Friday, December 22, 2017

Celebrating the Christmas Season

I love Christmas! It's such a fun, joyful, cozy time of the year. After the quiet and stillness of Advent, it's amazing to break out into exuberant Christmas celebrations. We celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Savior, the King of Kings being born in humble circumstances. This is huge! Hence, Christmas is not simply one day on the liturgical calendar, but it consists of a whole season. There are several days in which we can celebrate and contemplate the great, beautiful reality of the Word becoming flesh. As Bishop Barron states, "certain mysteries are so profound they need a lot of time to process." 

Christmas is an amazing season full of traditions, prayers, and feasts. I figured that it would be fun to make a list of ways to celebrate Christmastime, keeping in mind the feasts and flow of this liturgical season. 

Christmas Eve, December 24

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops makes it very clear when they state: "The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord." Keeping this in mind, begin celebrating Christmas with the vigil. 

-Attend Mass together as a family (I love Midnight Mass-I once attended an Extraordinary Form Mass that began at midnight, and it was pretty epic). 
-Once evening hits, gather around the main Nativity set in the home. If you had a "travelling" Holy Family, place Mary, Joseph, and the donkey in the stable. Lay the Baby Jesus figurine in the manger and sing a hymn together (we usually sing the refrain "O come let us adore Him" a few times). 
-Eat a special meal together and enjoy some treats.
-Watch a Christmas movie together (when I was young, we'd sometimes watch an animated video about the birth of Christ). 

Christmas Day, December 25

-Attend Mass together as a family (if you didn't already attend on Christmas Eve. Or, if you want to attend both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, that's fantastic too!)
-Open presents and/or stockings as a family. 
-Eat a special meal together. 
-Play board games!
-Do a craft or other activity together. If it's not too cold outside, take a family walk or play in the backyard.  

8 Ways to Celebrate the Octave of Christmas

Contrary to what a popular Christmas carol states, there ARE NOT just 12 days of Christmas. In fact, the "12 Days of Christmas" aren't even listed in the liturgical calendar! Instead, we have something way more epic: the Octave of Christmas. These are 8 days of intense celebration and contemplation as we reflect on the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation. 

1. Attend daily Mass together as a family, and visit Our Lord in Adoration. 
2. If your job allows, use vacation days to take the entire Octave off from work (I realize not all jobs are conducive to this, but it's lovely to do this if possible). 
3. Enjoy extra-special or fancy meals.
4. Bake cookies and make candy (and share with friends, family, and neighbors!). 
5. Have Christmas movie marathons.
6. Gather before the Nativity scene as a family and pray together. 
7. Visit a nursing home or individual people who are homebound to spread the joy of the season!
8. Explore a local Christmas light display as a family, and drink hot chocolate afterwards. 

Now that we've talked about some general ways to observe the epic Octave of Christmas, let's get into some activities specific to the various feast days that occur within this time period.

Feast of St. Stephen, December 26
-Read the story of St. Stephen's martyrdom that is recounted in Acts 6:8-15.
-Since St. Stephen was a deacon, today is especially appropriate to pray for the deacon at your church, and for all of the men in formation who are preparing to be ordained to the deaconate.
-Catholic Cuisine has a recipe for "Footprint cookies" which also seem fitting for this day!

Feast of St. John, December 27
-Drink wine! (It is said that St. John drank a cup of poisoned wine without suffering from it)
-Visit a bookstore (he's the patron saint of booksellers, publishers, and bookbinders).
-Watch the scene with the eagles from The Return of the King (since John's symbol is the eagle). 
If you happen to visit Wichita, KS at any point in time, 
I highly recommend checking out Eighth Day Books.
 Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28
-Eat a food that is both white and red, to symbolize the purity and martyrdom of the Holy Innocents (Catholic Cuisine has a recipe for rice pudding with raspberry sauce that looks tasty!)
-Collect items to donate to a crisis pregnancy center. 
-Pray for an end to abortion (I love the Litany to Jesus in the Womb of Mary)

Feast of St. Thomas Becket, December 29
St. Thomas Becket was the archbishop of Canterbury and was martyred in 1170. So, it seems fitting for today's celebrations to have an English theme!
-Enjoy English food (I really want to try this veggie scotch eggs recipe!) and have afternoon tea. 
-Watch a BBC movie or miniseries. There's also a movie about St. Thomas Becket (Becket), but I don't think I've seen it, so I can't personally verify if it's well done or not. 
-If you have kids, they can act out the scene of St. Thomas' martyrdom. 

Feast of the Holy Family (first Sunday after Christmas day)
-After attending Mass as a family, make your Sunday meal together! Play music, talk, and enjoy each other's company. 
-Play a cooperative game, like Pandemic or Forbidden Island. That way, everyone wins (or loses) together! 

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, January 1
CCO Public domain. 
-Attend Mass (even if it's not a holy day of obligation in your diocese or due to the solemnity being on a Monday or Saturday, Mary is pretty awesome and it's a good day to attend Mass!)
-Eat Marian-themed food (something revolving around the color blue, like blueberry cheesecake, or food utilizing Marian symbols, like the fleur-de-lis)
-As a family, ask Mary's intercession as you begin the new calendar year-you could pray a Rosary, Memorare, or even sing a Marian hymn together. 

