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From Christmas to New Year’s ~ Maria Von Trapp

Every ounce of energy spent making our Catholic Faith come alive in our homes will be rewarded! This article from Maria von Trapp just pulses with the love of family, of the making of “home”.  Mrs. Von Trapp’s quotation pretty much sums it up, “The family who plays together and prays together usually stays together.”

Around the Year With the Trapp Family

When we lived in Austria, the three greatest feasts of the year were distinguished by two church holidays – Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost Monday, and St. Stephen’s Day after Christmas Day.

We know that the war did away with these second Church holidays, but they still exist in our memory and we always keep them in our house. In Austria the peasants used to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day in a special way, because St. Stephen is the patron saint for horses, watching over their health.

After the Solemn High Mass the pastor would come in surplice and stole and wait in front of the church door with holy water and sprinkler. The horses of the village, beautifully decorated with ribbons in their manes and tails, would now parade before him in solemn procession and he would bless every single one of them.

He would also bless oats and hay, which each farmer had brought along for that purpose; the horses would be fed with the blessed feed, to protect them against sickness and accidents.

According to tradition, St. John the Apostle was once presented by his enemies with a cup of poisoned wine intended to kill him. When the Apostle made the sign of the cross over the wine, however, the cup split in half and the poisoned wine was-spilled.

In memory of this, the Church has a special blessing, the “Benedictio Sancti Johannes.” On the 27th, the feast of St. John, the people bring wine along to church and before Holy Mass the priest blesses it.

At the main meal at home the wine is poured into as many glasses as there are people. Just before the meal begins, everybody stands up, holding his glass, while the father and mother begin the St. John’s Day ceremony.

The father touches the mother’s glass with his glass, looks her in the eyes and says, “I drink to you the love of St. John.” The mother answers, “I thank you for the love of St. John,” and they both take a sip.

Then the mother turns to the oldest child and repeats, “I drink to you the love of St. John,” and the child answers, “I thank you for the love of St. John.” Again they take a sip and the child turns to the next oldest, and so it goes around the table until the last one turns to the father and the family circle is closed.

Some of the blessed wine is kept for days of sickness or of great celebration. If someone in the family is about to take a journey, a few drops of the blessed wine are added to each wine glass and the whole family again drinks “the love of St. John.” Immediately after the wedding ceremony, the newly-wed couple also drinks to each other “the love of St. John.”

The day following St. John’s Day is a great day for the children. This goes back to a medieval custom in monastery schools: On December 28th, the day dedicated to the Holy Innocents, the boys used to elect one from their midst as bishop–“the Episcopus Puerorum.”

This boy-bishop would take over the direction of the abbey for this one day. Dressed in pontifical vestments, surrounded by his schoolmates, he would sit in the place of the abbot and the others in the choir stalls of the monks, whereas abbot and monks moved over to the places of the pupils.

This custom is still alive in many convents and monasteries, where the young ones in the novitiate have the ruling of the house for this particular day.

It also is preserved in many families, where the little ones take the seats of the father and mother and try to play a few little tricks on the grownups as long as they are in authority.

December 31st, the last day of the old year, or New Year’s Eve, finds the whole family in the Christmas Room again.

In the morning there was a Thanksgiving Mass, solemnly starting the day. Looking back over the past three hundred and sixty-five days with their bright and their dark hours, we gave thanks for both the bright and the dark to Him Who knows what is best for us.

In some parts of the old country the people observe a strict fast and abstinence during this day (which in earlier times was observed solemnly throughout Christendom) as a token of its serious, thought-provoking character.


In our day, however, New Year’s Eve is dedicated to fun and merrymaking.

“Let’s play the handkerchief game!” someone will suggest.

There we all sit in a large circle on the floor. A clean handkerchief is tied up in knots so that it takes the shape of a ball and can be thrown easily through the air.

Hedwig volunteers to go out. Now we start throwing the handkerchief across the circle. We have to keep it going until Hedwig comes in.

At the moment of her entrance, the one who has just caught it will have to hide it, and Hedwig will have to guess where the handkerchief is. She gives three warning knocks at the door, but as we know that immediately after the third she will burst through the door, we are getting increasingly nervous between the second and third warnings. Sometimes it leads to hilarious situations.

