It is not strange that all sorts of devotional practices have sprung up around Catholicism, sometimes practices that may seem rather trifling until one realizes that customs cannot be worthless that have evolved from the faith of the people through many hundreds of years, sometimes through well over a thousand years. What family is there that does not use certain sayings and phrases that have significance only for those belonging to the circle? What family exists that has no peculiar customs, nicknames, rites, birthday ceremonies that outsiders cannot be expected to appreciate? Can anyone account for the curious rites they observed as children. Those rites are not necessary for family life, but they adorn it and enliven it. And since the Church is not an institution but a family that ranges from God and God's mother and thence to the saints and thence to the souls in purgatory and from them to ourselves, is it not astonishing then that spiritual family rites and customs have sprung up? It is surprising how few people think of this. But the parents who do enter into these spiritual family customs can give their children treasures, whose value they may not realize until eternity.
There is nothing forced in this idea: why does the church in her liturgy allot the various days to the honor of her saints, or to events in the lives of Christ and of Mary, if she does not wish us to celebrate them in some way?
These feasts of the Church are fixed, but the way they can be celebrated can vary--and does vary tremendously from place to place. With the passing of time the festivities and the customs of the day have also changed, still the essence remains the same. At Christmas, for instance, Jesus is the center of the day, and everywhere in the world Christians will show their love to the new-born Child in their own way, whether this be with carol singing, erecting cribs, hanging Advent wreaths, placing lighted candles in the windows, leaving empty places at the table for the holy Family, or by making it a special festive day for children, their own or other people's.
~ adapted from: "A Candle is Lighted," Imprimatur 1945. ~
It is with these thoughts in mind I will share those traditions that we do to help bring our Faith to life.
ADVENT - Holy Mother Church's way of teaching Her children to prepare for the coming of Christ, both on His birthday and on Judgment Day. To this family the Advent and Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year. We have many traditions that help make the season penitential as well as joyous.
My children as well as my husband and I are eagerly awaiting the first Sunday of Advent. It is on this day that we start our traditions. Besides the Advent Wreath with it's prayers and songs, we have another tradition called "Christkindl" (Christ Child). After our Mass prayers are said and our breakfast eaten I bring out a bowl which I pass around. In it are pieces of paper each containing a different name of one of our family members. The papers are neatly rolled up, because the drawing has to be done in great secrecy. Each person then draws a piece of paper from the bowl and looks at it in secret. (This tradition is a little hard when all the children are small because the burden of keeping track of each person's Christkindl falls on the mother) The person whose name one has drawn is now in one's special care. From this day until Christmas, one has to do as many little favors for him or her as one can. One has to provide at least one surprise every single day--but without ever being found out. This creates a wonderful atmosphere of joyful suspense, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Perhaps you will find that somebody has made your bed, done your chores or has informed you, in a disguised handwriting on a holy card, that "a rosary has been said for you today" or a number of sacrifices have been offered up. (Note: I will type up on paper prayers like, 3 Hail Mary's or a decade of the Rosary, etc. and place them in the center of the Advent wreath for the children to use for each other. When it has been found by the Christkindl it is then returned to the wreath to be used again.) The beautiful thing about this particular custom is that the relationship is a reciprocal one. The person whose name I have drawn and who is under my care becomes for me the helpless little Christ Child in the manger; and as I am performing these many little acts of love and consideration for someone in the family I am really doing them for the Infant of Bethlehem, according to the word, "And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me." That is why this particular person turns into "my Christkindl." At the same time I am the "Christkindl" also for the one I am caring for because I want to imitate the Holy Child and render all those little services in the same spirit as He did in that small house of Nazareth, when as a child He served His Mother and His foster father with a similar love and devotion. Many times throughout these weeks can be heard such exclamations as, "I have a wonderful Christkindl this year!" or, "Goodness, I forgot to do something for my Christkindl and it is already suppertime!" It is a delightful custom, which creates much of the true Christmas spirit and ought to be spread far and wide.
We have a large manger (just the Infant's bed) that we set up on our domestic altar. It is empty and throughout the Advent season after our evening prayers are said, the children place pieces of hay into it for each good deed they have performed during the day. The more good they have done, the softer Baby Jesus' bed will be come Christmas morning. (Note: We use straw colored yarn cut into pieces instead of the hay that can be reused year after year.)
There is still one very important thing to do for Advent. Each member of the family writes a letter to the Baby Jesus mentioning his resolutions for the weeks of Advent and listing the wish for a gift. This "Christkindl Brief" (letter to the Holy Child) is put under the manger on our domestic altar for the Guardian Angels to take to the Christ Child. (I have kept these over the years and love to read them over again.)
It cannot be said often enough that during these weeks before Christmas, songs and hymns of Advent should be sung. No Christmas carols! Consciously we should work toward restoring the true character of waiting and longing to these precious weeks before Christmas. Just before Midnight Mass, on December 24th, is the moment to sing for the first time "Silent Night, Holy Night," for this is the song for this very night. It may be repeated afterwards as many times as we please, but it should not be sung before that holy night.
This year we will be adding yet another tradition or actually changing the way that we do one. We used to at the beginning of the school year have each child pick a Saint that they have to research, make a costume for, and tell about come All Saints Day. This year we are going to do things a little differently.
The following has been taken from: "Around the Year with the Trapp Family" and it is this tradition that we are going to adapt to our own.
"One of the old customs is to choose a patron saint for the new year of the Church. The family meets on Saturday evening, and with the help of the missal and a book called "The Martyrology," which lists thousands of saints as they are celebrated throughout the year, they choose as many new saints as there are members of the household. We always choose them according to a special theme. One year, for instance, we had all the different Church Fathers; another year we chose only martyrs; then again, only saints of the new world....During the war we chose one saint of every country at war.
The newly chosen names are handed over to the calligrapher of the family. She writes the names of the saints in gothic lettering on little cards. Then she writes the name of every member of the household on an individual card and hands the two sets over to the mother
In the afternoon of the first Sunday of Advent, the whole family meets in the living room. The Advent wreath hangs suspended from the ceiling on four red ribbons; the Advent candle stands in the middle of the table or on a little stand on the side. Solemnly the father lights one candle on the Advent wreath, and, for the first time, the big Advent candle. Then he reads the Gospel of the first Sunday of Advent. After this the special song of Advent is intoned for the first time, the ancient "Ye heavens, dew drop from above, and rain ye clouds the Just One...."
After our first gathering around the Advent light, and the singing of the first Advent hymn, an air of expectancy spreads over the family group; now comes the moment when the mother goes around with a bowl in which are the little cards with the names of the new saints. Everybody draws a card and puts it in his missal. This saint will be invoked every morning after morning prayer. Everyone is supposed to look up and study the life story of his new friend, and some time during the coming year he will tell the family all about it. As there are so many of us, we come to know about different saints every year. Sometimes this calls for considerable research on the part of the unfortunate one who has drawn St. Eustachius, for instance, or St. Bibiana. But the custom has become very dear to us, and every year it seems as if the family circle were enlarged by all those new brothers and sisters entering in and becoming known and loved by all.
Start a tradition or two with your families this Advent season, your children will learn to love and cherish them and it will help bring your Faith to life.
May you all have a very fruitful and blessed Advent!
Below you will find a printable file with the Advent Wreath Prayers: