Without Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we would not be celebrating Christmas. Not only did She say “Yes”, to reverse the “No’ of Adam and Eve to God, and thus gave birth to Him who is our Saviour and Redeemer, but She was and is still, a perfect example of what it means to follow, worship and belong to God.
There are two feastdays in December that help us to understand and emulate Our Lady a little more. The first one is the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. On this day, we celebrate the fact that “in view of Mary’s role of bearing and raising the Son of God, God prepared Her for this by freeing Her from original sin from the moment of Her conception in the womb of Her mother , Anne. God prepared Mary to be a vessel without trace of sin, not because of Her own virtue or merit but because of Her unique role in His plan of salvation.”*
Because God gave Her the grace, Mary was free of every personal sin Her whole life long. Because She wished to do the Divine will in all ways, She gave Herself entirely to the person and work of Her Son, to aid Him in His work of Redemption. Just as Eve’s unbelief and rebellion brought sin into the world, Mary’s faith and perfect obedience to God and His will brought salvation.
On December 12th, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. In 1531, Mary appeared to a poor Mexican peasant Juan Diego. Through Her apparitions there, an estimated eight million native people were converted in the next seven years.
She continues to bring us messages of hope and direction on our present day journeys. She has appeared many times, in many different places, to warn, console, encourage, instruct and guide us back to the loving arms of the Father. Mary’s appearances in all these places remind us that the things we do now and our prayers and faith have consequences for not only our own salvation but also for the whole world.
Shall we ask Her to let us accompany Her and Joseph as they make their way to Bethlehem?
Let us accompany Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.
Every year, our family tries to look at the whole story of Christmas from a different perspective. One tradition in the past that we have done is the five-day walk to Bethlehem. We read somewhere that Nazareth was approximately 70 miles from Bethlehem. This would give them an average of 14 miles to walk every day. At night, they probably had to find an out-of the- way corner or a shelter of some kind. Some of our children spend these four nights sleeping on the floor, as a penance, uniting their discomfort with that of Our Lady who suffered much more because of the imminent birth. Sometimes, they even talk us into letting them sleep in the barn for a night, and they come in with a much greater appreciation of the warmth and comforts of today.
Another custom that has been adopted in Madonna House from Russian tradition, is the wearing of bells throughout Advent. These symbolize the bells that the donkey wore who carried Our Lady, and therefore the Christ Child, Himself, on this journey. Every week, more bells are added to the belt, or wristband, or band around the knee, to remind us that we are coming ever closer to Christ’s birth. They are a delightful reminder of the first Church, Our Lady Herself.
These five days are also a special preparation time for the great feast of Christmas. Our Lady has requested through continuing apparitions to use five ways of preparing to meet Jesus, not only at Christmas but for eternal life. Prayer from the heart and the Rosary; the Eucharist; reading Scripture; Fasting and Penance; and Monthly Confession.
When we pray from the heart, it is like a hotline to God. If we pray with a sincere desire to come before Him with all our faults and weaknesses, praising Him, thanking Him and asking for His forgiveness, He will be a loving Father, drawing us closer to Him. The Rosary is an old but very powerful prayer that unites us with the prayers of Our Lady. The Mysteries of the Rosary take us through the lives of Jesus and Mary. Try praying the Rosary from different perspectives: those of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men, even the donkey!
“The Angels Are Wearing Boots!”
Every year at Blue Mantle Farm, our family hosts a Nativity Play on our lawn and in the stable, on Christmas Eve. This tradition has been going on for a few years now, and every year we are asked if we are going to do it again. Our friends, neighbours, young families, and those who may not have family to celebrate with that Christmas are all invited for the play and hot refreshments afterward at the “Bethlehem Inn.” Here are a few memories of bygone years. Now remember, these are just memories, and not necessarily historical fact.
I believe that it is important to make our faith alive, with customs and celebrations that will help our families to realize that Jesus truly walked this earth. If we, in some small way, imitate Him in some of the important times of His life, then we will better understand the magnitude of God becoming man. Our Nativity Play was born with a desire to experience, the sights, sounds AND smells of that Holy Night.
It all started in 1987, shortly after we moved to a farm. A large barn stood fairly close to the house and provided many hours of entertainment for young children and their friends, in the haymow, and with the animals that we soon acquired.
We decided, as a Christmas present for the grandparents, to take photographs of the children reenacting the Nativity. Our nine-month old son, was to play the main role. Our children had to play several roles, of course, with frequent changes of costume. All our towels, old curtains and play skirts were used to cover the heads and winter clothes. One daughter had a pink skirt over her head. “Mary” had the identical blue skirt on as her dress.
