Friday, December 12, 2008

Catholic Christmas Traditions: The Nativity Set and "Little" Sacrifices

Any day of the Advent or Christmas season is a good time to share with children the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the first Nativity set. St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first “living” Nativity scene on Christmas Eve, gathering together some animals in a creche and telling those who assembled the story of Jesus' humble birth - God's own example of humility. The saint did this in order to incite holy devotion to God. Those who anticipated the Messiah never expected that the King of Kings would be born in a palace. Rather, He confounded man’s wisdom by being born in an obscure stable - and that one solitary act possesses many lessons to teach us!

Even small children can daily prepare their hearts for Jesus by learning how to make small sacrifices throughout Advent, then from Christmas or the Epiphany righton through “Candlemas” (February 2, the traditional liturgical closing of the Christmas season). Parents might encourage older children let sacrifices be known only to God in a uniqueway – through a special use of the family Nativity set.

We parents might start by explaining to small children (older ones, too!) that they will be responsible for “upkeeping” the stable for the Infant Jesus by doing what God expects from all of us - good deeds, done for love of Him. Set the stable up but keep it empty of all figures except the empty creche (if the family Nativity set has a small statue of the Infant Jesus on the manger, cover it with a few pieces of cotton balls). Next to the stable, keep a small, unbreakable covered container in which are placed pieces of straw, about 4 inches in length (in the city, small bags of straw are available at craft shops).
For each sacrifice (a good deed), each child may add a single piece of straw the stable or on top of the Christ Child's manger (already covered with cotton). Some families may start this tradition at the very beginning of Advent, and others begin on Christmas Day itself, adding the “sacrificial straw” each day in order to protect the Holy Infant. This latter practice is also a good reminder that the true Christmas season begins on December 25!

To cultivate the practice of "little sacrifices," one fairly simple idea sets the tone for each day. Every morning, the parents call all the children to join them as they all start the day. Together, the family prays the Morning Offering, and then each members places a,single piece of straw on the little manger.

Do this every day for a few weeks and a good habit is either formed or further grounded in the family - the Morning Offering!

We can also explain to the children that together, the whole family is going to practice sacrifices by offering them silently to God. (This is something we should do every day, but especially we should make this a constant practice during Advent and Lent.) Some ideas of sacrifices include keeping quiet when someone else murmurs against them and offering our hurt feelings in sacrifice for the conversion of sinners, not complaining when asked to do anything but responding quickly and cheerfully, speaking kindly when tempted to do otherwise, and so on.

Parents may wish to remind the children that this “placing of the straw” is a private matter between God and them, and they should try their best not to make their visit to the crib a “public matter” for everyone else to see. The act of keeping private any good action cultivates the virtue of humility (love of poverty of spirit), training each of us do everything - from making the bed to feeding the cat or the dog or the bird, to washing the dishes or the clothes, shovelling the snow, putting up with a miserable cold without complaint, etc. - solely for the love of Jesus.

Also, parents may wish to quietly pull a child aside who did something kind and yet didn’t remember to visit the Nativity set. This is only right for, just as parents must correct their children, they must encourage them in virtue. A child who hasn’t had the best day may realize on his own that he didn’t have“anything” to offer the Baby Jesus. This is the time when parents might look for “a little good” the child did well that day, help the little child (one who has not yet reached the age of reason but is growing close to it) to pray an Act of Contrition. Always encourage the child to start anew, asking for Our Lady's help. The offering of even little things is consistent with the Church’s teachings, training the little ones for future fidelity in "daily duty" as Catholics.

Another idea: Moving the Nativity set figures closer to their final destination is another activity children will enjoy. Perhaps each child can have his own little unbreakable set in his room. Each day, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, as well as the shepherds and kings, all travelling from a great distance, inch their way to the stable at Bethlehem. Of course, Our Lady and St. Joseph are in the stable by Christmas Eve. By this time, the creche is hopefully heaped with straw, ready for the Christ Child. When the Christ Child is finally uncovered, the the shepherds arrive soon afterward. The Wise men are the last to arrive - on January 6, the Epiphany.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Homeschooling through the Holidays - with KIC!

Here's a great Christmas gift that lasts through the year! And it's a wonderful way to keep the teens going with Catholic homeschooling - throughout Advent, again as you "start up" in the New Year, and right through the late spring!

Now, when you order KIC's DIGITAL "The Age of Mary Guides," you will receive the FIRST TWO Guides (almost 30 weeks of lesson plans alone!) within 24 hours of your order and email confirmation! The cost is the same - anywhere in the world - and there are no shipping charges because the Guides come to you via digital delivery!

