How to Have A Holy Advent For The Ordinary Lay Catholic

I was blessed to have been raised by a very saintly and holy mother.We never even were allowed to open any presents until the feast of the Magi which is a week or so after Christmas.It was a little awkward at school being asked what we got for Christmas and we had to respond that we hadn’t gotten any presents or more accurately that we had but we weren’t allowed to open them yet.As a kid who cared what my peers thought of me I dreaded that moment and wanted the ground to quickly swallow me up.In our house there was not a trace of Santa Claus either but our house was decorated top to bottom and side to side with what Christmas was really all about.We werent allowed to eat candy or treats of any kind during advent because we offered it up to the Christ Child in preparation for his joyous birth.It wasn’t until I lost my mother that I truly appreciated her genius and what a true gift she had given me to raise me with the true meaning of Christmas.

It has always surprised me that many people do not associate advent with penance but like it’s sister season of Lent the church wants us to prepare our hearts and souls penitentially for the joyous feast of Christmas.Advent is a season of preparation.We clean our houses top to bottom in preparation for the relatives we are expecting and the various Christmas parties we will host.But oftentimes we get so wrapped up in the exterior preparations and celebrations and we forget that infinitely more important than our exterior is the preparation of our hearts and souls for the Baby Jesus.I really hope the following ideas help you as they have me to have the holiest Advent possible and I guarantee you if you do These your heart will overflow with joy on Christmas Day!

Advent Wreath

The first Advent wreath was conceived by Johann Hinrich Wichern in 1839. He was the founder of a home for poor children in Hamburg, Germany and during the weeks leading up to Christmas was constantly being asked by the children if it was Christmas yet.

He constructed a wooden circle out of  a cart wheel and topped it with nineteen small red candles and four tall white candles. Each day he would light an additional candle, saving the white candles for Sundays.

This original wreath eventually evolved into the four violet and pink candle wreath normally seen today. Some people add a fifth white candle to the center to be lit on Christmas day.

The Advent wreath tradition didn’t spread beyond Germany until the 1930s but today can be found around the world. The use of three violet and one pink candle comes from the Catholic liturgical calendar where the vestment color for the third Sunday of Advent, Guadete Sunday, are rose colored.

Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles.

The Advent Wreath represents the long time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Light of the world. Each year in Advent people wait once again in darkness for the coming of the Lord, His historical coming in the mystery of Bethlehem, His final coming at the end of time, and His special coming in every moment of grace.

During Advent, family and friends can gather around the Advent Wreath lighting the appropriate candle read from the daily Advent meditation and sing songs. The Church’s official Book of Blessings also provides a blessing ceremony for the advent wreath which can be used in the absence of a priest.

The Blessing of the Advent Wreath


It starts at the evening meal on the Saturday before the first Sunday in Advent with the blessing of the wreath. (The head of the household is the one designated to say the prayers, following which various members of his family light the candles. If the group is not a family, then a leader may be selected to say the prayers and others appointed to light the candles.) The following prayer can be used.

Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.

Leader: O God, by whose Word all things are sanctified, pour forth Your blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from You abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The wreath would then be sprinkled with water. Then follows the prayer which is said before the evening meal each night of the first week in Advent.

FIRST WEEK

The following prayer should be repeated each day during the first week. After the prayer, the family’s youngest child lights the first purple candle. (Family members can also take turns lighting and blowing out the candles on each night.)

Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, That by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The candle is allowed to burn during evening meals for the first week.

SECOND WEEK

The prayer that follows is to be repeated each day of the second week. After the prayer, the oldest child lights the first and second purple candles.

Leader: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The two candles are allowed to burn during the evening meals of the second week.

THIRD WEEK

The joyful Sunday in Advent (known as “Gaudete”) is represented by rose (or pink) instead of the penitential purple color. Each night during the third week the mother of the family lights the pink, as well as the two previously burned purple candles, after the following prayer has been said.

Leader: O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The three candles are allowed to burn during the evening meals of the third week.

FOURTH WEEK

The prayer that follows is to be repeated each day of the fourth week. After the prayer, the father lights all four candles.

Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy Grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Christmas Cards

The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant (Government worker) who had helped set-up the new ‘Public Record Office’ (now called the Post Office), where he was an Assistant Keeper, and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.Sir Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. (That is only 5p or 8 cents today(!), but in those days it was worth much much more.) The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the center panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner! Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine! About 1000 (or it might have been less!) were printed and sold. They are now very rare and cost thousands of Pounds or Dollars to buy now!

The first postal service that ordinary people could use was started in 1840 when the first ‘Penny Post’ public postal deliveries began (Sit Henry Cole helped to introduce the Penny Post). Before that, only very rich people could afford to send anything in the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because new railways were being built. These could carry much more post than the horse and carriage that had been used before. Also, trains could go a lot faster. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny – half the price of an ordinary letter.As printing methods improved, Christmas cards became much more popular and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. In 1870 the cost of sending a post card, and also Christmas cards, dropped to half a penny. This meant even more people were able to send cards.An engraved card by the artist William Egley, who illustrated some of Charles Dickens’s books, is on display in the British Museum.

By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe and had become especially popular in Germany.The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins (an English bird) and snow-scenes became popular. In those times the postmen were nicknamed ‘Robin Postmen’ because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow-scenes were popular because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in the UK in 1836.Christmas Cards appeared in the United States of America in the late 1840s, but were very expensive and most people couldn’t afford them. It 1875, Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from German but who had also worked on early cards in the UK, started mass producing cards so more people could afford to buy them. Mr Prang’s first cards featured flowers, plants, and children. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today!

The first known ‘personalised’ Christmas Card was sent in 1891 by Annie Oakley, the famous sharpshooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. She was in Glasgow, Scotland at Christmas 1891 and sent cards back to her friends and family in the USA featuring a photo of her on it. As she was in Scotland, she’s wearing tartan in the photo! Annie reportedly designed the cards herself and they were printed by a local printer.In the 1910s and 1920s, home made cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them. These were usually too delicate to send through the post and were given by hand.

One of the most meaningful and rich gifts we can give our loved ones as Catholics are Mass cards where our loved ones are remembered typically in a novena of masses,year round masses or a perpetual membership.

A small very reasonable donation is usually asked for these cards and typically almost every religious order of priests offer these powerful gifts.

Christmas Tree

An interesting tradition, part history, part legend and very popular in Germany, claims that the Christmas tree dates back to the eighth century. This legend is based on a historical figure, St Boniface, and even a historical event, the destruction of Odin’s oak. St Boniface (675-754) was the English Bishop Winfrid who went to Germany in the eighth century, to Hesse to be precise, to preach the Christian faith as a missionary from the Church of Rome. After a period of apparently successful Gospel preaching, Boniface went to Rome to confer with Pope Gregory II (715-731). After a long absence, he returned to Geismar, Germany, for Christmas 723, and felt personally offended on discovering that the Germans had reverted to their former idolatry of pagan divinities and were preparing to celebrate the winter solstice by sacrificing a young man under Odin’s sacred oak tree. Fired by holy anger, as was Moses by the golden calf, Bishop Boniface took up an axe and dared to cut down the oak. This courageous, historically documented act meant the triumph of Christianity in Germany over the pagan divinities.

All this is historically documented. The rest belongs to the legend which tells how, at the first blow of the axe, a strong gust of wind instantly brought down the tree. The astounded Germans fearfully recognized the hand of God in this event and humbly asked Boniface how they should celebrate Christmas. The Bishop, the legend continues, pointed to a small fir tree that had miraculously remained upright and intact beside the debris and broken branches of the fallen oak. Boniface was familiar with the popular custom of taking an evergreen plant into the house in winter and asked everyone to take home a fir tree. This tree signifies peace, and as an evergreen it also symbolizes immortality; with its top pointing upwards, it additionally indicates heaven, the dwelling place of God.

Another legend is constituted by a famous hawthorn called the “Holy Thorn” that was found at Glastonbury Abbey in England and flowers at Christmas time. It was venerated as a “sacred relic” because a legend claims that it derived from a sprig that came from Jesus’ crown of thorns.

