A Christmas Carol

Madonna and Child - Titian

Madonna and Child – Our Lady gazes lovingly upon her babe. Painted by Titian, c1508

Every year at Christmas, GK Chesterton gave the world a gift. Without fail, like a Christmas miracle, he would produce a brilliant essay or poem. I would love to share them all with you right away, but let us pace ourselves, yes? The following is the poem “A Christmas Carol,” first published in the year 1900.

Upon reading it, I am reminded that all of my own joy finds its source in the virtue of love. First, it is found in the love of Our Blessed Mother upon whose breast I too would gladly rest my head. Second, it is given by the love generated from a contemplative gaze upon Our Lord. All of creation stops and looks upon him, darkness is made bright and all of the lesser stars pale in his glorious light. It is in the looking upon him and being seen by him that all of our happiness is to be secured. As the great Feast of the Nativity approaches, take a moment to direct your gaze upon the Christ Child. Happy Christmas!


A Christmas Carol

GK Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,

His hair was like a light.

(O weary, weary were the world,

But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,

His hair was like a star.

(O stern and cunning are the kings,

But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,

His hair was like a fire.

(O weary, weary is the world,

But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,

His hair was like a crown.

And all the flowers looked up at Him,

And all the stars looked down.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 6

The following is the meditation for Day 6 (December 21) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 6:

bethlehemJesus had been conceived of the Holy Spirit in Nazareth, home to Joseph and Mary, and it would have been there, in all likelihood, where one would have expected him to be born. God, however, had a different plan, and his prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judah, the City of David.

That the prophecy might be fulfilled, God made use of a means that seemed to bear no relation to his purpose; namely, a decree issued by Caesar Augustus that all subjects of the Roman Empire should be registered in their place of origin. Mary and Joseph, being descendants of David, were required to travel to Bethlehem. Neither the Blessed Virgin’s condition, nor Joseph’s need for daily work to provide for his growing family, exempted them from taking this long and difficult journey during the harshest season of the year.

Jesus, who was not ignorant of the place in which He was destined to be born, inspired his holy parents to trust themselves to Divine Providence, that by obeying the emperor’s decree they might unconsciously further the accomplishment of God’s designs. Observe, faithful souls, how the Divine Child guides them, for it is of utmost importance to the spiritual life. Understand that those who have given themselves to God must no longer belong to themselves, must desire nothing that God does not desire, must follow Him with perfect trust, even allowing themselves to be led to whatever place He wishes. There will be plenty of opportunities to see such perfect dependence and fidelity modeled throughout the life of Jesus Christ, this being the fundamental disposition which in Him all saints and all truly devoted souls have striven to imitate, renouncing absolutely to their private wills.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 5

The following is the meditation for Day 5 (December 20) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 5:

We have contemplated already the life the Child Jesus led within the womb of his immaculate mother. Let us turn now to the life Mary herself must have led during this same period, in order to understand, to the extent possible to our limited powers, the sublime mystery of the Incarnation and the way in which we ought to respond to it.

Mary was filled with constant longing for the moment in which she would behold that earthly beatific vision: the face of God incarnate. She would soon see the human face destined to illuminate Heaven for all eternity. She would see the love of a child reflected upon the same eyes whose brightness was to bring everlasting joy to the multitude of the elect. She would see that tender face every day, every hour, for many years to come. She would witness in Him the apparent ignorance of childhood, the particular charms of youth, the thoughtful serenity of adulthood. She would even enjoy the freedom of doing as she liked with the Infant’s divine face: to press it against her own with all the liberty of maternal love; to cover in tender kisses the lips destined to pronounce judgment upon the world; to contemplate each one of his features, whether dreaming or waking, until she knew each one by heart. How ardently she must have longed for that day!

Such was the life of expectation that Mary led. It was a life in itself unheard of, and yet it did not for that reason cease to be a glorious model for every Christian life. Let us not be content to marvel at Jesus residing in Mary, but let us realize that he lives also within us in potency, essence, and presence.

