The Christmas and Advent Season
From the first Sunday in Advent to the Epiphany, here are 10 great ways to celebrate this holy season.
by Faith & Family Staff Writer | Source: Faith & Family Magazine
Nicholas of Myra (d. 346)
The Saint and the Stocking
Where does the Christmas stocking come from? It originated with the fourth-century Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (present day Turkey). We know him as St. Nicholas, and sometimes Santa Claus. He is the patron of mariners, merchants, bakers, scholars, pawnbrokers, judges, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, and brides. But most especially, St. Nicholas is the patron of children.
A merchant of Myra had suffered a catastrophe in business, leaving his three teen-age daughters without dowries. This meant that they couldn’t marry, and might be sold into slavery by creditors.
Nicholas, the generous bishop, heard about their plight. He sneaked onto the roof of the merchant’s house on each of three successive nights, dropping a bag of gold down the chimney.
Astonished to find gold in his fireplace on two mornings in a row, the father lay in wait on the third night. He caught Nicholas in the act. He ran up and embraced him, then fell to his knees in gratitude. The daughters were married in due course.
Since then, children have hung their stockings over the fireplace on Christmas Eve, to make things as convenient as possible for St. Nicholas and his team of angelic assistants on that busiest night of the year.
Dec. 8 The Immaculate Conception
The Flawless Vessel
By a special grace of God, the mother of Jesus was conceived by her parents, Sts. Joachim and Ann, without the stain of original sin that marks all men since Adam. This feast commemorates her Immaculate Conception. It falls nine months prior to the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sept. 8.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice he has covered me, as a bride adorned with jewels.”
– Isaiah 61:10
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Virgin Sends a Sign
On Dec. 12, 1531, a decade after the Spanish defeated the blood-thirsty Aztec Empire, the Virgin Mary appeared to an astonished Indian convert named Juan Diego on a hill near Mexico City.
Our Lady asked him to petition his bishop that a church be built on the spot. As proof of her identity, she pointed Juan to a spot where roses were blooming in winter. The Indian cut a huge bunch of them, wrapped them in his cloak (called a tilma), and hurried off to the city. When Juan finally was allowed to testify to the bishop and his advisors, he opened his tilma to show them his roses.
He was shocked to see the entire company, including the bishop, fall to its knees. They were staring at a prophetic image that had somehow imprinted itself on his rough cloak. It was Our Lady, just as Juan had seen her, with her hands clasped in prayer.
Unnerving to the pagan Aztecs who were shown the cloak, Mary stands in front of the sun, which they worshipped as a god - blocking all but its rays.
The bishop ordered the church built, and nine million Indians converted to the Catholic Faith within 10 years. The Aztec practice of sacrificing human beings to their rain god ended forever.
The tilma, hung in Our Lady’s new church continued to bear fruit. On Oct. 7, 1571, Christian forces mounted a last-ditch effort to hold off an invasion by the Ottoman Turks, who already controlled Eastern Europe. Their admiral, Ali Pasha, promised to topple the cross from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and replace it with the Moslem crescent moon.
The leader of the Christian fleet, Don John of Austria, kept a copy of Juan Diego’s tilma on his flagship – on it, you can see that she treads on a crescent moon. Badly outnumbered, with the wind against him, Don John attacked the Turkish fleet in the Gulf of Lepanto, off the western coast of Greece. The wind suddenly turned in his favor and his forces destroyed the Turkish fleet. Moslem designs on Europe crumbled with it.
The tilma transfigured in 1531 bore still another possible portent of future events: Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe patroness of all the Americas – including, for the first time, the United States. Like the flag that flies over her newest children, she is usually dressed in red and white, with a mantle of stars on a field of deep blue.
John of the Cross (1542-1591)
The Cheerful Mystic
“If you would have pleasure in all things, clutch at pleasure in nothing.” That’s advice from the Spanish mystic John of the Cross. He kept his good humor even while imprisoned for eight months in a dank, 6’ x 9’ cell by rival Carmelite friars.
He forgave his jailers – then escaped. Despite angry opposition, he helped reform the Carmelites to their original poverty and sanctity.
God granted John many intense mystical encounters and insights; some are recorded in his spiritual classic, The Dark Night of the Soul.
Keeping Watch By Night
One of the loveliest Catholic traditions for Christmas-tide comes from my family’s native Poland. The “wigilia” (or “vigil”), is a sumptuous multi-course meal.
In our home we serve 12 courses for both the number of apostles and the days of Christmas.
We use all the best china and table linen, and place hay atop the table to remind us of Jesus’ manger. We set an extra place for the chance stranger as a sign of welcome to the homeless Holy Family.
We set the children to watch for the first star to rise in the chilly night – as the Wise Men watched. When it appears, Christmas begins – and so does dinner.
In the Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow; snow on snow
In the black midwinter, long ago
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him near earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when
He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, Whom cherubim worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a manger full of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore,
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him; give my heart
- Christina Rossetti (1872)
Stephen (D. 33 A.D.)
Stephen is the first saint of the Christmas season, “a man full of faith, and of the Holy Spirit,” writes St. Luke. Stephen preached Christ with persuasiveness and fervor few could resist, kindling the anger of leading Jews, who covered their ears and charged him with blasphemy.
Stephen loved his people. So even as they stoned him to death, he prayed, “Lord, do not lay this sin against them.” One Jew who held the coats of the mob watched Stephen closely. His name as Saul (later Paul) of Tarsus - and he would later convert much of the world to Jesus. We never know who watches what we do, and how much our example can mean.
Pope Sylvester I (D. 335)
This vigil of great beginnings the Church gives to Pope St. Sylvester – who baptized Emperor Constantine.
New Year’s Eve is under-used as a night for family entertainment. The neighbors will be celebrating anyway, so you can borrow an Austrian Epiphany custom and march through the streets with the kids dressed as the Three Wise Men and shepherds – without alarming the authorities. Your little Magi, singing Christmas carols, will follow a tin foil star they hold aloft on a pole. As they arrive at each house, the Magi recite this poem:
“We are the three Kings with our star,
We bring you a story from lands afar;
And so, dear people, we say to you –
It might sound strange, but is really true –
That something happened in the Holy Land;
We went there, all three, by God’s command,
And in Bethlehem’s stable we found a child:
Our new-born Savior, sweet and mild.”
Wardrobe considerations: Melchior was an old man with white hair, a long beard, and a box of gold. Gaspar was young, beardless, with ruddy cheecks, and carried a cask of incense. Balthasar was black, with a heavy beard, and carried myrrh. For gold, we suggest gold foil chocolates.
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God
“When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
- Luke 2:21
The Feast of the Epiphany
You have shown yourself today to the world, and your light, O Lord , has shined upon those who, recognizing you, cry out to you; You have come and revealed yourself, O inaccessible Light.
- The Liturgy of St. Basil
The Three Kings have arrived at Bethlehem to see the new King. We must receive them with honor, so it’s time for a party! If you haven’t yet badgered your neighbors with singing and costumed kings, tonight’s your chance.
Reprinted with permission from Catholic Faith & Family. All rights reserved.