Important feasts such as Christmas require great preparation. Catholics throughout the ages have creatively come up with all sorts of ways to do so, many of which are symbolic.
The tradition of the church incorporates material symbols because they help us get a better grasp on the spiritual realities that they are representing. Over the years, the Church has assumed certain traditions from the peoples that She has evangelised; or she created on her own certain forms that would help to “materialise” the spiritual realities that She was trying to transmit and offer. These are catechetical tools that aid us in keeping in the Mysteries of our faith and helping others to do so as well.
Advent and Christmas are liturgical times that are particularly rich in symbols. Often we are used to them but are still lacking many of the key elements that can help us take full advantage of them. With today’s post, we are hoping to familiarise you a bit with the origin, history and meaning of these symbols so as to enrich your preparation and experience this Christmas.
The Christmas tree is the most visible and frequent symbol for Christmas. Unfortunately, we don’t always give it a religious meaning. The commercial world has appropriated the Christmas tree as if it were simply a symbol of the “holidays” and completely ignore the centrality of the Our Lord’s role. While the traditions that each family may use can vary, what’s important is that we remember and make it clear that the Christmas tree is a Catholic symbol. Here are a few examples. Some families usually allow the youngest child to be the one that puts the star on the tip of the trip. Some families arm the tree while praying the joyful mysteries of the rosary. Others ask the parish priest to bless the Nativity scene and the tree. Still others will offer up special prayers for every decoration that goes up on the tree: blue ones represent prayers of repentance, silver ones represent thanksgiving, gold ones represent praise and red one represent petitions.
Another symbol that comes from ancient Europe which, thankfully, is becoming more and more popular is that of the Advent wreath. The advent wreath helps us follow along more intensely the four weeks that precede Christmas. As we lite the candles, we are prepare ourselves to receive our Lord Jesus. Every Sunday we can participate all together as a family by preparing a little liturgy, emphasising the particular aspects of the Advent time.
Lastly, but certainly not least important, is the nativity scene. This is a beautiful tradition that was begun by the great Saint Francis of Assisi and was then subsequently diffused throughout the world by the Franciscans. In it’s initial years, they were “living nativity scenes” and only later did they become figures made out off clay, wax, etc. Every family interacts with the nativity scenes in their own way. Some families, every Sunday of Advent, add figures and do a little theatre in order to narrate the story so that the little ones can get to know them. The birth is, of course, the emblematical symbol of the day of Christmas. As such, it is on Christmas that the little baby child is finally placed in the nativity scenes. Usually the family will gather and sing Christmas carols in order to celebrate.
We would love to get your feedback and hear how you are your families celebrate Christmas. What are you favorite prayers or Christmas carols? What kind of liturgies or family activities have you found to be the most fruitful?
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