Truly, Jesus is constantly being born in us and from us through the good works that He gives us the power to accomplish, through our cooperation with his grace, through the way in which a soul that lives in that grace becomes itself Mary’s womb forever, an interior Bethlehem without end. Let us realize that during those instants after receiving communion, Jesus really and substantially lives within us as both God and man, because that same Child who once lived within Mary, lives now also in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. What is such an existence, if not a participation in the life of Mary during those nine wonderful months, and a state of expectation, like hers, full of spiritual delights?

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 4

The following is the meditation for Day 4 (December 19) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 4:

Even from His mother’s womb, the Infant Christ already practiced that perfect submission to God that would characterize His entire life. He adored his Eternal Father; He submitted to his will; He faithfully accepted the lowly state in which He found himself, knowing all the weakness, hardship, and humiliation it implied. Who among us, having full use of the powers of reason and understanding, would willingly regress to such a helpless condition? Who could knowingly undergo such a prolonged martyrdom—one so painful in every respect? Yet that is the Divine Child began his painful and humbling journey. In such a way, he began to make Himself as nothing before the Father; to teach us what God deserves from His creature; to expiate our pride, the origin of our sins, and make us realize its fundamental evil and disorder.

We long to make a true prayer. Let us understand what such a prayer would be by contemplating the Child Jesus within his mother’s womb. The Christ Child prays there in the most excellent way. He does not speak; He does not meditate; He does not melt into fits of emotion. Rather, his condition of utter dependence is his prayer, a state He accepts in his willingness to honor God, and through which He reveals to us everything God deserves and the way in which He ought to be adored.

Let us join this prayer made by the Divine Child within the womb of Mary. Let us imitate his profound self-denial, and let this abatement of ourselves be the first effect of our sacrifice to God. Let us give ourselves to God, not in order to be something—as our vanity demands—but in order to be nothing: to be eternally consumed in Him, to renounce our selfish desires and our hunger for greatness over others—even in a spiritual way—and forsake every stirring of vainglory. Let us disappear before our own regard, that God may be everything to us.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 3

The following is the meditation for Day 3 (December 18) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

Day 3:

incarnation iconThe Child Jesus had now begun his incarnate life. Let us consider the glorious soul and the holy body that he had assumed, adoring them deeply. Admiring first the soul of that Divine Child, let us ponder in it the fullness of His sanctifying grace, the plenitude of that beatific science through which, from the first moment of his life, He saw the Divine Essence more clearly than all the angels and could read the past and the future and all the secrets they hold. He could not know by learning anything that he had not already known by infusion from all time, yet he took on every infirmity of our nature that he could righteously adopt, even when doing so was not necessary to accomplish the great work for which He had come. Let us ask Him to fortify the weakness of our faculties through the strength of his own, giving them new vigor: that his memory may teach us to constantly remember his gifts, that his understanding may help us to think of Him, that his will may enable us to do nothing except what pleases and serves Him.

Having pondered the soul of the Christ Child, let us now contemplate his body, which was in itself a world of wonders, a masterpiece sculpted by the hand of God. It was not, like our own, a stumbling block to the soul, but rather a means to holiness. He desired that it be small and weak like that of every child, subject to all the discomforts of infancy, in order to make Himself fully like us and take part in our humiliations. The Holy Spirit made the Divine Infant’s body tender, capable of great feeling, that he might be able to undergo the supreme suffering through which he accomplished our redemption.

The beauty of the Christ Child’s body was greater than anything ever imagined; the holy blood that had begun running through his veins at the moment of the Incarnation is the same blood that washes all the stains of this guilty world. Let us ask Him to wash away our own stains in the sacrament of penance, that on the day of his Nativity He may find us purified, forgiven, and ready to receive Him lovingly for our spiritual benefit.

Advent Novena Meditation: Day 2

The following is the meditation for Day 2 (December 17) of the Advent Novena. For the full text of the novena, click here.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation by Matthew Alderman

Day 2:

At the holy house of Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived, the Eternal Word was about to take on a created nature. As the Holy Spirit approached to overshadow her with the divine decree, Mary was alone, engulfed in prayer. She spent the quite hours of the night in a most intimate union with God, and as she prayed, the Word took possession of His created abode. However, He did not arrive uninvited. Before coming to her He sent a messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, to request on God’s behalf Mary’s consent to the miracle of the Incarnation. The Creator did not wish to consummate this great mystery without the assent of His creature.