The moment Hedwig steps into the room, everyone’s features relax into complete, harmless innocence.

Everyone’s face spells: “Handkerchief? I don’t know what you are talking about, Hedwig!”

Hedwig has three guesses. If she hasn’t found out after the third one, she has to go out again. But this rarely happens. Some people blush helpfully, others look like bad conscience personified, wiggling nervously on the handkerchief they are trying to hide by sitting on it. Everyone–guests, grownups, and children–has to be in on the game. And of course, the one who has been discovered hiding the handkerchief has to go out next.

From long years of experience I know that one should stop every game when it is at its height. Never let it wear thin.

So I suggest “Jump at Quotations” and I’m always met with eager consent.

Last New Year’s Eve the children took three quotations from my little speeches on the stage:

“Are you a tenor or a bass?” “And I am the mother!” “The family who plays together and prays together usually stays together.”

The teams are placed at opposite sides of the room. Each team gets the same quotation. One word of the quotation gets pinned to the back of each player.

At “Go” one may read the word on the back of every other member of one’s team, but not that on one’s own back.

Rule: No oral communication! The winning team is the one that first gets itself lined up in correct order. (Have the words in large-size printing so the “audience” can enjoy the fun too!)

And then there is the treasure hunt. Everyone gets a list of objects that have been placed in plain sight in the Christmas Room. After it has been explained to the guests that the object of the game is to locate all of the “treasures” as quickly as possible and note them down on one’s own list, and after the rule has been stressed that nothing can be touched, the signal to “Go” is given.

This was last year’s list, which by chance I kept:

a cherry (on top of lampshade)

an olive (on a branch of the Christmas tree)

dry noodles (woven into wicker chair)

soap (on piano key)

an egg (in a light socket, instead of a bulb)

lump of sugar (on ceiling light)

toothbrush (over picture frame)

clothes pin (on lampshade)

picture of “Mother Trapp” (pasted on book jacket)

2-cent stamp (on pink book jacket, in bookshelf)

onion (on window sill)

“Cheerios” (in carving of chest)

In the margin of my list I had scribbled, “Funny, how blind people are!”

The time given to find the treasures was twenty minutes. And out of fifty-four participants, only three found every item!

The next game has to be tried in order to be appreciated. It is called a “Smiling Contest.” There are two teams, two judges, two tape measures.

Each judge has a tape measure, pencil, and paper. One person from each team comes forward. A judge then measures the width of his smile and records it (one judge per team).

The next pair come forward and are measured in turn, until every smile has been measured. The judges then add up the total yards of smiles for each team. The higher total wins, and it is interesting to see who has the biggest smile, too. The funny effect is in the two simultaneous smiles, each trying to outdo the other!

Then voices are heard “Let’s sing some more carols!” Invariably Father

Wasner’s voice will interrupt right here “First we are going to sing the New Year’s song!” And there we go “From heaven through the clouds on high.”

The very character of the evening lends itself to gay Christmas songs.

There are many in Austrian dialect dealing with the astonished shepherds who cannot believe their eyes during Holy Night.

As eleven o’clock nears, someone will suggest, “Let’s sing a few lullabies.” They always seem to be the very heart of our carol-singing.

Several are in Tyrolean dialect. Here we give some of our favorites.

Close to eleven o’clock, Agathe and Maria will disappear into the kitchen, soon to return with trays of “Sylvester Punch.” (In Austria the last day of the year is dedicated to the Holy Pope, St. Sylvester, who baptized Constantine the Great, thereby bringing about the dawning not only of the New Year but of a new era; for this reason, the night before the New Year is called “Sylvester abend” (Eve of St. Sylvester).

Sylvester Punch

Red burgundy (count one bottle for six people)

Equal amount of hot tea

12 cloves

Rind of 1 lemon

2 tbsp. sugar to each bottle of wine

2 cinnamon sticks to each bottle of wine

Pour the liquid into an enamel pot; add the cloves, the thinly pared rind of 1 lemon, the sugar, and the cinnamon. Heat over a low flame but do not allow to boil. At the last moment add the tea. Serve hot.