These digital Guides are "the ultimate" Catholic "unit studies" for teens. Your teens can get all of "The Age of Mary" lessons done, with the help of your home computer and the included, pre-screened Internet links! "The Age of Mary" syllabi include Religion, History/Geography, English (Literature, Composition, and/or Poetry), and Science - with each subject "connected" to each other AND the central theme.

What's the central theme? The Marian apparitions found worthy of belief since 1830, beginning with Our Lady of Paris (the Medal of the Immaculate Conception). All the other subjects circle around it, explaining why Our Lady has appeared so often in "the Modern Age."

You have NEVER seen a thoroughly Catholic curriculum like this one! [And it's available only through KIC!] "The Age of Mary Guides" mean neither 'easy-peas-y' homeschooling nor do they mean struggling on a daily basis! Your high school teens or older children will look forward to their Catholic homeschooling because they'll use the computer every day. "The Age of Mary Guides" include colorful syllabi, SCREENED links to other websites, and give your teens great practice with basic computer skills and writing (ok, typing)! You'll love the Catholic syllabi and the incredible convenience!

To see three web pages of previews of the first "Age of Mary Guide," please see the following links:

The Age of Mary - Preview Page One

The Age of Mary - Preview Page Two

The Age of Mary - Preview Page Three

After you confirm your order via our private list, you'll receive the first Guide within 24 hours. You'll ALSO receive the download information for the second Guide (Our Lady of LaSalette, plus the Holy Face devotion), which is available in a Windows ebook (Windows XP recommended, not Vista! At this time, KIC cannot guarantee the ebook will work in the new Vista environment.). Nothing else is needed because the Catholic "unit study" is in the software; the only thing required for the software is a Windows (up to Windows XP) operating system and Internet Explorer (5.5 or better).

----Give yourself and your children a Catholic Christmas gift for the home computer that perks up everyone, gives you peace of mind, AND ensures a Catholic education - at home!

---All digital Guides are in full color, with Catholic graphics, carefully screened links, and lots of interesting lesson ideas!

Remember, the preview of the FIRST "Age of Mary" Guide starts here: preview1.html

And please don't forget: When you order "The Age of Mary" today, you'll quickly receive TWO digital Guides... and have the older kids and teens happily homeschooling - on the home computer, under your careful eye - RIGHT AWAY!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Catholic Christmas Traditions: The First Advent Weeks

To quote the angel messenger who announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds, “Fear not…for I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

Christmas is neither about the feeling of growing excitement (spurred on by the hustle and bustle of gift shopping) nor is it, as we hear often these days, “a day that is really for kids.”

It is not about sipping egg nog in front of a crackling fire or listening to tinkling silver bells or fluffy snow. All these things are fine and may have their place as we remember the home joys of Christmas past, but none of them are the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is a mystery, the day God was born in a cave of Bethlehem in Judea, amidst the poor, the the humble and the lowly. It was the beginning of the Passion and Redemption, when the holy Infant humbled Himself from the very first days of His earthly life, He who came to sanctify us and to die on a Cross for us…a day which has held faithful Christians in awe for centuries.

Christmas is truly a promise of the Redemption.

Advent prepares us for the great Feast of the Nativity (Christmas). Like Easter, the liturgical season of Christmas continues for many weeks after Christmas Day. During Advent, many Catholic families find additional ways to celebrate St. Nicholas Day (December 6), the Immaculate Conception (a holy day of obligation, traditionally celebrated on December 8), Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), Saint Lucia (December 13), St. John of the Cross (December 14) and other special days throughout the Advent and Christmas season – all to bring to mind the “reason for the season” - and which often become favorite family traditions.

Of the various saint’s days celebrated in December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 is the most important, as it is directly tied to the coming of the Savior. To share insights into the holy day of Christmas, parents often explain to their children the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which affirms God’s revelation that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin, a singular grace accorded her by God.