The legendary hawthorn survived for many centuries and was honoured as a

sacred relic. This flowering bush made a contribution of its own to the idea of a tree associated with the Christmas feast day.

Pope Paul VI, of venerable memory, began the tradition of setting up a massive Christmas tree beside the grand crib in St Peter’s Square, a gift each year from a different nation.

Referring to St Boniface’s words, we can conclude that the great tree lit by numerous tiny lights can symbolize many Christian values.

In the days of yore, the primitive people used the wood of fir trees to build their huts in which they lived peacefully. Today, The Christmas tree can be the symbol of the peace that Jesus brought, that must be re-established between God and human beings. Because it is evergreen, it is the symbol of that immortality which Jesus said he possessed and would bring to us: “I am the life; those who believe in me even if they die will live”. The tree lit by little lights is the symbol of the light that Jesus brought to the world with his birth: “He was the light that shines in the darkness… and enlightens every man…” (cf. Jn 1:4-14). And finally, the fir tree, with its tip pointing to heaven, indicates God’s presence to us and the place where we are all awaited.

All this endows the Christmas tree, in harmony with the crib, with the religious and Christian significance of salvation that the Son of God brought to the whole world by his humble birth.

Christmas trees shouldn’t be decorated (or at least lit) until Christmas Eve because Advent itself should remain penitential, but time can be wonderfully spent making Christmas Tree ornaments throughout the Season for when Christmas finally arrives.

The Blessing of a Christmas Tree

In recent years a growing number of families bless their Christmas trees before lighting them. We are reminded of the part a tree played in the sins of our first parents and of the sacred wood of the Tree on which Jesus Christ, whose birthday we are about to celebrate, wrought our redemption.

Ideally the Christmas tree is blessed by a priest but because of priest’s busy schedules sometimes this is not possible and the father or head of the house may perform the blessing.In some homes the tree is blessed on Christmas eve and the crib on Christmas morning. The following form may be used for the Blessing of the Christmas Tree:

Father: This is that most worthy Tree in the midst of Paradise

All: on which Jesus by His death overcame death for all.

Father: Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;

All: let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them! All the trees of the forest shall exult before the Lord, for He comes; for He comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice and the people with His constancy. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

All: This is that most worthy Tree in the midst of Paradise on which Jesus by His death overcame death for all.

Mother: God said: Let the earth bring forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants and all kinds of fruit trees that bear fruit containing their seed. And so it was. The earth brought forth vegetation, every kind of seed-bearing plant and all kinds of trees that bear fruit containing their seed. The Lord God made to grow out of the ground all kinds of trees pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And God saw that it was good.

All: Thanks be to God.

Father: O Lord, hear my prayer.

All: And let my cry come to You.

Father: Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who by dying on the tree of the Cross didst overcome the death of sin caused by our first parents’ eating of the forbidden tree of paradise, grant, we beseech Thee, the abundant graces of Thy Nativity, that we may so live as to be worthy living branches of Thyself, the good and ever green Olive Tree, and in thy strength bear the fruit of good works for eternal life. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.

All: Amen.

Nativity Scene

The beginning of Advent is the time to set up your Nativity scene (“presepio” in Italian). All of the figures are set out but for the Magi and Baby Jesus; the manger itself should be left empty until Christmas Eve when Baby Jesus arrives at midnight. This sets up a mood of anticipation; everything is in place — but He has not yet come. Some families have a tradition of “preparing the manger” by allowing the children each evening to place a single piece of straw for each good deed done during the day. By the time Christmas Eve comes, Jesus will have a soft bed to lie in.St.Francis of Assisi had a special devotion to the Child Jesus, and he is credited with creating the first nativity scene on Christmas Eve of the year 1223.

It is believed that St. Francis was first inspired by this idea after visiting the historical place of Christ’s birth on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—the humble stable in a Bethlehem cave. It is likely this event which deepened his devotion to the Child Jesus, who was born into the world in such poverty, humility, and simplicity. In fact, Francis founded his new religious Order to imitate these very virtues.

Francis recreated the scene of Christ’s birth in a special ritual and Mass he held inside of a cave in Greccio, Italy, inviting both his fellow friars and the townspeople to join in the celebration.

