There are so many beautiful ways to celebrate this Holy Season. Advent and Christmas traditions help to make this special season holier and less secular. Helping children to understand the true meaning of Christmas is a must for Catholic families in today’s society. Some of the traditions below you may be familiar with and practice. Perhaps you will find some new traditions or Christmas ideas that your family will enjoy for years to come!
The Christmas Crib, Crèche, or Nativity Tradition
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited for the manger scene as we know it today. The animals in the nativity scene, usually the ass and ox, are traditionally part of every Nativity Set. Saint Francis was following tradition when he had these animals placed near the manger at Bethlehem.
Waiting until Christmas Eve to place the Christ Child in the crèche, is a great tradition to start with your Catholic family. As a Catholic family you should help your children to learn that the Holy Season continues through Epiphany. You can do this by leaving your nativity scene set up through Epiphany. On the Feast of Epiphany add your wise men to the scene. Family members, especially children, will look forward to this tradition! It also stretches the fun out just a little longer.
If you don’t have nativity statues, you can use pictures. Set up a Christmas “bulletin board” and post the pictures on the board at the appropriate times. Play a game to determine who gets to put the Christ child into the crèche or on the board. This will add to the family celebration.
The Christ Candle
The Christ Candle tradition is wonderful and easy to implement. Light a large candle on Christmas Eve to symbolize the coming of baby Jesus. Let it burn throughout the night and everyone will realize what a special night Christmas Eve is when they see the candle.
Be sure to let your children help you pick out a “Special Candle” for your Christ Candle. It should be large in size so that it can burn for a long time and also decorative in a special way. In other words, it should stand out.
The Tradition of the Christmas Tree
The beginning of the Christmas Tree tradition goes back to medieval Germany. The “mystery play” was a very frequent and popular form of entertainment at that time. One of the most well-liked “mysteries” was the Paradise play. The creation of man, the sin of Eve and Adam, and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden was represented in the Paradise play that the Germans put on. A fir tree hung with fruit (usually apples) represented the Garden of Eden. This first Christmas Tree stood for both the “Tree of Life” and the “Tree of Discernment of Good and Evil”. When Germans stopped putting on the mystery plays in churches, the Paradise Tree (or Christmas Tree), then began to appear in the homes of the faithful.
Nowadays in Germany, Christmas Eve begins in late afternoon. Families get together to decorate the Christmas tree. Their beautiful decorations include using real candles on the tree. After all the other ornaments have been hung, the candles are lit. A Nativity play is preformed early in the evening in front of the tree. Seasonal music is played. After presents are opened and exchanged with one another, the family has Christmas Dinner. The kids are put to bed and are then awakened just before Midnight Mass.
Your children will get a great amount of pleasure from putting on a Christmas Program for your family in front of the Christmas tree. Allow the older children to help the younger ones; they can be the Directors of the play. The Christmas play can include caroling and the children can design special “programs” with words to the Christmas Carols for all of the adults to sing. If someone in your family can play the piano, ask him to accompany.
Attending Midnight Mass
Today Mass is said on Christmas at midnight because it is generally believed that Jesus was born at the midnight hour. The Catholic Church has never officially stated that Midnight is the time for the first Mass… it has only prescribed that the Mass be said “in nocte” (during the night).
Since Midnight Mass is in the middle of the night, your children might be too tired to attend. In order to take part in this wonderful celebration, give them a nap earlier in the day! They will be thrilled to get the chance to attend Midnight Mass with Mom and Dad! The Sacrament of Confession is offered in some Catholic churches right before Midnight Mass. This would be a wonderful time to make that last offering of yourself to Jesus before the Celebration of His Birth. Remember that your children will be watching and will see you give a gift to Jesus.
Exchanging Christmas Presents
Exchanging Christmas Gifts is a wonderful tradition that is very popular in the United States on Christmas Day. This custom is a combination of two old European customs. The first custom was that the children would wake up and Christmas presents would be placed under the Christmas tree. They believed that the Christ Child had come on Christmas Eve and left the gifts. The second custom of St Nicholas is the one which most Americans celebrate. Traditionally, children looked forward to St Nicholas coming in the night of his December 6th Feast Day. St Nicholas came in the night and put gifts in their stockings that were usually hung on the fireplace to dry.
Most Americans celebrate the tradition of St Nicholas with a few modifications. They usually call him Santa Claus and he comes on Christmas Eve (rather than December 6th). This year, try to find out about the life of the actual St Nicholas. Pray a nine-day novena to him as a family or have your children draw pictures of him. You can also buy Saint Nicholas Prayer Cards at a Catholic Store and put them in your children’s stockings.
Another great idea regarding the opening of Christmas gifts is to exchange one gift every Christmas Eve. Talk about how gifts of the Christmas Feast were given to the baby Jesus by the wise men. Bring Jesus into the holidays to make them holy every chance you get! Then on Christmas Day open the rest of your gifts.
The Poinsettia plant is also called the “flower of the holy night”. It is a native plant from Central America and is widely used in churches and homes at Christmastime. This plant was nicknamed the “flower of the holy night” because the flaming star of its red bracts resembles the star of Bethlehem. The Poinsettia was named after the United States Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett. When Dr. Poinsett returned to the United States, he brought this flower with him to his home in South Carolina, where it thrived.
Happy Birthday Jesus
Another popular way to celebrate Christmas with young children is to have a Birthday Party for Jesus. This is usually done on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
You can plan the birthday party as you would a regular party. Bake a cake and decorate it with “Happy Birthday Jesus”. Sing happy birthday and then exchange gifts in his honor. If you have a wooden statue of Jesus that is small, bake it into the cake. Make sure that it is non-toxic. Your children will be overjoyed when they find the little Christ Child!
A lovely Austrian Custom is to write a letter to the Christkind, the Christ Child. These letters are written by kids and adults. They contain resolutions and requests for gifts.
Don’t forget to ask your guardian angel to bring your letter to the Christ Child! The Austrians believe they are delivered in this way!
Christmastime is a beautiful and holy time. It is important to remember why we really celebrate this holiday. It is up to Catholic parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of the Savior of the World! These holiday traditions and Advent ideas will help to get this important message across. Additionally, if you build these traditions into their hearts, they will remember and pass on the Christmas message.