Updated: Jan 4
In Part 1, I laid out our family's plan for Advent. You can view my updates of how it's going here (make sure you subscribe if you want to be notified when a new one is up!). Today, I want to tell you how we plan to celebrate Christmas, beginning with the Feast of the Nativity, and ending with the Octave of Epiphany. I'm so excited to share it with you guys! One more note before we begin: we want to help you and your family celebrate Christmas. To find out how, click here.
Note: we want to thank the excellent resource Fish Eaters for educating readers about all of these traditional Catholic customs. Click here for links to more in-depth explanations of customs.
Christmas Eve (Dec. 24)
This is a day of fasting and abstinence, and any last-minute cleaning should be completed, so that the house is spotless for the arrival of the Christ Child.
Christmas Eve Dinner
The festivities will begin with dinner. We plan to have a meatless pasta dish. The Advent wreath will be replaced with one white candle, and the wreath will go onto the front door. The table will be decorated, and Christmas china will be used. Before the meal, we will carry on the Polish tradition of Oplatki (you can buy some at this affiliate link here). The animals will get some extra treats and food tonight, too!
Technically, a lot of these customs should begin at midnight, the time of Christ's birth, but we are choosing to start them on the symbolic midnight, once it gets dark. At night, after dinner, the Christmas tree will be put out and decorated. Then, Pater will read the official Christmas Proclamation (you can find it here). The tree lights will be turned on for the first time, and Baby Jesus will be placed in the manger of our Nativity sets. We will put a lit candle in the window, and sing Silent Night and other Christmas carols. If you have little children, you can choose whether to keep them up or let them awake to seeing the lit and decorated Christmas tree for the first time Christmas morning!
Christmas Day (Dec. 25)
We will be attending the Shepherd's Mass. We will come home to feast all day! When we get home, we will tell the story of Christmas and other Christmas stories (ideas here). If you have a few children, you can have them re-enact the Christmas story by putting on a Nativity play they could be rehearsing during Advent. Then, we will exchange gifts.
When people ask if we "do Santa Claus", I usually respond that there is just no room for him! I think that is obvious from our Advent and Christmas plans. So, for gifts, here's our plan: everyone gets three presents, in honor of the three presents given to Baby Jesus. One is given "from St. Nicholas" on St. Nicholas' feast day, one is given "from Baby Jesus" on the Feast of the Nativity, and one is given "from the Magi" on Epiphany. I think if you are careful about making it clearly for fun (I don't think 8 year-olds should go around thinking St. Nicholas hand-delivers gifts, as this could distract from the very real involvement of the saints in our lives), or at the very least say that they are from so-and-so , but they need Mom and Dads help to deliver them, it could be a very fun thing for little ones. With the three gifts, you could do them in different ways: for our daughter, she has three separate gifts, but for Pater, I got him three different gifts that all "fit together", but he won't actually know how until he receives the last one, which makes things fun for older children and adults.
Our Christmas decor will consist of a lot of holly themes and rosemary, in addition to what we already have out. Things with symbols of wreaths and trees can come out now. I will change out the pink and purple ribbons for red, and our Advent "centerpiece" (I actually moved it so that the Advent Wreath is in the center, but still) to a Christmas one with the Maddona and Infant Christ in the center and a red ribbon instead of a purple one.
The Feast of Stephen (Dec. 26)
A martyr by will, love, and blood.
This is the day to do things for the poor (as St. Stephen was the first Deacon), like giving them leftover food (or food made especially for them when preparing for Christmas) or having the children give away one of their toys (especially if they received a lot of new ones for Christmas). We will be traveling this day, so we are still brainstorming how to do this in the car, but we will at the very least sing Good King Wenceslaus while driving!
The Feast of St. John the Evangelist (Dec. 27)
A martyr by will and love.
Today is a fun custom, as it involves wine (which you can use as-is or make non-alcoholic). From Fish Eaters:
Though he wasn't martyred, it wasn't for his enemies' lack of trying. According to legend, he was served poisoned wine, but survived because he blessed the wine before he put it to his lips; the poison rose from the chalice in the shape of a serpent. In his happy memory, Catholics bring wine to church, which the priest blesses, turning it into a sacramental called the "Love of St. John." Catholics use this sacramental wine for special occasions throughout the year and to give to the sick. When it is drunk on his Feast Day, we drink it before dinner as a toast to St. John. The Father of the house lifts his glass toward Mother and says, "I drink you the love of St. John." The Mother replies "I thank you for the Love of St. John" and then turns to the oldest child, lifts her glass, and says, "I drink you the love of St. John..." -- and on it goes down the line until each has been toasted.
Sounds fun, no?
Childermas (Dec. 28)
Martyrs by blood alone.
Traditionally, the youngest child rules the day today, getting to pick out food, drink, entertainment, and what-not (in many places, this is quite a silly day, similar to the American "April Fools"). Pater will do the formal blessing of children, and maybe try to have some red food in honor of the blood of the Holy Innocents. Today also begins the Novena to the Magi.
Feast of St. Sylvester (Dec. 31)
Today will involve reflecting in thanksgiving upon the past year, culminating in the family recitation of the Te Deum to gain the plenary indulgence. It will be one of champagne and merry-making as well, and setting any goals for the coming New Year.
Feast of the Circumcision (Jan. 1)
Attend Mass and recite the Veni Creator Spiritus as a family for a plenary indulgence. This is the last day of the Octave of Christmas.
Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (Jan. 5)
We plan to recite the Litany of the Holy Name and an Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the intention of reparation for the enormous number of times His Holy Name is uttered in vain.
This is also the twelfth day of Christmas or "twelfthnight". After dinner, we will drink Wassail. Everyone goes to bed in a similar mood of anticipation to that of Christmas Eve, waiting to see if the Magi will pay them a visit on the way to their search of Christ. Hay for their camels will be left out.
Epiphany (Jan. 6)
The day will begin with finding the camel's hay was replaced with presents from the Magi. We will then go to Mass, and return with blessed chalk and Epiphany water. We will do the traditional Epiphany house blessing, led by Pater. We will then have a small feast, ending with a Three King's Cake. I will hide a dried bean in it, and whoever gets the slice with the dried bean is King or Queen for the day, and must be honored and obeyed as such. When the take a drink of their beverage, everyone must shout "The King (or Queen) drinks!" and take a sip themselves. You can find recipes and more here.
Today is also the day we will choose the patron saint of our family for 2020. There are many ways to do this, but we will likely each submit a name or two, and have someone draw a name out. We will then gather around and read about that saint, asking for their blessing and protection for the coming year.
As the Octave of this feast (ending Jan. 13) ends the liturgical Christmas season, so our Christmas celebrating will technically end. It is still to be determined whether or not we will keep our decorations up until Candlemas or remove them on the last day of the Octave (the Baptism of Jesus). We will keep you posted, of course.
And thus ends our Christmas celebrations—reply in the comments with a special tradition you would like to share!