The main problem was, that the baby would not stay still. He wanted to crawl out of the manger. No matter how many blankets, we wrapped him in, he would pull all loose so the pictures show a distressed Jesus in his furry little snowsuit with Mary trying to pin him down. The shepherd is close by holding our white kitten (playing a lamb of course.)
As time went on, we had a new and improved version. Dad played Caesar Augustus announcing the census. His flannel sheet robe, was gracefully draped with a shiny white curtain, and a construction paper crown adorned his brow. Mom was the innkeeper wearing a long apron, fuzzy blue slippers and a towel over her head. ” “Joseph” had the other white shiny curtain as his headdress and our brown striped towel over his winter coat. Dad’s old ties came in handy as belts or to tie headdresses on.
A few years later, we made the big leap and started to homeschool. We asked our friends if they would be interested in acting out the play that would be taped so we could give a copy to each family. They all agreed (little knowing what they were getting themselves in for) and we persuaded our homeschool principal to videotape the whole thing. She was not available that day, so she sent her long-suffering husband to hold the camera.
I am not sure if we waited until the coldest day of the year, or it just happened, but as all amateur filmmakers, we learned a lot-FAST. One major lesson was that not all scenes go well on the first take. Another was that it wasn’t a good idea to get all the costumes on first thing, and then stand around in the cold waiting for your scene. We often had to get warmed up inside before going on.
Our trusty pony, Mojo, who could be an absolute angel most days with the children, and other days ……!!!!! decided that a self-respecting Shetland would not be captured on film, playing a donkey. When Mary and Joseph came up to the inn, to ask for room, (the door of the house), Joseph had to run up and knock on the door before Mojo continued on her journey. He grabbed Mojo’s halter, and they had to make several circuits of the lawn, all the while calling out the conversation with the innkeeper. The cameraman had a hard time filming that, let me tell you! We tried that scene several times, with the same result, and finally had to give it up to go in and get warmed up for the next scene.
The other major hitch was that we had many more shepherds than sheep!
There was another break of a few years, during which time we moved to another farm.
We decided to put the play on for ourselves, and this time the new baby who was also nine months at his first acting stint,) played the title role. He wasn’t any happier than his older brother about being stuck in a manger!
We acquired a Jersey cow, a flock of sheep, as well as numerous chickens, ducks, turkeys, and the ever present cats. Mojo was the matriarch of the horse population, and each child learned to ride on her. She taught them better than anyone the fundamentals of riding, and inspired confidence in even the most timid, except……at the Nativity Play.
I am not sure when we began the current long-running version, as they all seem to blend together in my mind. But there are a few details that seem to stand out….
Now that we had all the animals needed, we decided to ask our new homeschooling friends if they wanted to help us. Our costuming was usually very simple, STAY WARM! Our actors always bulged at the seams, due to their layers of winter clothing underneath. Mary was always in blue and white, Joseph in brown, and the shepherds had their towel headdresses.
The play usually started with Mary and Joseph making the rounds of the inns. For a couple of years, we tried a new variation. We had a census taker. The first year, he got very cold trying to write down the names of the guests. They were all supposed to bring a can of food for the poor as their “tax.” The most memorable part of that scene was the wind knocking over the lantern.
Another time, we decided that we would try to depict Bethlehem as it might have been that night, with the bedlam, and crowds of people. Lots of friends volunteered to help. Everyone had to line up to bring their “tax.” Interspersed were the rabble rousers, those who had no patience with the long lines. There was the census taker’s wife, who kept pestering her husband to come home and have supper, since she didn’t see the need for him to work overtime. There were the guards, who had little patience with the crowds after a hard day’s work. There was the woman who thought she was above having to actually wait in line, and kept pushing her way to the front. There were townspeople who were impatient with all the newcomers blocking the streets. And also there was the ever-present…”Do you want to buy a T-shirt?” type vendor who was selling camel treats (varying the price according to the wealth of the customer) and anything that a visiting pilgrim might need.
I am not sure that all our guests caught all the different scenarios, but we sure had a good time putting it on!
Joseph and Mary would then start their rounds of the inns. The front door of our house, the garage front door, and then the back door, were the usual reception areas. Over the years, Dad perfected his role as the innkeeper, always with a different response to the request of room. One year, he wore a red, curly wig and yelled at Joseph to go get his hair cut. Another time, he welcomed Joseph as a long lost relative, “Nice to see you, Joe: sorry we can’t help out.” Dad usually had a fire going, so all our guest could warm themselves while waiting for the play to start. It was a good central point for an inn.
