referred to the family as the "Domestic
Church." In his exhortation on the family, "Familiaris Consortio," the
Pope refers to the home as 'the little Church,' and speaks of the way
families must make God present to each of its members (parents and
children) and to the world. Each 'little Church' must radiate the life-
giving power of Faith, the courage and comfort of Hope, and the strength of
generous, self-giving Love. For this is how we respond to Christ's command
to evangelize--to bring the "good news" of Salvation to all the world.
In a society such as ours, where the family has been weakened by cultural
forces which undermine and threaten its integrity almost daily, it is
essential that we Christians accept our responsibility to make the
liberating Truth of Christ known first of all to our own families. This
is, in fact, our true vocation.
The liturgy of the Church, her "work" among us, is the principal means by
which most us receive nourishment for our task as Christians. In times
past, we know that the feasts and seasons of the Church year formed the
basis for a "Christian culture"--a culture which is now all but lost.
Modern civilization, for all its many benefits, seems to regard religious
belief as "quaint" at best, but more often as a survival of ignorance and
superstition which is an oppressive and dangerous threat to human freedom.
It is up to us, who know the Lord and love His Church, to help correct this
And that is where this booklet we have prepared for you comes in. Many
parents are concerned about the excessive commercialism of the Christmas
holiday season. Although giving and receiving of the Greatest Gift ever
given to mankind makes gift-giving appropriate, we are only too conscious
of the "media-hype" which almost totally obscures the reason for this
activity. Most of us remember Christmas celebrations of our childhood as
being high points of our young lives. We want to make the celebration of
Our Saviour's birth important to our children, too--for the right reasons.
Several years ago a new "icon" appeared: a fat, jolly, gift-bearing
American Santa Claus kneeling in prayerful adoration before the Baby Jesus.
We can see a bit of irony in this image, of course--American commercialism
paying homage to the Inspiration for all the buying and selling during the
biggest merchandising season of the year. But the representation of Santa
Claus, the beloved "Saint Nick" of our childhood, as actually worshiping
Christ is also a surprisingly novel and rather touching attempt to "re-
Christianize" what has become an essentially secular "saint."
There is no lack of truly Christian symbols, however. Many traditions
connected with observances of Christmas have their origins in Christian,
not pagan, culture, despite what we often read. Our heritage of holiday
traditions learned from our families which we faithfully continue to
practice in our homes for our own children helps to "connect" both the past
and the future. We can make this vital link even stronger when such
practices are informed by vigorous faith which most of us also received, by
the Grace of God, through our families.
We have collected here information about Advent and Christmas customs from
many cultural traditions. We have included historical notes, prayers and
instructions for making truly Christian celebrations in your own 'little
Church', and we hope you will find these ideas useful. We also invite you
to make suggestions for inclusion in a future edition of this booklet.
Because America has been and continues to be, indeed, the "melting pot" for
an immensely rich variety of cultures and ethnic groups (most American
families today are a true blend of several distinct cultures), it seemed to
us appropriate to introduce this collection to you on the Feast of the
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patronal Feast of our
nation. May you and your family ever grow in the knowledge and love of God
and His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. This Christmas and always, may "God
bless us, every one."
WOMEN FOR FAITH & FAMILY
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 8, 1989
THE ADVENT WREATH
The custom of using Advent wreaths in homes has increased during the past
couple of decades, although they have been used in churches in Europe for
many generations. The wreath's symbolism of the Advent of Light into the
world by Our Lord's birth is clear. The gradual lighting of the wreath,
one candle each week of Advent, combined with the liturgical colors of the
candles (purple is the penitential color used during Advent and Lent; rose
is used only on Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in Lent) help
to symbolize not only our expectation and joyful hope in Our Lord's first
Advent, but also in his Second Coming. During this season we prepare our
hearts and our homes to celebrate His birth into our world, of course, but
especially to receive Him in preparation for our redemption....
THE ADVENT CALENDAR
The Advent calendar or Adventhaus began in Scandanavia and Germany,
especially in the regions of the Palatinate and Hesse. Its purpose is to
help children become aware of the expectancy of Advent. Sometimes the
Advent calendar is a picture of a house with 23 small windows and 1 large
window that are opened to reveal the tiny religious symbols, icons and
pictures behind them. Another variation is to construct a Jacob's Ladder
that leads step by step to the day of Christ's birth.
