Advent and Christmas in a Catholic Home
Christmas is a liturgical season of great joy. It lasts forty days, from December 25 to February 2, during which the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, is celebrated as one continuous festival. The finale comes with His presentation in the temple. A season most dear to Christian hearts,
Christmas is as distinct in the liturgy as Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. Four weeks of Advent are scarcely enough to “prepare the way of the Lord” for His coming to us as King. However, if we have used that season as a preparation, we are ready now to receive the Redeemer who will deliver us from sin in answer to our requests. Christ’s coming must be, not a lovely idyll or a pastoral scene, but a reality accomplished in our lives and our children’s. Forty days of rejoicing are not too long a celebration for so great an event.
The early Church selected December 25, the date of the winter solstice when God the Creator gives the sun an increase of natural light in northern hemispheres, as the day on which to celebrate the birth of the Sun of Justice, Light of the world. Radiating from the Divine Child are a galaxy of wonderful saints whose lives afford a continuing interest in celebrating the feast of His birth.
Micheas, who lived in the days of Isaias, prophesied the birthplace of the Messiah: “Thou, Bethlehem, art a little one among the thousands in Judah; out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the Ruler of Israel; and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity.”
The name Bethlehem signifies House of Bread. To it at Christmas – comes the Savior, who is the Bread of Life. By our participation in this mystery the divine transformation takes place whereby He “reshapes the body of our lowliness after the body of His splendor.”
Our forbearers gave the name Christmas to the feast of our Lord’s birth because they kept the “Christ Mass” as the heart of their celebrations. Following closely the liturgy of the Church, they centered their customs and wrote their hymns and carols on her practices of the season, adoration, love, joy, and gratitude. Those practices also increased their admiration for His Virgin Mother Mary, who gave Almighty God His human form. He had created heaven and earth by His Word, but His becoming Man depended on a creature’s FIAT, Be it done unto me according to Thy Word. Mary consented. Our forebearers honored her in their great masterpieces because she is God’s Mother. For the same reason the world in our day honors her as Queen of Heaven.
It is to our Lady that Christian families must look for help to reestablish Christmas as a season of festivities marking Christ’s birth. Either we live the liturgical year with its varying seasons of joy and sorrow, work and rest, or we follow the pattern of the world. Nor is it an easy task to break with the world and the powerful influence of advertising. Their season of Christmas begins around Thanksgiving Day when stores display wares for holiday gift-giving. It lasts until December 24.
Families, who would not dream of eating their Thanksgiving turkey a week in advance or of having their 4th of July picnic in June, give no thought to the fact that, when they awake on December 25, there is not a shred of Christmas left. Every present has been opened. Every carol has been sung. The tree has dried out Christmas is apt to be a dull day given to over-eating. There was no fast in Advent, so it follows that there can be no feast.
It is difficult to keep one’s home dark in Advent penance; to keep a tree fresh outside the door; to refrain from singing carols until Christmas Eve. We see their friends’ trees shimmering with ornaments a week before Christmas. Their houses are bedecked with lights. Television and radio blare carols. Not only is it difficult to keep from celebrating beforehand, it is even more difficult to begin forty days of the Christmas season when all around people are concluding their festivities. How then do families return to the spirit of the Church and begin the season of joy and grace on Christmas Eve?
The simplest way is by keeping Advent. Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. It is a season of spiritual preparation, marked by eager longing for the coming of the Saviour through grace at Christmas, and for His second and final coming. It is also an ideal time to establish in our homes liturgical customs which will restore our children to Christ.
These age-old Advent practices help our children live closer to Christ and His Church during the pre-Christmas season. Time-tested and proven, the customs teach the doctrines of redemption and develop a generosity with God and a coordination of the family’s spiritual efforts as effectively now as they did for our forebears. Their strong and living faith will be the heritage of our children if family religious practices, centered in the Liturgy, “The Normal School of Sanctity for the Laity,” are established in our homes- Secularism has invaded our households. The Bishops of the United States have warned us that “The Christian must make his home holy – the Christian must realize the Christian ideal.” Father Edgar Schmiedler, O.S.B., in his three excellent pamphlets, Your Home a Church in Miniature, says of family customs and blessings: “They are a relatively simple, but highly important, means of union between altar and home. They are a media for channeling from one great spiritual reservoir, given into the Church’s keeping by Christ, the living and transforming waters of grace from the Saviour’s fountain.”
Children love to anticipate. When there are empty mangers to fill with straws of small sacrifices, when the Mary-Candle is a daily reminder on the dinner table, when Advent hymns are sung in the candlelight of a graceful Advent wreath, children are not anxious to celebrate Christmas before time. That would offend their sense of honor. Older children who make Nativity sets, cut Old Testament symbols to decorate a Jesse tree, or prepare costumes for a Christmas play will find Advent all too short a time to prepare for the coming of Christ the King.
Children, who love the beauty and simplicity of family religious practices, make the traditions easy to establish. As a rule it is best to begin with one or two customs and others in years to come. It is also highly desirable that families develop their own special customs, at least by adapting traditional ones to their personal circumstances. Once established, customs recall to older members of the family long forgotten practices of their own childhood. These have a special appeal because they belonged to our forefathers and link us to the wealth of national customs now fallen into disuse.
Celebrating Christmas in its season can be accomplished more easily when several families try it together. Frequently there are families who, if only for sentimental reasons, would like to keep the joy and surprise of Christmas for the eve. Christians of the Eastern rite wait until their particular feast of Christmas comes in January. We should likewise begin ours on its proper day. We also need time for our festivities. As difficult as it may be, we should decline invitations to celebrate Christmas
at the various parties sprinkled throughout the Advent season. The Church gives us a period of forty days for rejoicing. Instead invite friends and family to your own joyous celebration of Christ’s birth during the many days following December 25th, when for others it is otherwise a disappointing and barren time.
If during Advent we open our souls fully, the Heavens will rain the Just One.” St. Pius X, whose burning desire was to restore all things to Christ, might well become the patron of parents who wish to restore their children to Christ through these practices. Our Blessed Lady and St. Joseph too will send inspiration from the Holy Spirit, for theirs was a home where feast day cooking, family customs, family prayers and singing abounded, according to prescribed Jewish law. It is to them we must look for help in order to train our children “to live temperately, justly, reverently, in this world, awaiting the Advent of the glory of the great God.”
Taken from Advent and Christmas in a Catholic Home ~ Imprimatur 1950