If there are many children and very young people, it is good to know different fruit punch combinations. Here is a basic recipe, with variations:

1/2 cup lemon juice           grated rind of 1 lemon

1 cup orange juice            1 qt. water

Grated rind of 1/2 orange     1 cup sugar

Cook sugar and water for five minutes. Cool. Add juices and the grated rind and any of the following combinations:

(1) 1 cup grated pineapple, 1 qt. ginger ale.

(2) 1 qt. strained, sweetened strawberry juice, 1 qt. raspberry juice, 2 qts. ginger ale.

(3) 1 glass currant jelly dissolved in 1 cup hot water. Cook, chill, and add 1/4 cup mint, finely minced.

(4) 1 qt. cider, 1 qt. grape juice, 1 qt. soda water.

It is great fun to try out new variations every year. One starts with lemonade or orangeade and soon the children will go on to pineapple-ade, raspberry-ade….In our family we have something called “Hedwig-ade” because it is Hedwig’s own secret.

After the punch is brought in, we form a circle and everybody raises his glass. Then we say, in a chorus, “Happy New Year.” From there we go up to the chapel, because for the last half hour of the old year and the first of the New Year everyone wants to stand alone with his God. There is much to think back on, much to be sorry for, and how we wish we could relive parts of the old year, because we would do it differently now….

But this has to be commended to the mercy of God with a heartfelt act of contrition. On the other hand, there is so much to be grateful for in the spiritual and the physical order of our life.

This Holy Hour around midnight, starting at half past eleven and lasting to twelve-thirty, is so timed that Father Wasner lifts the monstrance in Benediction at the moment the clock strikes twelve.

Before we had a chapel, we held the same Holy Hour right there at the

Christmas crib, and when the clock struck twelve we got up from our knees and sang “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” remaining a little while afterwards, each one according to his need.

The last moments of the old year and the first moments of the new year are sanctified by Our Lord’s blessing.

From this Holy Hour everyone goes quietly to bed.


Although the night was rather short, nobody wants to stay in bed long on New Year’s Day because there is an old belief that everything you do on the first of January is an indication of how you will behave throughout the next year. If you are late on New Year’s morning, that’s bad. You will be late most of the days to come. So every child tries to be his most charming best….

In the liturgy the beginning of the New Year is not commemorated. The Mass texts of New Year’s Day are a combination of three different thoughts: the circumcision of the Infant Jesus, the octave of Christmas, and some texts taken from the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus there is a great likelihood that the priest once said three Masses on this day.

New Year’s dinner is a big occasion. This is the day of the suckling pig, the little pig being one of the good luck symbols. The family table is decorated with little pigs made of marzipan, chocolate, maple sugar, fudge, or cookie dough. Besides the pig, there is also the four-leaf clover, and, in Austria, the chimney sweep. As the recipe for the roast suckling pig might not be generally known, here it is:

Roast Suckling Pig

Clean the pig carefully. Insert a piece of wood into its mouth to keep it open while roasting.

You may use sage and onion dressing, which would taste more American, but we always use the old Austrian apple stuffing. (We have heard of people there who used to stuff their pigs with sausages, but that is awfully rich.)

Now stuff the pig, truss and skewer it. Make four parallel incisions about four inches long on each side of the backbone. Place it on a rack, sprinkle it with salt and some pepper, brush thoroughly with melted butter, and dust with flour.

Roast for 15 minutes at 480 degrees. Then reduce to 350. Continue roasting, allowing 30 minutes to the pound. If you wish to have the skin soft, baste every 15 minutes with hot stock.

If you want it crisp (we think it is much better that way), baste with melted butter. When the roast is ready, remove to a hot serving platter. Now remove the piece of wood from the mouth, replace with a bright red apple, and insert cranberries for eyes.

Finally crown with a wreath of bay leaves. Be careful to wrap the ears and the tail during the roasting in buttered paper, which you remove only the last half hour. Otherwise they easily burn.

The dessert, after the roast pig, is green peppermint ice cream in the shape of a four-leaf clover.


Happy 5th Day of Christmas! “O Divine Word, who became a Child for love of me, teach me to become a child for love of You.”” -Divine Intimacy

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