Every morning or every evening before bedtime, the child opens a
window, behind which appears a star, an angel, a manger or some other
picture appropriate to the Advent season. (If there are several children
in the family, the privilege of opening the windows rotates from one to
another.) An appropriate bible verse can serve as a caption to the
picture. On the 23rd, all twenty-three small windows are open; the big
window remains closed until Christmas Eve, when it is opened to reveal the
Holy Child in the manger. When all the windows are opened, stand the
calendar in from of a lamp or window. The light will shine through the
paper, giving the little house a Christmas glow.....
THE JESSE TREE
The symbolism of the Jesse tree is based on the renowned prophecy of
Isaiah: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a
flower shall rise up out of this root. And the Spirit of the Lord shall
rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of
counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness." The
rod was taken to represent the Virgin Mary and the flower to stand for
Some examples of ornaments to be hung on the Jesse Tree are the Dove,
symbol of the Holy Spirit and of Wisdom; the Burning Bush, the symbol of
God the Father who gave Moses and the Jews the law on Mount Sinai; the Root
of Jesse, symbol of Christ's kingly ancestry; the Key of David and Scepter,
symbolizing Christ's Kingship; the Tablets, symbol of the Old Law and the
cornerstone of the New Law in Christ; and the Sun in the Manger, symbol of
Christ our Savior.
During each evening in Advent, a family member places a Jesse Tree
ornament on the Tree and explains its significance to the rest of the
family. The Jesse Tree itself can be a small three or four foot tree apart
from the family's larger Christmas tree.
THE CRECHE AND CHRISTMAS CRIB
The use of the crib (French creche; Italian praesepio; German krippe)
is often first ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi, who is 1223 celebrated
the Feast of the Nativity in a new way that helped the Church establish a
new devotional practice....
Another custom that evolved from the creche is the Preparation of the
Manger. The custom originated in France but spread to Germany and other
European countries. It is the practice of having children prepare a soft
bedding in the manger by using little wisps of straw as tokens of prayers
and good works. Every night the child is allowed to put in the crib one
straw for each act of devotion or virtue performed throughout the day.
Thus when the Christ Child comes on Christmas Eve he will find plenty of
straw to keep him warm and to soften the hardness of the manger's
THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Despite many historians' attempts to link the Christmas tree to an
ancient pagan practice, it is completely Christian in origin. The
Christmas tree goes back to the medieval German mystery plays....
Family Prayers for the Christmas Season....
THE CHRISTMAS NOVENA
In Central and South America, the nine days before Christmas are
devoted to a popular novena in honor of the Holy Child (La Novena del
Nino.) In the decorated church, the crib is ready; the only figure missing
is that of the Child, since the manger is always kept empty until the Holy
Night. The novena service consists of prayers and carol singing
accompanied by popular instruments of the castanet type.
In Central Europe the nine days before Christmas are kept in many
places as a festive season. Since most of the religious observances were
held after dark or before sunrise, people began to call this season the
"Golden Nights." In the Alpine region, it is the custom to take a picture
of the blessed Virgin from house to house on these nine evenings. Every
night the family gathers before the image, which stands on a table between
flowers and burning candles. There they pray and sing hymns in honor of
Our Lady the Expectant Mother. (Francis X. Weisner, "Handbook of Christian
Feasts and Customs." New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958, p. 56-
The "O Antiphons"
The theme of the Advent season has been one of joyous expectancy as
the Church, in vigilant preparation, waited and watched for the first signs
of the coming of the Lord. The very name Advent, and the Masses of the
four Sundays, with their urgent plea to Christ to "hasten and delay not"
have reminded us that we are awaiting His coming in grace at Christmas, and
in glory at the end of time....
THE HYMNS AND CAROLS
The first hymns in honor of the Nativity were written in the fifth
century, soon after Christmas was fully established as one of the great
annual feasts. These Latin hymns were solemn, dwelling exclusively on the
supernatural aspects of Christmas. A few of the best known early Latin
A CALENDAR OF FEAST DAYS AND HOLIDAYS DURING ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS
The pantheon of Holy men and women whose feasts fall during Advent and
Christmas contains some of our best loved saints. Celebrating theses
feasts in a special way is fitting during these festive seasons of
anticipation and joy. Celebrating St. Nicholas Day reminds the family of
the holy origins of Christmas gift-giving, and paying special attention to
the traditional feast day celebrations that are central parts of the season
in some cultures is an excellent way to keep the family ever mindful of the
true meaning of Christmas....
AN ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FAMILY CELEBRATIONS
by Women for Faith & Family,
PO Box 300411
St. Louis, MO 63130-0261