Christians know why the Virgin Mother of God was given this great privilege, so they understand how it ties into the Christmas season. To state this mystery in very simple terms, the Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived because She was chosen to be Christ's Mother. She was not simply a "vehicle," but "the woman" prophesied by God in Genesis 3:15. Like the first Eve, Our Lady was created without stain of sin from the very first instant of her life. Like the first Eve, who became "the mother of all the living," the second Eve - Our Lady - who forever retained Her first innocence, also became "the mother of all the living." In the order of grace, the Virgin Mary became the spiritual mother of all the living (those who are in the state of grace, and are not "dead in sin") because She is the Mother of God.
Our Lady is the Immaculate Conception. Especially during this week of Advent, we can recall (and discuss with our children) the papally defined dogma of 1854, when the Church solemnly defined the dogma that the Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived. It turn, this can lead to the story of St. Bernadette and the apparitions at Lourdes in 1858, wherein Heaven affirmed the dogma - for at Lourdes Our Lady identified herself with these simple but profound words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

On this Feast day, some families create a “Christ Candle” which is on display throughout the entire Christmas season of Advent. The Christ Candle is usually a large white pillar candle to which, at the candle's base, a small figure of the Infant Jesus is attached with hot-glue. Throughout Advent, the candle is used to honor the Virgin Mary, Christ's first Tabernacle, by attaching with elastic a sparkling piece of fabric, either white or blue (Our Lady's colors). The fabric, gathered like an apron to cover the figure of the Christ Child throughout Advent, is then removed on Christmas Eve after midnight Mass or early on Christmas morning. It remains in a place of honor and, to preserve it from burning away too quickly, it is lit only on Christmas Day, the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6), and on Candlemas (Feb. 2).

On December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe, a bouquet of roses placed near the Nativity scene or on the family's home altar would not be remiss, because miraculous roses (miraculous because they bloomed in December) played the key role to a miracle we can still see today - the very Image of Our Lady of St. Juan Diego's tilma. The Immaculate Conception, who appeared to Juan Diago, placed the miraculous roses into the tilma, arranging them carefully. She told Juan to bring the roses to the bishop. When the roses later spilled from the tilma in the bishop's presence, the inexplicable Image was revealed for the first time.

All through this season of Advent - a special season of prayer and penance - let's recall the Catholic Christmas traditions and rekindle them in our own hearts and homes.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Catholic "Legend"

The days seems to be running past so quickly! The first week of Advent is almost over, yesterday was a First Friday, today is a First Saturday, and this Monday is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation!

As we consider all that the Season of Advent means, we should not forget the fidelity and good example of those who came before us. Back in 1999, an old friend shared this interesting "legend" about the origins of (and the symbolism in) the very old song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas":

From 1558 until 1829 Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. During that era someone wrote "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without the risk of persecution. (Added Note: There are slight variations about the symbolism of the song; here is one I think most likely. - MCB)

The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ and His Virgin Mother.

The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stand for faith, hope and charity.

The four calling birds are the four Gospels.

The five golden rings recall five decades of a Rosary.

The six geese-a-laying stand for the six days of creation.

Seven swans-a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The eight maids-a-milking are the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The ten lords-a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful Apostles.

Twelve drummers symbolize the twelve points of belief in the Apostles Creed.

As my friend said then, "We might want to commit this to memory for the days and years ahead."

A blessed Advent to one and all!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Catholic Christmas Traditions Rekindled! (A Round Robin for Catholic Blogs)

Keeping It Catholic (KIC) has initated our Catholic Christmas Traditions Rekindled! (A Round Robin for Catholic Blogs)! It informally began back in 1999, with KIC list members sharing Christmas traditions on our email list. In this, our 12th year on the Net, we renew it and extend the invitation to all Catholic visitors, blog-owners and websites (with appropriate content, of course) so we may encourage each other to "Keep It Catholic at Christmas" and throughout the true Christmas season, which ends February 2. And KIC is sharing "theme" ideas for those who join our "round robin"!

So - please join our Catholic Christmas Traditions Rekindled! (A Round-Robin for Catholic Blogs) Share with us your family's Catholic Christmas Traditions for our 'ongoing' 2008-early 2009 KEEPING IT CATHOLIC AT CHRISTMAS digital newsletter, which will be freely sent throughout the entire traditional Christmas season to our entire Keeping It Catholic Email List and also posted here on Keeping It Catholic - the Blog!

---If you're a blog or list reader, just email me with your traditions and I'll be happy to add them to the Keeping It Catholic at Christmas installments at the appropriate time.

---If you're a Catholic blog-writer and would like to join, please create a section on your blog called Catholic Christmas Traditions Rekindled! (This is where you'll list other Catholic blogs who belong to our Round Robin). List Keeping It Catholic - the Blog! and keep it at the top of your list. Also copy and paste this page (along with this page's link) so others will know about and join. Then email me about your posts that match our following themes. Your blog must, of course, be faithfully Catholic, with no inappropriate content. If your blog fits the requirements, the the KIC Blog will link back to you!

The upcoming themes and deadline dates (listed below) are for email submissions to our bi-weekly "Keeping it Catholic at Christmas" digital installments. Catholic blog owners who join Catholic Christmas Traditions Rekindled will find it helpful as they write articles for collective "Round Robin" themes! (Of course, the deadline dates for submissions don't apply for Catholic blog writers who will simply alert me by email about their new articles so I can list them on this blog.)

Deadline Date for the 1st (Email) Installment:
Today through Monday, December 15, 2008 - Share Catholic traditions about the Season of Advent (the season of the "absence of Jesus," of anticipation, abstinence and penance, as we spiritually prepare anew for the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World), "Christmastide" which begins Christmas Eve (Vigil of the Nativity), Midnight Mass, Feast of the Nativity (Christmas, holy day of obligation); Traditional recipes for early Christmas morning "breaking-the-fast" recipes; St. Stephan (first Catholic martyr, December 26); St. John the Beloved Apostle (December 27), the Holy Innocents (December 28); St. Thomas of Canterbury, Bishop and Martyr (December 29), Eve of the Nativity Octave (December 31), Octave of the Nativity (January 1, holy day of obligation) and The Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6). Installment is set for digital publication during the December 20-21 weekend.

Deadline Date for 2nd (Email) Installment:
From December 16th through Monday, December 29, 2008 - Share more Catholic traditions about the Epiphany, the "ferial" days, the Feast of the Holy Family (first Sunday after the Epiphany) and the Baptism of the Lord (January 13), and the end of Christmastide (8 days after the Epiphany). The first few weeks of January are usually a quiet month in which many people feel "let down" after the holidays. In reality, these quieter days are perfect for prayer, spiritual reading and meditation because Jesus is the reason for every season - and the Christmas season is still in effect all through January and early February! Installment is set for digital publication during the January 3-4 weekend.

Deadline Date for 3rd (Email) Installment:
From December 30 through Monday, January 5, 2009 - The perfect time to share traditions about the last few weeks of the Christmas season, which concludes with Candlemas (Purification of the Virgin and The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple) on February 2nd. Themes are Christ the Light of the World, a revelation to the Gentiles, the glory of His people, Israel and the the humble obedience of the Virgin Mother of God. Installment is set for digital publication during the January 17-18 weekend.

Deadline Date for 4th (Email) Installment:

From Epiphany through Monday, January 19, 2009 - A last chance to share Candlemas traditions - as well as Church traditions for Septuagesima and Lent (this year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 25)! Theme: Glory, Praise and Honor to Thee, O Christ the King! Installment is set for digital publication during the January 31st-February 1 weekend.


Privately email me to share your CATHOLIC family Christmas traditions, according to the deadline dates and themes listed above. Unless you request otherwise, I'll include your name with your anecdote (which can be brief or long, your choice!). If you prefer a first name and last initial, that's fine, too. (No anonymous submissions please. They will not be published.) In general, our first theme might be summed up as follows:

- Beautiful tips for the holy, penitential and anticipatory season of Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, January 1st

- Fast and abstinence recipes (and for those of you who have KIC's "Keepsake Collection of Recipes," our downloadable ebook, don't forget to check "Keepsake" to further assist you!)

-'Breaking the fast' on Christmas Day recipes

- How you "Keep Christ in Christmas" during the entire liturgical season (for example, did you know that - in the centuries-old liturgical calendar - the Christmas season ends on Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, on February 2? That is exactly "40 days" from Christmas Day! Sadly, cutting short the Holy Season of Christmas is one of the innovations of our own era).

- Anything else appropriate for the Catholic category of "Keeping Christ in Christmas."

Some examples from past submissions:

-One that comes to mind is the family that bakes a Christmas "birthday" cake for the Baby Jesus, singing a birthday song to the Infant Jesus - all before opening presents on Christmas day.

-Another is the family who always covers the creche with cotton and straw, uncovering it when the family returns from Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. (That's what we've always done, too!)

-Yet another couple said they give their children a specific number of gifts per season - three, to be exact, as Jesus Himself received three gifts from the Wisemen.

-Another celebrates St. Nicholas Day in early December; for those with an Italian background, they celebrate the day of "la Befana" on the Epiphany. (My dad, now passed from this world 36 years ago, told me about "le Befana.")

As you can see, sharing your tradition needn't be a long letter (if that sort of thing inhibits your from writing!)...just a few lines to share what you do to "Keep Christ in Christmas." Of course, longer submissions are very welcome!

Remember: Our goal is to encourage each other to "Keep it Catholic at Christmas"!

A most blessed Advent to you and yours,
Marianna Bartold, Keeping It Catholic