Later he told a friend why he desired to create the first nativity scene in his town:

I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.”

He set up an empty manger (the feeding trough of farm animals which served as Jesus’ crib) inside a cave, and even included a live ox and donkey beside the manger just as it was believed to have happened on that first Christmas night. Through these visual aids he wanted everyone to impress more deeply into their understanding how Christ came into the world in such poverty and simplicity. This was a typical perspective of St. Francis’ unique charism of simple, poverty-centered spirituality.

It is also said that St. Francis—who was radically devoted to the virtue of evangelical poverty—was inspired to recreate the original nativity scene to overcome the rampant greed and materialism prevalent at that time in Italy.

Advent Calendars

A newer, 19th century German tradition is that of setting up an Advent Calendar. Advent calendars are calendars, made mostly for children, to count down the days ’til Christmas, from 1 December to 24 December inclusive. For each of the twenty-four days on the calendar is either a “window” that reveals something when opened, or a pouch which might hold one or more of the following: a trinket, piece of candy, coin, picture, Bible verse, or even a “treasure hunt-like” instruction, for example, the parent might hide a small toy or Bible verse under the child’s bed and leave an instruction behind the window or inside the pouch for that day that says, “Look under your bed and see what you can find.” Advent calendars can be store-bought, homemade, two dimensional, three dimensional, hung from walls or laid upon tables. They can be created from paper, cloth, wood or whatever your imagination dictates. They can be shaped into anything from Christmas trees to rectangles to elaborate houses, churches of village scenes. In elaborate Advent calendars, the windows might open up to reveal domestic scenes, people at Mass, a grocer selling fruit — what have you. Some might have light, crepe paper windows that are illuminated when the calendar is set in front of a light source.

St.Andrew Christmas Novena

While the origins of this prayer are unknown, it is over 100 years old (at least) and may have come from Ireland.

If the St. Andrew novena was prayed as a regular nine-day novena, it would end on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th.  However, this novena prayer is actually traditionally prayed much longer than nine days—it is prayed through all four weeks of Advent.

It is piously believed that whoever recites the St. Andrew Christmas novena prayer FIFTEEN times each day from the feast of St. Andrew (November 30th) until Christmas Eve will obtain the favor requested.

Go ahead and memorize it, copy and save it to your desktop, print it out and stick it to your car dashboard, write it on your arm, or whatever you need to do to help you remember to pray it each day until Christmas Eve!

Los Posados

During these nine days before Christmas, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have a wonderful custom called “Las Posadas,” a nightly procession that brings to life Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn. On each night, a house in the parish is chosen as the destination house, and the people of the parish gather to process to it. One young person is chosen to act as Mary (who sometimes rides a real donkey), and another to act as St. Joseph (sometimes a third is chosen to act as an angel, and others as shepherds); they are often all dressed in beautiful costumes.

Behind the “holy family,” the people of the parish walk, carrying candles and blowing whistles, until they reach that night’s chosen home. There, the group knocks and sings a song that begs repeatedly and pitifully for shelter. They are refused in song over and over again, until the “innkeepers” relent and finally open the door (or, in other places, they knock on the doors of houses whose “innkeepers” refuse them, and then process to another house and another, etc., until they reach the house chosen for the night’s festivities). Once allowed entry each night, all go inside and pray (usually the Christmas Novena or the Rosary), and a party follows, with wonderful tamales, churros, and other Mexican foods, and a pinata filled with hard candy, tangerines, and peanuts.

On the last night (Christmas Eve), two children chosen to play Christ’s godparents are added to the procession, which is more elaborate and colorful than the first nights. The godparents carry His likeness to the last destination, where a “nacimiento” (nativity scene) has been set up, and lay Him in the manger. Fireworks, food, piñatas, and Mass all follow.

Traditional Christmas Novena

Some Catholics pray the Christmas Novena that begins on November 30 and ends on 24 December, and some pray the one below, beginning on 16 December and ending on 24 December. (and, of course, other Catholics pray no Christmas Novena at all).

This Novena, however, has the advantage of matching up very well with the O Antiphons.

