History, Customs, Prayers and Meditations
|Advent & the Advent Wreath | 1st week of Advent | 2nd week of Advent
3rd week of Advent | 4th week of Advent | Christmas Eve
|The History of the Crèche
The True Story of St. Nicholas, and how he became Santa Clause
Links to Advent essays, reflections, homilies, prayers and customs
Advent is a season that begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, when the Church commemorates the centuries of waiting for the arrival of the Savior promised to the Jews in the Old Testament. For Christians, the season of Advent is a time of quiet meditation in preparation for the Christmas celebration in honor of the birth of Jesus.
Each of the four weeks before Christmas in churches, and in many homes, candles will be lit on an Advent wreath. The history of using a lighted wreath of greens to celebrate the anticipation of the birth of Christ dates to the 9th century AD, when Christians adopted the candle-lit wreath as a symbol of the new faith.
The circle is an ancient symbol, used by many ancient cultures to symbolize eternity. The evergreen branches are also ancient symbols for eternal life. Christians took these ancient symbols and "baptized" them, giving them Christian meanings. The candles symbolized Christ, the Light of the World. Together, the Advent wreath then, is a message, that symbolizes Christ, the Eternal Light of the World.
By the 16th century Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, throughout Europe commonly used these symbols to celebrate their
hope in Christ.
Homes, churches, and public buildings all across Europe used Advent
Ideas for prayers to accompany the lighting of the Advent candles:
The first Sunday of Advent, the wreath
of evergreen branches is laid out, and the first candle is lit with a prayer of HOPE.
Dear God, may the blessings of Christ come upon us, brightening our way and guiding us by his truth. May Christ our Savior bring light of hope into the darkness of the world. Amen
The light of thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us:
thou hast given gladness in my heart...
In peace I will sleep, and I will rest:
For thou, O Lord, alone make
me secure, and hast settled me in hope.
O Lord, bring peace into our hearts and into our homes. Make of
us a peaceful people, so that all who see us, see only you. Help us to be the
people that you want us to be, so that we may bring all to your holy peace. Amen.
Place a white candle in the center of the wreath, to be lit on Christmas Eve along with the other four, to symbolize Jesus as an answer to the prayers of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, of the preceding weeks.
Let us sing the psalm of King David, sing of our joy in the coming of the Lord:
"The mercies of the Lord I will sing for ever. I will sing out thy truth from generation to generation. For thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up for ever in the heavens: thy truth shall be prepared in them... The heavens shall confess thy wonders, O Lord..."
"Thou rulest the power of the sea: and calm the motion of the waves... Thine are the heavens, and thine is the earth: the world and the fullness thereof thou hast founded... Justice and judgment are the preparation of thy throne. Mercy and truth shall go before thy face: Blessed are the people that know jubilation. They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance: And in thy name they shall rejoice all the day, and in thy justice they shall be exalted... Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen"
The History of the Crèche
My mother's father is from Italy, and when I was a little girl he would tell me of the beautiful Nativity scenes that would be erected all over Italy. In our city, one church has built a three-sided stable, with life-sized figures of the Holy Family, animals, shepherds, and angels.
(One time someone asked where the Magi were, and they were told with a smile that they didn't arrive until later!)
In that town lived a certain man by the name of John (Messer Giovanni Velitta) who stood in high esteem, and whose life was even better than his reputation. Blessed Francis loved him with a special affection because, being very noble and much honored, he despised the nobility of the flesh and strove after the nobility of the soul. Blessed Francis often saw this man.
He now called him about two weeks before Christmas and said to him: "If you desire that we should celebrate this year's Christmas together at Greccio, go quickly and prepare what I tell you; for I want to enact the memory of the infant who was born at Bethlehem, and how He was deprived of all the comforts babies enjoy; how He was bedded in the manger on hay, between an ass and an ox. For once I want to see all this with my own eyes."
When that good and faithful man had heard this, he departed quickly and prepared in the above-mentioned place everything that the Saint had told him. The joyful day approached. The brethren were called from many communities. The men and women of the neighborhood, as best they could, prepared candles and torches to brighten the night.
Finally the Saint of God arrived, found everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. The crib was made ready, hay was brought, the ox and ass were led to the
spot... Greccio became a new Bethlehem. The night was made radiant like the day, filling men and animals with joy. The crowds drew near and rejoiced in the novelty of the celebration. Their voices resounded from the woods, and the rocky cliff echoed the jubilant outburst. As they sang in praise of God, the whole night rang with exultation. The Saint of God stood before the crib, overcome with devotion and wondrous joy. A solemn Mass was sung at the crib. The Saint, dressed in deacon's vestments, for a deacon he was, sang the Gospel. Then he preached a delightful sermon to the people who stood around him."
So - when you enjoy your family crèche this year, remember St. Francis of Assisi, and maybe whisper a little prayer of thanks, that he listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and gave us all a very beautiful gift, that we can still enjoy to this very day!
St. Nicholas - the real "Santa Claus"
St. Nicholas is the 4th century saint who inspired our modern figure of Santa Claus. He was born near Myra, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea that linked the seaports of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Nicholas came from one of the city's wealthy merchant families, but he was not spoiled by his family's wealth.
The father quickly ran out of his house see who threw it there. He caught up with Nicholas, and asked him, "Why did you give us the gold?" Nicholas is said to have answered simply "Because you needed it," "But why didn't you let us know who you were?" the man asked again. "Because it's good to give, and have only God know about it."
