From Christmas to Candlemas in a Catholic Home by Helen McLoughlin, 1950’s
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.
Our children see their friends’ trees shimmering with ornaments way 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. 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.
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. The Church gives us a period of forty days for rejoicing.
As a child in the suburbs of Boston, my Christmas Eve centered around the parish house. On the half-hour groups of children with trumpet accompaniment caroled around the giant tree on the lawn or, when snow was too deep, sang on the rambling veranda.
From there they went to sing in the park, at the convent, and at homes of aged parishioners. Back to the parish house, its hearths aglow, children trooped to enjoy warm doughnuts and cider. Early in the evening high school students caroled on the same circuit.
Now the parish house was bright with candles and firelight. The night was blue and so frosty cold that the trumpets cut the air. Their “Noel Noel” traveled far and clear. In reply myriads of vigil lights, flickering against lace curtains in every house, returned a bright “Merry Christmas.” Carolers returned to the parish house for refreshments.
Half-hourly the charming custom of caroling went on. By nine o’clock the church choir arrived. When the last trolley car had left the carbarns an hour later, a hush fell upon the city making peace on earth a reality. By ten-thirty parents arrived to join the singing and to free the choir for rehearsals.
I remember the breathtaking beauty of the upper church. Its marble altar with golden decorations was resplendent with light. The crib gave new joy each succeeding year. With the singing of Midnight Mass our season of rejoicing began.
Afterwards families walked home together in the sharp cold nights, parents a bit ahead, boys and girls lagging behind. Everywhere vigil lights flickered in homes of the Irish emigrants who began the custom in penal days when priests were being hunted. Telling of the custom in “The Christmas Book,” Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J., writes: “The people had no churches. Priests hid in forests and caves and secretly visited the farms and homes to say Mass there during the night.
When Christmas came the faithful placed burning candles in the windows so that any priest who happened to be in the vicinity would be guided to their home through the dark night. Silently he entered and was received by the devout with fervent prayers of gratitude that their home was to become a church during the Holy Night. To justify this practice in the eyes of the English soldiers, the Irish people used to explain: ‘We burn the candles that Jesus and Mary looking for a place to stay will find their way to our home’ The English authorities finding this superstition harmless did not bother to suppress it.”
A Gaelic name for Christmas Eve is “Oidhche na ceapairi”–Night of Cakes. I can still see the cakes through candlelight in kitchens of my childhood. A spanking white cloth on the table set off the two-foot candle bound in evergreens and rising from a bowl of holly to symbolize the Light of the world arising from the Root of Jesse. On the polished black stove were round loaves of sweet buttery bread flecked with currants and candied peel called Irish Christmas “cake.” That bread spelled Christmas for us.
After a feast day breakfast early in the morning, our tree was stealthily brought indoors and set into its waiting stand. Balls were hung, tinsel, popcorn, and cranberries festooned to its spreading branches. Then it was time for Mass at dawn.
Every nation has its Christmas bread. The French Canadian uses homemade “Pain d’Habitant,” the German, “Christstollen,” the Czech “Vanocka.” The Italian saves a slice from each Christmas loaf and on St. Blaise day, forty days later, soaks the hard bread in milk and eats it. Many cakes are baked in wreath-shaped pans and circles to symbolize everlasting life. Among these are the Swedish “Julbrod,” chock full of citron, raisins, almonds; and the famous Ukrainian poppy seed cake. A recipe for the Irish cake is on p. 41.
MORNING PRAYERS DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
Children love to pray when they realize that they are saying the same prayers as Catholics all over the world. At Christmas it is easy to introduce such prayers as a family custom. These morning prayers, with variations on special feast days, are said from Christmas Eve until Candlemas. They may be used whole or in part depending on the ages of the children in one’s family.
Mother: Christ is born to us!
All: Come, let us adore Him.
Father: To the King of the Ages, who is immortal, invisible, the one only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
All: Thanks be to God.
Father: Arise, O Christ, and help us.
All: And deliver us for Your Name’s sake. Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Father: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation.
All: But deliver us from evil.
Father: O Lord, hear my prayer.