It was a solemn moment, for it remained within Mary’s power to refuse. With what sublime delights, with what ineffable rejoicing the Holy Trinity must have awaited the moment in which Mary was to open her lips to pronounce that “fiat,” a word must have been as a tender melody before God! Through it, Mary conformed her being, in an act of free and profound humility, to the omnipotent divine will.

The Immaculate Virgin has given her assent. The archangel has vanished. God has clothed Himself in a created nature. The eternal will has been accomplished, the whole of Creation consummated. From the angelic realms bursts forth a roar of jubilation, but the Virgin Mary does not hear it—nor would she have paid attention to it if she had. Rather, her head was bowed and her soul immersed in a godly silence. The Word had become flesh, and though He remained still invisible to the world, He now dwelled among those whom his limitless love had come to rescue. He was no longer simply the Eternal Word; he was the Child Jesus, clothed in human form, already worthy of being called by all generations the most beautiful among the sons of men.

The Bridge


StCharlesBridgeThe year begins with expectation, longing for the Coming, a season pregnant with desire. But when the wreath is hung, the candles lit, the lectionary page turned, do we forget where we have been? In our haste to welcome new beginnings, do we sweep away the memory of our glorious end? Do we recall that only weeks ago, we sang of triumph and a King?

Much ink has been spilled about the Lost Season of Advent. How must we keep these Advent days, so that their promise of Christ’s coming does not slip through our grasp? – as if days could be kept at all, instead of hurtling inevitably into the void of the past. As if Christ, when He reaches out for us, could be lost by a slip of our fingers.

Take heart, all ye who watch and wait. Christmas will come. The Child will be born and, on Good Friday, He will die. At Easter, He will rise, and at Ascension, He will go to the Father. The Spirit will come at Pentecost, and then we will we return to the middle of the story, to listen with our newly sanctified ears to the words of His teachings. Next year, it will begin again: birth, death, and resurrection, all of which must take place before we attempt the work of understanding. But where does it end?

With expectation and the coming of a King.

If we find it hard to partake of Advent, it is because–like so much of Truth–it is nonsense. We anticipate the coming of a Savior who is already here. Advent is a bridge from Triumph into Triumph, a two-way street of victory. The King is in the cradle, the cradle in the King. Every year, we stand between them, suspended in a moment of already that reminds us we are still caught up in not yet.

What, then, are we Advent pilgrims to do? A bridge is not a destination. It is a passage that links greater mysteries. As we walk our Advent road, perhaps we ought to let go of the “keeping” and do instead what watchful people do: observe. Advent asks us to open our hearts and minds and every sense we have to the blessings God has placed along our path. Only then can we experience Christmas not as a holiday or an historical event, but as a gift that is poured out upon the world in every age, into every heart that loves.

In the genius of our Catholic liturgy, we end where we began, begin where we have ended, and both are with these words: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” It is no accident that the First Sunday of Advent, Year A and the Feast of Christ the King, Year C–the first and last Sundays of the lectionary cycle–both enlighten us with the words of Psalm 122. We travel our life’s pilgrimage in circles, forever spiraling across the same hallowed ground. When we finally arrive, we say again, “Let us go.” Our earthly calling is the journey, its fulfillment always coming, though it is always here, and each circuit of the holy path bears new and richer fruit.

Do not weep for Lost Advent. Every season is lost when the sun sets. Neither should we fear that Christmas comes too soon. How can the joy of heaven be untimely? Weep, instead, for those who have never rushed headlong across the bridge, from glory into glory, joy into more joy. Then dry your tears and go rejoicing into the eternal house of our timeless Lord.

The Advent Novena

Yesterday, I posted an introduction to the Advent Novena, perhaps my favorite tradition for this time of year. If you missed that post, go read it first and then come back, so you can have a better feel for what the novena is all about. In this post, I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty, providing you with the main texts of the novena, including the meditation for the first day (each day’s meditation will be posted the day before it is to be used). I’d post everything at once, except that I’m translating in real time, so day to day is as much as I can do.