December 16:

O Shepherd that rulest Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep, come to guide and comfort us.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 17:

O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 18:

O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 19:

O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 20:

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 21:

O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 22:

O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 23:

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

December 24:

O Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, God of hosts, come, show Thy face, and we shall be saved.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be.

The Christ Candle

There are various ways to make a Christ candle. It is a German custom to decorate a large candle with a Chi Rho or other symbol of Christ, place it in a holder, and cover it with a blue silk mantle symbolic of Our Lady, who carried the little Christ under her heart before He was born. Lighted Christmas Eve at midnight the flame is a symbol of Christ, the Light of the World.

The Mary Candle

Some families have the custom of decorating the Christ candle with a blue veil on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On this great feast, others place a candle with a blue ribbon before a statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin, whose yes to God enabled our Lords coming at Christmas. The candle is lit during meal times to serve as a delightful reminder of Marys eager expectation of the Light of the World. It can also serve as a reminder to each family member to keep their own light of grace burning as a preparation for Christs coming.

Christmas Baking

Baking special Christmas Breads is a tradition that is found in almost all families all over the world. The baking is always done before Christmas, so this is technically an Advent activity that helps us prepare for Jesus, “Bread of Angels.” The father or mother of the family can pray this blessing over newly baked Christmas bread.

Christ, the Bread of Angels, has been honored by special “Christmas Bread” in every European country. Most delicious of these are Brioche or French Christmas bread, the German Christstollen whose criss-cross shape reminds us of the Child in swaddling clothes, and Melachrino or Greek spice cake.

Brioche, a very light rich bread, is best mixed on Christmas Eve so the dough can stand before it is baked. Use a very hot oven on Christmas morning to make the dough rise quickly. The crust is crisp and brown, the center soft when the dough is handled lightly.

Early Christians brought their bread to the altar at the offertory procession. Some of it was used for the Sacrifice; the rest received a special blessing after the consecration, but was not changed into the Body of Christ. It was taken home as Blessed Bread.

The mother of the family may sprinkle holy water over the newly-made bread, and pray Holy Mother Church’s official blessing:

Mother: Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, Thou the bread of angels, Thou the living bread of eternal life, graciously deign to bless this bread as Thou didst bless the five loaves in the desert that all who partake of it may have health of body and soul. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.

Christstollen needs plenty of room so that the shape of the Child in swaddling clothes will be surely seen in the folds of dough.

In Greece it is customary to hide a silver coin deep in its crust;bake a tiny figure of the Holy Infant in the dough.

From the Italians comes a quick dessert for that busiest of days, Vigilia di Natale, the Vigil of Christmas. It is a Cassata or Cream Tart which may be made with store sponge cake to save time.

Mincemeat pie at Christmas was originally made in an oblong baking pan to remind us of Christ’s birth in a manger, while the richness of its ingredients and the spices remind us of the gifts of the Magi.

As Christmas approaches, the house smells of baking; presents are wrapped; and the wreaths are hung. We unveil the Christ-Candle and set up the crib.It is then that we cover the fireplace mantle with evergreens and centers a Madonna and Child with many vigil lights as the focus of the room. A spray of evergreen is placed across the top of every picture in the room; and a piece is wound around a huge white candle placed on the dinner table to symbolize the Light of the world for whom we have made these elaborate preparations. As is the Irish custom, the candle is lighted by the man of the house after the Angelus on Christmas eve.

The St.Lucy Cake Tradition

For the feast of St. Lucy or Lucia on December 13 in Sweden, centuries ago, it was the rule that all work for the holidays must be finished before the break of dawn on the 13th. Often work went on all night, and at five in the morning, young girls were sent through the streets with breakfast for the workers. They wore white gowns and wreaths of candles on their heads to light the way. “Star boys” went with them, carrying torches; small “baker boys” followed with sweet buns, and little tots, dressed in red to represent the good and gay Christmas spirits who appear only on this day, wound up the procession.