Years later, Nicholas was chosen
to be the bishop of Myra. We are told that when the former bishop of Myra died,
the people gathered with the neighboring bishops in the cathedral to pray and
ask God to tell them who the next bishop should be. One man said that he'd had a
dream, that someone would come through the cathedral door as they prayed, and
that he should be their choice. And yes, you know it! Nicholas was the one who
came into the cathedral! Immediately the people proclaimed him as their bishop,
because they all knew him and his good deeds, and knew that he was meant by God
to lead them.
The real Saint Nicholas was never portrayed that way -
fat, in a silly red suit, with a pipe, a floppy hat and a sleigh. In Christian
art, was always depicted as a tall, slender man, in bishops robes, with his bishop's miter. The reindeer and sleigh, and all the rest was simply an invention that Moore came up with to entertain his
own children. Moore, in fact, never intended to his poem to be publicly
|Christmas in a World of Excess - A reflection from Zenit.org, on the difference
between having more, and being more. "Balancing the spiritual meaning of Christmas with its more-worldly celebration is no easy task."
Prophet Isaiah and Peter the Fisherman - A homily by Capuchin Fr. Raniero
Cantalamessa, given in Rome, December 10th, 1999. "The common
denominator of every sin is to look for our own interest and not for Christ's.
In other words, to live for ourselves, rather than living for the Lord.
Moses and St. Paul - Encounters with God - A homily by Capuchin Fr. Raniero
Cantalamessa, December 21, 1999. Moses and Paul were both called twice by
name by the Lord: "And when God calls twice, it is the prelude to something
important. The common ground of both calls was the sending of Moses and Paul on
a mission -- a mission preceded by an encounter with God. What can the faithful
learn from these two figures of salvation history, extending from Abraham to
Christ, during this period of preparation for Christmas?"
Houselander - Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross - This reflection on surrender to God, and the
Infant of Bethlehem, is taken from Caryll Houselander's book Wood of the
Cradle, Wood of the Cross.
Elsa Chaney - The Advent
Tower, the O Antiphons - Explanation of the Advent Tower and the 'O'
Antiphons. Part of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas Kit.'
Helen McLoughlin - Family
Advent Customs - A
presentation of practical suggestions for sanctifying the Advent-Christmas
season in the family. Invites full family participation. Contains instructions
for the Advent Wreath, creating a manger scene, Mary's candle, and the Jesse
Tree. Also contains Advent hymns and symbols, O-antiphons, prayers, Blessing of
the Christmas tree, and numerous other ideas for putting Christ back into
Christmas. Complete book in a text document, available online.
Helen McLoughlin - Christmas
to Candlemas in a Catholic Home - In this sequel to
'Family Advent Customs,' the author outlines ways and means by which the 40 days
of the Christmas season may be observed in a truly Catholic manner. Prayers,
songs, recipes, observances for the many feast days from December 25 to February
2--all in the holy, happy spirit of hearts filled with Christmas grace.
Women for Faith and Family -
Celebrating Advent & Christmas: A Sourcebook - Excerpts from the book CELEBRATING ADVENT AND
CHRISTMAS, A SOURCEBOOK FOR FAMILIES.
P. Stewart Craig - A Candle
Is Lighted - This booklet
shows how the feasts of the Church were once celebrated, how they could be
revived, and adapted, and how new methods of celebration can be created for the
Burton & Ripperger -
Feast Day Cookbook -
Two well-known writers, Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger join forces to
describe the special and traditional feast day dishes of many lands. We learn
the forgotten origin of many well-known dishes, as well as
numerous recipes for special occasions.
Jesse Tree Symbols - A list of the Jesse Tree Symbols and their
explanations. Used in Advent, this also includes some of the symbols used in the
Rev. E.J. Sutfin - True
Christmas Spirit - This
book's main purpose is to develop the fundamental dogmatic background of the
Christmas Liturgy, and then to suggest ideas of every sort by which the spirit
of the Church may be brought to children. 'The Church always finds old and new
treasures of grace in her storehouse of scripture and tradition. We must take
every means of helping our children to find them.'
Therese Mueller - Our
Children's Year of Grace - Ideas for use in the home by parents who wish to teach their children
to live throughout the year with Christ and his Church. The purpose of this
booklet 'is to pave the way for a closer, holier and more vital union of the
Home with Christ and His Church.'
John Paul II - Discover
Glory of God Revealed in Christ - Pope John Paul II Homily, Vespers, First Sunday
of Advent November 30, 1996 - "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today
John Paul II - "Rejoice,
the Lord is near" - "Advent is the liturgical season that
prepares us for the Lord's birth, but it is also the time of expectation for the
,definitive return of Christ", the Holy Father said in the homily he
preached at the Roman parish of Our Lady of Valme on Sunday, 15 December 1996,
the Third Sunday of Advent.
Abbot Gueranger O.S.B. -
Meditation on Advent - The Lord has not come but he is nearer than
before, and therefore the Church lessens somewhat the austerity of this
penitential season by rejoicing, a visible sign of this being the pink vestments
in place of the purple. Also known as Gaudete Sunday.
Abbot Gueranger O.S.B. - The
4th Sunday of Advent - "We have now entered into the week which
immediately precedes the birth of the Messias." Taken from Volume I of
"The Liturgical Year."