Celebrating from January 2 until the Baptism of the Lord

The liturgical season of Christmas still continues after the Octave, so even though "normal schedules" may resume, we need to keep the party going as we celebrate various saints and the birth of Christ! 

-Even though your local community may be tearing down Christmas decorations, keep yours up for the entire season. 
-Continue watching Christmas movies and playing games together! In the midst of school, work, and daily routines, it's important to make time to celebrate together as a family. 
-Eat breakfast by the candlelight and the light of the Christmas tree. During the time leading up to the Epiphany, many of the Scripture readings in the the Liturgy of the Hours revolve around the theme of light and darkness (see here, here, and here), so lighting candles around the house is a great way to reflect on these Scripture passages. 
-Assemble tasty treats, and sing Christmas carols in your home, neighborhood, or at a local nursing home. 

Memorial of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, January 2
-These fourth century saints were theologians and fought the heresy of Arianism. Looking to their courage and faithfulness in upholding the truth about Jesus, today we can pray for those who do not know Christ. 
-St. Basil is known as the Father of Eastern Monasticism, so take time to learn about the Eastern "lung" of the Catholic Church. If possible, attend the liturgy of a local Eastern Catholic Church. 
-Learn about the rich tradition of sacred music in the Eastern Catholic Church. Here are some samples of Eastern chant. 

Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, January 4
-Make a card or care package for a widow you know. You can also spiritually adopt a widow through St. Paula's Young Catholic Widows.  
-St. Elizabeth established the first free Catholic school in America, so today we can pray for all who work at and attend Catholic schools! 

St. John Neumann, January 5
-St. John had learned 6 languages by the time he was 24 years old! To celebrate his feast, you can start learning a new language, or refresh your memory on a language you used to know
-Make and eat kolaches

The Solemnity of the Epiphany, either on January 6 or the first Sunday after January 1. 

-Move figurines of the Wise Men into the Nativity scene, so they are standing near the Christ-Child. 

-Read The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry-it's a beautiful story about self-sacrifice, and is fitting for the Christmas season.  
-Enjoy a "kingly feast" with foods that are special or fancier than normal (we've had duck and cornish hens in past years). 
-Make tasty sweet treats to enjoy as a family. If you want to be fancy, you could try making a Galette des Rois, but you could also go the simple route and make star or crown-shaped cookies (Catholic Cuisine has some great ideas). 

Optional Memorial of St. Raymond of Penyafort, January 7
-St. Raymond produced the Summa Casuum, which was all about the sacrament of penance and matters of the conscience. Appropriately, today we can either receive this sacrament or-if it's not available on this day-plan a day and time to receive the sacrament when it is offered. 
-Serve some Spanish Tapas, since St. Raymond was born near Barcelona. 

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday after January 6

CCO Public Domain. 
On this feast, we recall the baptism of Jesus at the hands of St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River (see Matt 3:13-17). Here, the three Persons of the Trinity appeared (Eastern Catholics call this feast the Theophany because of this). I believe it is appropriate, then, that today's festivities revolve around the themes of the Trinity, St. John the Baptist, and Baptism. 

-Eat treats that allude to St. John the Baptist, like honey cake or grasshopper pie
-Make shamrock-shaped sandwiches, or other treats that can reference the Trinity.
-Make a Baptism in the River Jordan dessert.
-Share stories and pictures about the baptisms of each member in your family. Discuss how being baptized has impacted your life.  
-Meditate on this beautiful quotation from Pope Benedict XVI's homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and find ways to nurture your personal relationship with Christ
"Christmas, and more generally the liturgical year, is exactly that drawing near to these divine signs, to recognize them as impressed into daily events, so that our hearts may be open to God's love. And if Christmas and Epiphany serve primarily to render us capable of seeing, of opening our eyes and hearts to the mystery of a God who comes to be with us, then we can say that the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus introduces us into the daily regularity of a personal relationship with him. Indeed, by immersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus united himself with us. Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge he built between himself and us, the road on which he makes himself accessible to us. It is the divine rainbow over our lives, the promise of God's great "yes", the door of hope and, at the same time, the sign that that indicates to us the path to take actively and joyfully in order to encounter him and feel loved by him."

There are, I'm sure, multitudes of ways to celebrate the season of Christmas (and several awesome traditions I've never heard of!), so let's brainstorm, shall we? What other ways can we center our celebrations on Christ in this epic and joyful season of Christmas? 

***If this all looks or sounds overwhelming, remember that we do not need to go all-out for each and every feast. Pick a few activities that would work well with your family, and start slowly! 


  1. what a great list of ideas! our tree tends to come down around Epiphany, but we try to keep the rest of the decorations up and keep the Christmas atmosphere strong until at least the Baptism of Our Lord, though usually we push it even longer, until Candlemas.

    I'm going to try to make a very simple ring bread for the first time in honor of Epiphany, with a hat tip to the very fancy traditional Three King's Cake. admittedly, I learned about this tradition from the Great British Baking Show. hahaha.

    Merry Christmas, AnneMarie! ♥

  2. Love these ideas! I'd love to more intentionally prolong the celebration in the future :-)