One son and his friend , had a good dialogue (sort of) one year. The friend played another innkeeper, and kept cutting ” Joseph’s” questions off before he could ask the question. The dialogue went something like:
- Joseph: Is there..
- Innkeeper: Nope.
- Joseph: But…
- Innkeeper: Uh Uh..
- Joseph: Eh..
- Innkeeper waving his hands: Nope.
From there we would progress towards the old barn. In front of the barn, would be several freezing shepherds with as many sheep as we could convince to come near. The shepherds were always played by the little brothers who very earnestly, usually forgot their lines.
But never fear, from behind them, the angels would burst forth. The angels were the older sisters, and would burst into the song, “Angels We Have Heard on High” and good news. They were resplendent in white drapes, and gold or silver garland haloes. After they proclaimed the good news, they would go out the back door of the barn and tear to the new barn to get into place for the next scene.
The rest of us would slowly walk down the driveway, singing carols like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come All You Faithful.” We would try to let the angels and shepherds get there ahead of us.
A couple of years we tried to light our path with home-made lights. We cut the tops off of pop bottles, and half-filled them with sand. We lit tea-lights in them and placed them along the driveway. Unfortunately, the wind was up and most of them didn’t stay lit.
Before our hay barn was built, the manger scene was in the “new” horse-rabbit- back to horse barn. The audience would sit on layered bales of hay in the stall, and the manger and principal actors would be by the front door. After all the audience was seated, the angels would start singing carols, and the shepherds would come in to adore the newborn baby.
If any of our guests had a baby, we would try and recruit them for the role of Baby Jesus. Sometimes it was a girl, sometimes a boy. This is not to mean in any way, that we thought Jesus was a woman, but it really hits home of all that Joseph and Mary must have thought and suffered, seeing their newborn baby in a cold and drafty barn.
The babies were generally very accommodating, and one in particular, was sleeping so peacefully, that no one realized he was a real baby!
Usually our cow, Joy, was in the nearest stall, and occasionally lent her two cents worth to the occasion, either by “lowing” or by her bovine presence (in more ways than one!) Even when the play was transferred to the hay barn, and a stall built near the entrance, her presence lent a certain authenticity to the whole production.
The dad, of one of our regular families, was a reporter for the local community newspaper. One year, he took a picture of the final scene and submitted it to the paper. It made the next issue, and that, too, became a tradition. In fact, for many years, he was specifically asked to take a picture of our play, because it is a symbol of the “real meaning” of Christmas and the paper needs one for the front page. He always insisted on Joy being in the picture.
Another year, we tried to incorporate the horses in another way. The three kings converged on our front lawn to meet each other and then decide to travel on together to follow the star. Each pony carrying a bejeweled and bedecked “wise man”, danced closer and closer to the gathering of people. We tried to include the audience more, asking them if the had seen the star.
After the three kings, rode off into the sunset, “Joseph” barreled out of the first inn and somersaulted over the railing of the front steps. Our son was magnificent in portraying the poor Joseph, being literally thrown out of the inns.
The best time, of course, is in the barn. The Baby is there, with the two self-conscious parents. The angels are high up in the hay, leading the singing of some traditional carols. Each year, we try to have at least one song, often sung by a soloist, to really bring home what is happening. “O Holy Night” has been sung a couple of times beautifully. There is usually a couple of spotlights which give off a subdued glow around the barn. The shepherds are also in the hay on the lower levels and around the crib.
With all the comedy of the first few scenes, the barn scene is the favorite of all our guests. Looking at their faces while they are singing about the great mystery of the Incarnation, is a treat for me.
As our children have grown and become adults, the Nativity Play is still one of their favourite traditions. Because of some mishaps in a certain year’s production I felt bad that somehow we had failed in presenting the story. I was telling my friend about it the next day. I felt much better when she related about sitting beside a three-year-old boy in the barn. He was telling her who all the players were.
“There is Joseph, and there is Mary, and Jesus is in the manger. There are the shepherds.. and there are the angels…. They are wearing BOOTS!” My friend tried to explain carefully that they weren’t really angels and there were children playing the parts, and the little boy turned to her with his eyes wide, “You mean they aren’t?”
Enthroning the Child
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
Prayer Before Opening Gifts
Light the Advent wreath, having replaced the candles with white ones.
Father: We come before You, Father, to thank You for the gifts You give us. We thank You for the love in the hearts of those who give us these gifts. We thank You for the gift of life, and for giving us our family members to love us, those who are with us, and those who are far away, (as well as those who are with You.) But most of all, we thank You for the most precious gift of all, Your Son, Jesus, Whom You sent into the world to redeem us even though we would not appreciate this gift.
Mother: reads Isaiah 9: 1-6
All sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Blessing of the Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree is actually a Christian symbol. Green represents nature, the colour of life and living things. The evergreen thus is a perfect symbol of eternal life that we find through Jesus. The different coloured balls represent all the different cultures and peoples of the world. The ornaments tell of our joy and gladness as life is renewed during this season. The lights remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.
(The tree lights are not yet turned on.)
- MOTHER: Lord Jesus, bless us as we make everything ready for Christmas.
- ALL: We wait for your coming, Lord Jesus.
- MOTHER: Holy Mary, Mother of God
- ALL: Pray for us.
- MOTHER: St. Joseph
- ALL: Pray for us
- MOTHER: St. John the Baptist, help us to prepare the way of the Lord.
- ALL: Pray for us.
- MOTHER: All you saints of God
- ALL: Pray for us.
- HYMN: O Come All Ye Faithful
- FATHER: Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.
- ALL: He is the true Light who enlightens our lives.
- (Turn the Tree Lights on)
- MOTHER or OLDEST CHILD reads Luke 2: 1-14
- (All Stand)
- MOTHER: Let us pause for a moment and reflect on God’s love for us. (She sprinkles the tree with Holy Water)
- FATHER: Father in heaven, we thank You for Your goodness, Bless + this tree that we have decorated in honour of Your Son’s birth among us; let its lights remind us that He is Lord, and its decorations recall our joy. Grant that we may receive Him as our saviour, and continue to give You glory by our lives. We ask this grace, Father, in the name of Christ our Lord.
- ALL: Amen.
- FATHER: Let us share with each other the PEACE of Christ.
- HYMN: Silent Night
St. Lucy Dec. 13
In Hungary, they celebrate December 13th, the feast of St. Lucy by planting a handful of wheat seeds. The wheat represents Jesus.
By using a wide flower pot or container of earth, plant the wheat evenly over the whole surface. Keep it in a warm room, watering it daily. The person who waters the wheat prays: “All ye things that spring up in the earth, bless the Lord!”
At Christmas, this pot of new green wheat is placed at the foot of the crib, and remains there until Epiphany.
St. Lucy’s name means ‘light’, which unites her with the Light of the world, Jesus, who comes at Christmas to those who dwell in darkness. Because of this, she is the patroness of the blind. Because her feast is close to the shortest day of the year, it reminds us that although the daylight might be short, the Light of the World is soon coming into the world.
A Swedish custom has a young girl or woman dressed in a long, white dress to symbolize virginity, and wearing a crown of candles making her appearance into the dining room. She lights a candle on the table, and small candles on cupcakes, one for each person. Thus the light of Christ is passed to everyone in the house.
Another version of this tradition, that is popular in our family, is the youngest girl to wear a crown with candles and serve “breakfast in bed” which consists of sweet rolls called “Lussekater”, known as “Lucy-kats.”
Recipe for Lucy-Kats
(Makes about 12, depending on size)
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 pkg. dry yeast
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp ground cardamon (we use cinnamon)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3-4 cups flour
- 1/3 cup margarine, melted and cooled
- some raisins
- egg for brushing on buns
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of milk and let sit.
Mix sugar, salt, butter, egg, cardamon (cinnamon) and the rest of the milk. Add to yeast mixture.
Add 2 1/2 cups flour and stir until smooth. Gradually work in the rest of the flour and knead it until it makes a dough that is smooth and flexible, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a large greased bowl, turning it to make sure it is greased on both sides. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise until it doubles in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch dough down. Make little “snakes” about 6 inches long and 1 inch and make them into the shapes shown. Place on greased cookie sheet. Place raisin in the “curls.”
Let them rise in a warm place until they double in bulk.
Brush the tops with lightly beaten egg.
Bake for about 15 minutes, in a 350o oven, or until they turn golden brown.
Cool before eating!
A CANDYMAKER’S WITNESS
A candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a Christian “witness” so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry and death of Jesus Christ.
He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus; hard to symbolize the Solid Rock- the foundation of the Church, and the firmness of the promises of God.
The candyman made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Saviour. It could also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd” with which He reaches down into the gutters of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like sheep, have gone astray.
Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to represent the scourging Jesus received- the stripes by which we are healed! The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we have the gift of eternal life.
Unfortunately, the candy became known as a candy cane- a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who “have eyes to see and ears to hear.” We pray that this symbol will again witness to the WONDER OF JESUS AND HIS GREAT LOVE for us that came down on the first Christmas and remains the ultimate and most powerful force in the universe today!