To begin, let me give you a brief outline of the order of the prayers:

Timeline: the novena runs from December 16th to December 24th. It is usually said in the evening by family, friends, and neighbors who gather nightly during this period.

Prayers: The host usually does the first reading/prayer, but the text gets passed along among the people gathered so that as many people as possible get to lead one of the prayers.

  1. Begin with the Sign of the Cross.
  2. Read the Opening Prayer for All Days
  3. Read the Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary
  4. Read the Prayer to Saint Joseph
  5. Read the Day’s Meditation
  6. Jubilations: the text gets passed along so that a different person reads each stanza. Snippets of “O come, O come, Emmanuel” are sung between each stanza.
  7. Read the Prayer to the Christ Child


Now that the prayers are over, enjoy some time singing your favorite Advent and Christmas carols. Don’t be a wimp. Sing at least three before moving on the next stage.

Food & Fellowship

As explained in the introductory post, the novena is all about family and friendship. The host for the night can provide some of his favorite treats for this time of year, or you can make it a potluck, but make sure there is food! Chat, sing some more, dance if the mood strikes, and just enjoy the evening with your loved ones until it’s time to go to bed.

And now, without further ado, here is the main text of the Advent Novena.

Advent Novena to the Child Jesus

The Nativity - Alderman

The Nativity by Matthew Alderman

Opening Prayer

Most gracious God of infinite charity, You gave your only begotten Son as an unparalleled sign of your love for man. By this love He was made flesh within a Virgin Mother’s womb, and was born in a manger for our salvation. Let our prayer come before you as a song of thanksgiving, uttered on behalf of every mortal man, for this wonder of your grace.

Loving Father, there is nothing with which we can repay you, other than the poverty, humility, and other virtues of your Incarnate Son; I pray that for the sake of his divine merits, of every hardship that surrounded his birth, and of every tear that He shed at the manger, You may bring our hearts to such deep humility, such zealous love, and such perfect disregard for every worldly thing, that the newborn Christ may find in them his cradle and abide there forever. Amen.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, As it was in the beginning, is now, ever shall be, world without end. Amen. (Said three times.)

Prayer to the Blessed Virgin

O Blessed Virgin Mary, spotless mirror of virtue and humility whom the God of Heaven and Earth elected for a mother, I pray that you may prepare my soul, and that of everyone who at this time might pray this novena, for the spiritual birth of your beloved Son. O Dearest of Mothers! Let me know something of that profound contemplation and devout tenderness with which you awaited Him, that I may be made less unworthy to see, love, and adore Him for all eternity. Amen.

(Pray the Hail Mary nine times—three is acceptable when appropriate–meditating on the birth of Jesus.)

Prayer to Saint Joseph

Dearest Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and adoptive father of Jesus Christ, I praise God for electing you to such an exalted task and adorning you with every grace befitting so high a ministry. I pray that through the love with which you cared for the Infant Christ, you may embrace my heart with a fervent desire to behold and receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament, until in His Divine Essence I may one day gaze upon Him and rejoice with Him in Heaven. Amen.

(Pray once the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.)

Meditation for the Day

(Meditations for each day will be posted individually on Deep Down Things. We will post the first day’s meditation below, and then provide links from this post to other days as each meditation is posted.)

Click for Day 2 (December 17th)
Click for Day 3 (December 18th)
Click for Day 4 (December 19th)
Click for Day 5 (December 20th)
Click for Day 6 (December 21st)
Click for Day 7 (December 22nd)
Click for Day 8 (December 23rd)
Click for Day 9 (Christmas Eve)

Day 1 (December 16th):
In the beginning, the Word rested within the bosom of the Father in the highest Heaven, being at once the cause and the model of all Creation. Within the depths of that unfathomable eternity, the Child of Bethlehem existed before time itself, awaiting the moment in which he was to descend and take visible possession of his earthy palace—a cattle shed on the outskirts of David’s City. It is within that infinity that we must look for his origins that had no beginning, that we must commence the genealogy of the Eternal, which has no ancestors, and contemplate the life of infinite bliss that he possessed within the Godhead.