St.Lucy Cake Recipe

• 2 tsp sugar

• 1/2 cup warm water

• 1 tsp saffron powder

• 8 cups strong plain flour (all purpose flour)

• 4 tsp salt

• 1/2 cup butter

• 3/4 cup castor (table) sugar

• 1/4 cup raisins

• 1 tsp ground cardamom

• 1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk

• beaten egg for brushing

•  Topping:

• 1 tbsp chopped almonds

• 1 tbsp coarsely crushed cube sugar

1. Dissolve sugar in the warm water and add yeast.

2. Mix the saffron powder with 1 tbsp hot water.

3. Leave about 20 minutes, until frothy.

4. Sift flour and salt and rub in the butter. Add castor sugar, cardamom and raisins.

5. Mix to a dough with the yeast mixture and milk and add saffron.

6. Knead thoroughly, return to bowl, cover and allow to rise until doubled in bulk.

7. Shape into small buns, put on a greased baking tray until doubled in size. Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with coarse sugar and almonds.

8. Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

9. Cool on a cooling tray.

10. Serve fresh with coffee.

The Oplatki Christmas Tradition

The tradition of the Oplatki originated in Poland during Early Christian times. This Christmas Custom began with a simple white wafer, baked from flour and water. The wafers are wonderfully designed to display Christmas images, such as the Nativity.

The Oplatki are enjoyed by families, typically right before the Christmas Eve meal. The entire family will gather around the table with the Oplatek.  Generally the eldest member of the family will begin the ritual by breaking off a piece of the wafer and passing it to another family member with a blessing.  This blessing can simply consist of what you desire for your loved one in the upcoming year – whether it be good health, success, or happiness. The purpose of this act is primarily to express ones unconditional love and forgiveness for each member of his or her family.

The significance of the Oplatki Christmas wafer is in that it shadows the Eucharistic meal that Catholics participate in at each Mass.  Just as we share in the Eucharist as one family in Christ and receive Christ’s love through the Eucharist, the Oplatki allows for one’s immediate family to come together and share the love they have for one another.  This symbolism is deepened by the fact that the name of the town where Jesus Christ was born, Bethlehem, means “House of Bread,” which makes the Oplatki tradition an especially beautiful way to celebrate the charity and unity so characteristic of the Christmas season.

Although this tradition is primarily enjoyed by the human members of the family, even the family pets can partake in this meal. Traditionally, this corresponds to the animals that were the first to greet Christ at his birth. In current times, this can also represent the important role that pets play in the family.  Whereas the wafers are generally white in color, there are colored Oplatki made especially for pets (although both colors are edible by people).  Our packs of 10 Oplatki wafers contain 8 white ones for the humans and 2 pink ones for the family pets.

The St.Nicholas Custom of the Shoes

Early in the evening one family member dresses as St. Nicholas and appears before the gathered family. To each one he speaks personally (waving a wrapped gift in one hand and a stick in the other) and reminds them of the judgment of their conduct for the year. To each he asks:

“Tell me now, in what great ways have you grown to deserve the praise and presents of St. Nicholas?”

“And what bad habits have you tried to overcome?”

And to all the others he turns to ask “Shall I surprise him/her tonight with gifts or the stick?” (To which, of course, they answer, “GIFTS!”)

The ceremony can be elaborated on if so desired. St. Nicholas can request from those present and questioned a song, a story, a tribute, or some words about the meaning of Christmas.

He can admonish us to wait with patience in the coming days, and tell us his own special wishes for the Christmas season.

As all retire, they place a shoe beside their bedroom doors. According to ancient custom, a bit of grain or acarrot is left in the shoe for the good saints horse to eat. St. Nick fills the shoes with gifts during the night.

The 12 Days of Christmas

The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the Church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember. To fit the number scheme, when you reach number 9, representing the Fruits of the Holy Ghost, the originator combined 6 to make 3, taking the 6 fruits that were similar: the fruit in each parenthesis is the that was not named separately. There are actually Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost.

The “True Love” one hears in the song is not a smitten boy or girlfriend but Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. The partridge in the pear tree also represents Him because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its youngby feigning injury to draw away predator

The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments

The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The five golden rings rerepresented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit—–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity].

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Apostles.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed

The “O” Antiphons

On the evening of December 17 the final phase of preparation for Christmas begins
with the first of the great “O Antiphons” of Advent.


