Also known as a creche, this tradition dates back to Saint Francis of Assisi, who is credited with creating the first live nativity scene in 1223 as a way to make public worship of Jesus part of the Christmas season. The recreation of the birth of Christ, featuring people dressed as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, was meant to bring the Bible to life for a population of believers who were not literate. The use of small figures and elaborate displays was perfected during the 1700s in Naples, Italy. These recreations are featured in churches and homes around the world to this day. Typically, the manger is kept empty and only filled with the baby Jesus on Christmas Day.
St. Nicholas Day
During his life, St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop who was known for helping those in need. After his death, his generosity turned into a legend of gift-giving that eventually developed into the modern stories and depictions of Santa Claus. Nonetheless, St. Nicholas Day, on December 6th, is a beloved landmark during Advent that brings families together in gift giving. Common practice is to set a shoe out by your bedside the night of the 5th for St. Nicholas to fill with treats.
The Mary Candle
On December 8th, during Advent, is a time where reflection is devoted to the gift of the Blessed Virgin's Immaculate Conception. In vigil, a special Advent candle is lit in Mary's honor and prayers are made in thanks for her purity and effort in bringing Christ into the world.
The O Antiphons:
These antiphons are chanted or recited after the Magnificat within the Liturgy of the Hours, known as the ‘Office’ for priests and religious. They are said for seven days before Christmas – from December 17th to 23rd inclusive. Each antiphon expresses the ‘wait’ or ‘expectation’ of Advent. The seven O Antiphons are: O Wisdom; O Adonai (ancient Hebrew name for God); O Root of Jesse (King David’s father); O Key of David; O Radiant Dawn; O King of All Nations; O Emmanuel. The Antiphons are based on scripture writings from the prophet Isaiah in the Hebrew (Old Testament) Bible and herald the coming of the Messiah. They all cite various titles afforded to the Messiah, and all anticipate the one who is to come.
Mass on Christmas day is one of the holy days of obligation and can be attended at one of three different traditional times. Some individuals and families attend all three of these special services:
- The "Angels' Mass", held at midnight as Christmas Eve turns to Christmas Day
- The "Shepherds' Mass", held on Christmas morning
- The "Mass of the Divine World", also known as the "Kings' Mass", held during the day on Christmas
Solemnity of Mary Feast
On New Year's Day, January 1st, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, by conducting a feast. This day's Mass focuses on celebrating Mary's motherhood of Jesus and her role in humanity’s salvation.
There’s one thing that all of these Catholic Christmas traditions have in common: they focus on taking time to appreciate the immense, beautiful, and undeniable gifts that God has given us. We do that by gathering, praying, creating, reflecting, singing, and seeking.