By the time this is posted, my family and I will hopefully be settled in, snug and happy, in our home on Christmas Day. While our family is still trying to find our way through our Advent observance, we have made some progress when it comes to celebrating a Catholic Christmas.
Christmas Eve is relaxed compared to what it was when I was a child. Since Christmas was “over” at midnight on Christmas Day, the 24th of December became that last push to get everything fun in before the Day O’ Presents and Feasting. Now, my husband and I use the morning to finish cleaning and baking. I bake a few pies for our dinner the next day and my husband makes gingerbread cookies with the kids. We read Christmas books and watch a movie like It’s A Wonderful Life.
The big focus of Christmas Eve, though, is Midnight Mass. We arrange our entire day to make our attendance at midnight possible. The children look forward to “night mass” as they call it. They get put to bed in their church clothes and we wake them up in the middle of the night. We are fortunate to live less than a mile from our parish, so it’s a short trip. It’s so different from their Sunday masses that it keeps their attention. The younger ones may fall asleep, but that’s fine. Then, when we arrive home, we get to open the first present of Christmas: the baby Jesus from our nativity, wrapped in a special box under the tree. The children place him in the manger and look upon the completed scene with such contentment. It’s as if they are relieved that now the scene is truly complete.
A practical advantage of midnight mass is the kids will sleep as late as 9:00 in the morning. It makes for a relaxed Christmas Day. Then, comes the fun of the Christmas season. It’s during those twelve days of Christmas that we decorate sugar cookies, make crafts and gingerbread houses, and observe the feasts of the season. On December 26, we go to our local Hallmark store and let the kids pick out ornaments for the year. We make sure we go after the shopping rush has ended. I am careful to avoid other stores where the children see Christmas being dismantled and lying in ruins in the days following Christmas Day. They take the ornaments home and place them on the tree, to enjoy them until Epiphany. We try to go to daily mass during the Octave, but especially on December 29, the feast of St. Thomas a’ Becket, after whom our son is named. He missed being born on his patron’s feast day by only two days, so his New Year’s Eve birthday is another cause for celebration.
Throughout the Christmas season, we move the wise men of our nativity scene each day until they arrive at the nativity on Epiphany. The highlight of Epiphany is the first king cake of the Mardi Gras season. Since we are from Louisiana, we observe Mardi Gras by decorating our mantle in the colors of purple, green, and gold and baking the traditional cake. Outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a family-centered affair. Children decorate their little wagons and have parades in their neighborhoods. Families gather on the days before Ash Wednesday. In our Texas home, we share traditional dishes like gumbo with friends in those final days before Lent.
Just as the joy of Christmas can’t help but spill into Advent, it bubbles over into the days following Christmas Day, through Epiphany, and even beyond. Friends and families will still appreciate a Christmas card that arrives during the Christmas season. Who says there can’t be Epiphany cards? Neighbors and teachers will be pleasantly surprised by a special gift from your kitchen after the Christmas feast has become a memory. Children will understand the true cycle of the Church calendar if it feels like they are still celebrating Christmas until Epiphany. Stretching out the season also relieves the stress of modern festivities, so we may all carry a little of the stillness of Advent in our hearts as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, in all the glory He deserves.
Merry Christmas and God Bless You!
Copyright 2012 Terri Duhon