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The Christmas season celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation and the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world: past, present and future.
The mystery and feast of Christmas (the Nativity of the Lord) is second only to Easter in the liturgical life of the Church. The first week of the season is the octave of Christmas which closes on the feast of the Mother of God (Jan 1). Some cultures preserve the traditions of “Twelve Days” for the celebration, extending Christmas Day through Epiphany.
ASPECTS OF THE SEASON
Christmas is a season of feasts. Some are celebrations of various aspects of the mystery of the Nativity, while others are feasts in their own right that are as old as or older than the Christmas feast itself. Unlike the days immediately after Easter (the octave or eight days), the period after Christmas sees the inclusion of many and varied celebrations.
These feasts reflect on various facets of the Christmas event.
- Holy Innocents: reflecting Matthew 2.13-18, December 28th.
- Holy Family: on the Sunday after Christmas or December 30th. The newest of the seasonal feasts, included in the calendar in 1921.
- Solemnity of Mary: January 1st has supported a varied number of titles including the civil New Year. It has commemorated the Circumcision (and Naming) of Jesus and been simply the “Octave Day” of Christmas. The celebration of Mary brings the day to the earliest of her titles and the oldest feast in honour of the Mother of God. Holy Name of Jesus:
- January 3rd Epiphany: a feast from the Eastern Churches and the original Eastern celebration of Christ’s birth. It now commemorates the “manifestation” of Christ to the nations and is kept on January 6th or the Sunday after January 1st. The liturgical texts centre on the magi, but include as well references to Jesus’ baptism and his first miracle at Cana as images of his appearance to the world, event that are celebrated specifically later on.
- Baptism of the Lord: Jesus begins his saving work; the Sunday (or Monday) after Epiphany.
Canada’s two Holydays of Obligation (December 25th and January 1st) are observed during the Christmas season.Text: Celebrating the Season of Christmas, National Liturgy Office, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Star of Bethlehem, also known as the Christmas Star, is mentioned in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel tells us that “ in the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “in Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel [Matthew 2:1-6].” When Herod heard this, he called for the wise men – learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared – and sent them to Bethlehem. He asked them to come back after they had found the child, telling him the exact route so that he could also go to visit the child. The wise men went on their way following the star that led them to their destination. When they arrived they fell on their knees worshipping Jesus and offering their gifts. Before leaving for home, they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they returned to their own country by another route.
- Family Quiz (find the answers in the Bible):
- What was the birth place of Jesus (name town and country)?
- When did the event take place?
- What were the names of the wise men?
- Where did the wise men come from?
- Name the gifts they brought with them.
- Family Activities:
- On a clear night during Advent go outside and find the brightest shining star. See if you can name it.
- Create your own Star of Bethlehem. Then create smaller stars. You can hang them from the ceiling or from the Christmas tree.
- Make a Christmas star mobile.
- Read the Christmas story and meditate on it.
- Talk to your children about the miracle of Christmas and what it means to all of us.
- Sing hymns or songs that mention the Christmas Star.
There have been many attempts to explain the Christmas Star scientifically. The conclusion is that the Star of Bethlehem cannot be naturally explained by science. It was a temporary and supernatural light. After all, the first Christmas was a time of miracles. May our eyes be opened to the extraordinary miracles of this Advent and Christmas season.
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above." James 1: 17
For the last three years now I have faced insistent questioning from my eleven-year-old daughter Sophie about whether or not there is a Santa. Her sense of hopeful wonder has been struggling mightily against the majority of her classmates and their clear certainty about the ruse. And as we talked this through I remembered and told her about a wonderful story I had heard. It was about a similar child who, upon hearing from classmates that Santa was fictional, fled to his matter-of-fact grandmother for the truth. His grandmother never sugar coated anything and he secretly feared that she would support his classmates. Instead, she insisted that Santa did exist and took little David to a general store to prove it. "Buy something for someone who desperately needs it," she said. "I'll wait in the car." And she left him there with ten dollars.
The young boy agonized over whom to pick. Then he remembered a classmate who never took recess because he couldn't afford a winter coat. So David grabbed a warm-looking jacket from the rack and placed it on the counter, explaining to the shop owner that it was for his friend Billy, who was destitute. The shopkeeper paused, and then packaged the $100 coat and placed it in the boy's hands. Needless to say the young boy was thrilled when he saw his friend on the playground wearing the new coat. When he told his grandmother she squeezed his hand and said: "Well done … Santa."
I have always bristled at the commercialization of Christmas, and especially the emphasis on gifts at the clear expense of Jesus who should be the heart of the season. So it is critical to remember, at this extraordinary time of year, that at heart we can all be Santa – if we remember why we give. I'm reminded of this when I look at all the caregiving organizations in Calgary alone. Each year, one of my favourite charities—the Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch—opens its doors to the most disadvantaged families in Calgary for a remarkable Christmas party. Once at the ranch, children can load up on winter clothes, stuffies, food and Christmas cheer, all provided free of charge by the ranch's owners, and distributed by an army of volunteers. Each year St. Mary's University in Calgary sends scores of students, staff and faculty to this remarkable event. Last year almost one fifth of university students signed up to help!
So although I remain cranky at commercialization, I have no issue at all with the giving culture as long as it's wrapped in the spirit of good and the commitment to all that is the hallmark of Christ's teaching. In that context I remember the unsung Santas: certainly the volunteers, but also people like the shopkeeper or the owners of the ranch. And in that context I can comfortably say, Yes, Virginia and Sophie there really is a Santa!
Written by: Dr. Gerry Turcotte
"Everybody has their own particular gifts from God, one with a gift for one thing and another with a gift for the opposite." (1 Corinthians 7:7)
At this time of the year, it can seem like we are bombarded with the idea of gifting – both receiving and giving. Suggestions abound on someone else's idea of what you would like to receive or what someone else would like to receive from you.
Upon reflecting on this idea of gifting, I was reminded of a story that Fr. John Shea shares in his book The Legend of the Bells and Other Tales. It is the story of a person who was a teacher for many years, and at Christmas, as was the custom at the school where he taught, students would bring gifts. After about the third year he could guess what the gift was by the size of the gift box. For example, long flat boxes would contain handkerchiefs (it was in the day when handkerchiefs were being used). He developed a habit, and that was to throw the box in the closet unopened until he needed a handkerchief. Only then, would he go to the closet and open the box. On one such day he opened such a box and much to his surprise he discovered an antique pocket watch! Imagine, all the time he possessed an antique watch and didn't know it.
This story is a reminder that we all have God-given gifts and qualities that make each one of us, children and adults alike, unique. It is our purpose to discover, unwrap and use these gifts to help ourselves, others, and to bring about God's kingdom on earth. As we age, mature, and grow in wisdom our gifts will be expressed in different ways for different tasks. An added benefit is that we will discover new gifts!
During these seasons of Advent and Christmas, and during the whole year, let us become aware of our many gifts; let us go beyond the outer package. Who knows what we may discover… perhaps an antique pocket watch?
Let us see the evidence of God's gift of love which is so plentiful to each one of us. May God's blessings and gifts be with you and your family in a special way during this holy time.
Written by Norline Johnson, Religious Education Secretariat, Senior's Corner Coordinator.