The life of the Word in the bosom of his Father was perfection itself, and yet—O sublime mystery!—He sought a new abode, a created dwelling place. Nothing that could have added to his infinite bliss was lacking within his eternal mansion, but in his boundless mercy He nevertheless desired the redemption of the human race, which without Him could never come to fruition. In the sin of Adam mankind had rejected God’s friendship, and the guilt of that infinite offense could not be remitted save by the infinite merits of God Himself. In disobeying, Adam’s race had turned away from Goodness itself, meriting an eternal punishment. For man to be saved, it was therefore necessary that God, without leaving Heaven, should take on human flesh on Earth, so that through the Word’s obedience to the will of the Father, He should atone for our former disobedience, ingratitude, and rebellion. It was necessary, in consequence of his love, that He should take on the form, the weaknesses, and the limitations of man; that He should subject himself to physical growth in order to give man growth in the Spirit; that He should suffer in order to teach man how to die to his passions and pride. Hence, the Eternal Word, alight with a desire for man’s salvation, willed to make Himself also a man, and thus redeem the guilty.


(Everyone sings the refrains to the tune of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Take turns reading the intermediate stanzas.)

Madonna and Child by Matthew Alderman

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

O infinite wisdom
of the Sacred Godhead,
to an infant’s limits
You humble your powers!
O Child Uncreated,
come to teach the blinded
the prudence that fashions
wise men from the humble!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Adonai the Mighty,
Once on Sinai’s mountain
You spoke unto Moses
giving your Commandments!
Come in haste to save us
from our sinful darkness
as a child whose meekness
topples every power.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

Sacred root of Jesse,
from the fields eternal
you shower Creation
with the nard’s aroma.
O Sweetest of Children,
Long-awaited blossom,
Lily of the valley,
Flower of the meadow!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O great Key of David,
to mankind in exile
you open the gateway
of your royal palace!
With a hand most gentle
do, good Child, release us,
from the dismal dungeon
that our crimes erected.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

O lamp of the Orient!
O Sun everlasting!
Let us see your splendor
in the midst of darkness!
Most precious of children,
joy of all the faithful,
the light of your laughter
banishes all shadows.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Mirror without blemish,
You alone are holy—
O perfect reflection
of the Father’s mercy!
Wash away our evil,
save the exiled sinner,
and shelter the homeless
in your lowly manger.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

O King of the nations,
O radiant Emmanuel,
Israel’s deep yearning,
seeker of the lost sheep!
Child who soothes the restless
with kind staff—Good Shepherd!
Old goats, wild and wicked,
faithful sheep your touch makes.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Let the heavens open!
Rain down from on highest!
Beneficent shower,
like a holy downpour!
Come, beautiful Child!
Come, O God Incarnate!
Shine, O brilliant lodestar!
Bloom, O sacred flower!

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

Come! that Mother Mary,
joyfully awaiting,
longingly devices
in her arms a cradle.
Come! that good Saint Joseph,
for your love to safeguard,
has his heart refashioned
as a Tabernacle.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Comfort of the mournful!
Champion of the humble!
Refuge of the outcast!
Light of the benighted!
You, the life within me,
my beloved master;
Friend forever faithful—
Brother in the highest!

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

Let my eyes enraptured
by your love behold You!
Let me press my lips, Lord,
to the wounds that saved me.
Prostrate now before you,
I reach out in worship—
and my tears you treasure
like a loving prayer.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Come, beloved Savior,
every heart’s deep longing!
Recreate our spirit
and do not delay, Lord!

Prayer to the Christ Child

Remember, O beloved Infant Jesus, the words you spoke unto Venerable Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament as a promise of comfort to all the suffering and afflicted: “Everything that you would ask, ask it through the merits of my infancy, and nothing shall be denied you.” We thus come full of trust in you, O Christ—you who are Truth Incarnate—to offer up our every sadness.

Help us to lead a holy life, that we may receive the gift of a blessed eternity. Grant us, through the merits of your incarnation and infancy, the grace that we now request of You. (Pause for a brief moment to silently make your prayer to God.)

We give ourselves to You, O Omnipotent Child, certain that our hope shall not be frustrated, and that by virtue of your divine promise, You will hear and answer our supplication. Amen.