All: And let my cry come to You.
Father: Let us pray. O Lord God Almighty, who hast brought us to the beginning of this day, preserve us in the same by Thy power that during this day we may not fall into any sin, but that all our words, thoughts and work may be directed to doing Thy holy will. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mother: This day Christ is born, this day the Savior has appeared. This day Angels are singing on earth, Archangels are rejoicing. This day the just are glad and say:
All: Glory to God in the highest, alleluia.
When children in our family are late or fussy, we sing the morning offering learned during babyhood:
“Good morning, dear God, we offer to You our thoughts, words and actions and all that we do.”
This is followed by the Lord’s Prayer, a Hail Mary, and an appropriate ejaculation.
EVENING PRAYERS DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
In the evening families may again use the official prayers from the liturgy of the Church.
Mother: May the Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.
Father: Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith.
All: Thanks be to God.
Father: Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Father: I confess to Almighty God,
All: to blessed Mary ever Virgin, / to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, / to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you my family, / that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed: / through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. / Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, / blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, / the holy apostles Peter and Paul, all the saints, and you my family, / to pray to the Lord our God for me.
Since children love to sing their prayers, any Christmas carol or hymn such as Silent Night or Adeste Fidelis may be sung at this time. (When children are very, very tired we simply sing a hymn and call that our evening prayer.)
Father: Protect us, Lord, while we are awake and safeguard us while we sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ and rest in peace.
Mother: Sing to the Lord a new song, Sing to the Lord, all you lands.
All: Sing to the Lord, bless His Name; announce His salvation, day after day.
Mother: Tell His glory among the nations among the people His wondrous deeds.
All: For great is the Lord and highly to be praised, awesome is He, beyond all gods.
Mother: For all the gods of the nations are things of naught, but the Lord made the heavens.
All: Splendor and majesty go before Him, praise and grandeur are in His sanctuary.
Mother: Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise, give to the Lord the glory due His name!
All: Bring gifts and enter His courts, worship the Lord in holy attire.
Mother: Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, let the sea and what fills it resound, let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
All: Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to rule the earth.
Mother: He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with His constancy.
All: Protect us, Lord, while we are awake and safeguard us while we sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ and rest in peace.
Father: O Lord, hear my prayer.
All: And let my cry come to You.
Father: Let us pray. Visit this home, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy. Let Thy holy Angels dwell herein who may keep us in peace, and let Thy blessing be always upon us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father: May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, keep us forever.
Prayers in our house are said at the crib during Christmas. It might be well for parents to meditate on the words of Abbot Marmion: “When we would penetrate into the sanctuaries of God’s secrets, He says to us; ‘This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.’
This is the solution of all: Jesus stretching out His little arms to us in the crib is God. As we gaze on Jesus, we have no difficulty in understanding that God is love.”
Parents should avoid buying the ugly representations of the Babe of Bethlehem which flood the market at this time of year. It is better to carve a Madonna and Child from soap or to encourage children to draw and cut out their own Nativity figures.
A Hummel infant in a wooden manger is more effective than a set of cheap figures.
If your children are too small to have a delicate statue under their tiny hands, a lovely Nativity scene of folded cardboard is available. The stable background with the usual crib figures are easily assembled; it is the sort of thing children (or teachers) will want to put near their windows to share with others.
“We must be a maker of Christmas for others or we cannot make a real Christmas for ourselves. We need the sharing of our joy in order to partake of its real possession. If we try to keep our Christmas all to ourselves, we will miss half its sweetness.” J.R. Miller
We often don’t realize the impact of those lessons, those Catholic lessons, that are taught each day to our children. It is so much worth the effort! The signs of the crosses, kneeling to say prayers, dipping fingers in holy water, laying fresh flowers at the statue of Our Lady, etc., etc. These are gold nuggets that will live on in your children’s lives. This is building Catholic Culture!
The following two books are to help you parents with those little things…..They are story books from my new little series, “Catholic Hearth Stories”. I wrote them especially for my grandchildren….and am sharing them with you…
For more info and Available here.
A great reminder of why we do what we do! Thank you!