These prayers are seven jewels of liturgical song, one for each day until Christmas Eve.
They seem to sum up all our Advent longing for the Savior.

December 17

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, Reaching from end to end mightily, and sweetly disposing all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.

December 18

O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law on Sinai: come and redeem us by Thy outstretched arm.

December 19

O Root of Jesse, Who standest as the Ensign of the people, before Whom kings shall not open their lips; to Whom the Gentiles shall pray: come and deliver us, tarry now no more.

December 20

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; Who openest, and no man shutteth, Who shuttest, and no man openeth: come and lead the captive from the prison house, and him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 21

O Dawn of the East, Splendor of the eternal Light, and Sun of justice: Come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.

December 22

O King of the gentiles, yea, and the desire thereof, the Cornerstone that makest both one: come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of the slime of the earth.

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the expectation of all nations and their Salvation: come and save us, O Lord our God.

Midnight Mass

Throughout the years, Midnight Mass has been a popular Christmas Mass choice for many Catholics.

In the early history of the Church, vigils were held before every feast for the purpose of preparing for the feast itself. Mass would be held in the evening, followed by a period of prayer and contemplation. Solemn services were then held the next morning. Asmore feasts arose, the number of vigils kept was decreased. In the current Roman Calendar, there are six Masses designated as vigils to proceed the feasts the next day: vigils for Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, Ascension, Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. Vigil Masses are so designated because their propers and readings differ from the Masses for those feasts themselves, while remaining tied to the feasts. Vigil Masses therefore differ from normal anticipated Masses, which are the same as the Mass taking place the next day, but held the preceding evening.

The vigil Mass for Christmas, held Christmas Eve, also differs from the Christmas Midnight Mass. Christmas Day actually has three separate Masses that are or can be held, in addition to the vigil – at midnight, at dawn, and during the day. It is not known exactly how the tradition of the three Masses originated, as even the origin of the feast of Christmas itself isn’t certain – depending on the city, something resembling a Christmas celebration started in different years (and at varying times of the year, as well). By the end of the fourth century it was almost universally held on December 25, with Rome having started celebrating it on that date before 354, and Constantinople not before 379. The celebration of Epiphany on January 6 had previously been the major Christmas-like celebration, but once December 25 became the widely agreed-upon date of Christmas the celebrations moved to that date as well.

In the 380s, a Christian woman named Egeria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, observing for three years and keeping a journal of the customs and liturgies she saw there. She witnessed the Christians celebratingthe birth of Christ on January 6, since it appears the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25 had not yet begun there, beginning with a midnight vigil in Bethlehem, which was followed by a torchlight procession to Jerusalem culminating with a gathering in Jerusalem at dawn. When the basilica of St. Mary Major was built in Rome around 430, Pope Sixtus III included a replica chapel of the Bethlehem cave where Jesus was born, and much like had been the practice in Jerusalem when Egeria visited, he instituted the celebration of a midnight Mass in this chapel.

Around 550 AD, the Pope began to celebrate a Mass in the Church of St. Anastasia before dawn on Christmas Day, initially because the feast of St. Anastasia was celebrated on December 25. Eventually, though, this evolved into a second Christmas Mass that seemed to replicate the dawn celebrations that Egeria witnessed in Jerusalem. This Christmas Mass would be followed by the Pope going to St. Peter’s to celebrate the dawn office of Christmas with the faithful. Until sometime before 1156, only Popes were allowed to celebrate the three Christmas Masses, but by 1156 there is evidence that priests began to say all three as well, which still occurs today. A single priest can celebrate all three Christmas Day Masses, provided they follow the correct times (midnight, dawn, and sometime during the day). The midnight Mass is different from Christmas vigil Masses held earlier in the evening of Christmas Eve. Any of the four types of Christmas Masses (vigil, midnight, dawn, or day) is valid for fulfilling theChristmas Mass obligation.

I hope you have found these customs and traditions helpful.If you have any that you and your family like to do not included on here I would love to hear from you in the comments.Have a Holy and Blessed Advent and may it bring many graces to your soul!

One thought on “How to Have A Holy Advent For The Ordinary Lay Catholic

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