* OK, it seems I lied. I had said the “Jubilations” were rhyming verses, but as I looked back I realized that they are actually not, even in the original. However, the are metrical and make some use of assonance, which I have tried to replicate here. I consider this whole translation (not just the verses) a somewhat rough draft, so if there’s anything that just doesn’t sound right to you, feel free to suggest alternative phrasings.


Delaying Gratification for Deeper Joy


I only learned within the past ten years about how the Advent and Christmas seasons have traditionally been observed in the Church’s liturgical year. And I’m guessing there are many others who are as in the dark about this topic as I was. To share what I’ve learned, I’ve written several times in different blogs about observing Advent and the Christmas season (as in this recent post). The post you are reading is a collection of snippets from other posts I’ve published about the season.

Following is an example about how treasuring Advent has led me to a deeper joy when Christmas comes, which is an excerpt from a Christmas letter I posted at my blog catholicpunditwannabe.blogspot.com in 2009.

Thoughts About Celebrating the “Holiday Season”

It seems to me that the ‘holiday season’ is celebrated almost in a frenzy. Besides the frantic ‘holiday’ shopping (which usually includes many personal purchases–retailers count on them!) we engage in the constant creation of, purchase of, and indulgence in ‘holiday foods and beverages,’ accompanied by the din of ‘holiday songs.’

The intoxication comes to a screeching halt on the actual day of Christmas. As soon as the profit motive dries up, the frenzy stops, and a blessed peace descends.

The good news is the less I decorate and the more I avoid holiday celebrations, the more I treasure the four week cycle of Advent. I get thrilled by the Advent readings in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Masses, which remind me of the Love that was behind the First Coming and will be behind the anticipated Second Coming of Christ.

My partially self-chosen poverty of having an undecorated house, eating a minimum of pre-Christmas treats, avoiding holiday parties and cookie exchanges and the like, all lead me to a deeper joy when the penitential season of Advent is over and when finally we reach the proper time to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Baby God. The Church gives us a long time to celebrate, until Candlemas on Feb. 2, during which time we can have our decorations and our feasting, for 40 whole days. In this and many other areas of life, it seems to me, waiting and self control only makes the satisfaction deeper and more meaningful. And that alone, after all, might be a very good reason for keeping Advent.”

Here’s another bit along the same lines from my personal blog at Christmas: It’s Not Over Till It’s Over:

Christmas is a season, not a day.

In spite of what most people seem to think, the time before Christmas is not the Christmas season. On Christmas Day, the season is actually just beginning.

In the culture at large, the weeks before Christmas are a time for celebration, with lots of excitement from the Christmas music, lights, decorations, and parties.

In the Church year, the four weeks before Christmas are a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth, a time of sober waiting. These four weeks of waiting start on the first Sunday of December and are called Advent, which means “coming.” Advent is so important to the Church that it is the start of the liturgical year. During Advent, we anticipate the celebration of the First Coming of Christ that starts on Christmas Day, and we also are reminded to be ready for Christ’s expected Second Coming at the end of the world. The Advent vestments are purple, the color of penance. The Christmas vestments are gold or white, to show our joy.

It seems to me that to observe the real spirit of the season, Christians should only start the singing of Christmas hymns and carols on Christmas Day, and hold off on the decorations and the parties until then. The festivities can then continue throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas up to the Feast of the Epiphany. Or even longer.

Epiphany by Hieronymous Bosch

Epiphany by Hieronymous Bosch

The Twelve Days of Christmas end January 5. The Epiphany, which is also called the Feast of the Wise Men, is celebrated on January 6. At my house, the wise men finally arrive at my manger scene on January 6 after they have been wandering around the living room ever since the creche was put up.

But Christmas is not over even at Epiphany.

In the traditional liturgical year, the Christmas season ends forty days after it starts, on February 2, on a feast day that has been called many names because it celebrates many things. The feast has been called Candlemas because candles are blessed at the Masses that day. The Purification of Our Lady in the Temple is a second name. In the Jewish religion, a woman presented herself for purification at the temple forty days after the birth of a male child. The Presentation of the Child Jesus is the current title of the feast. When Christ was carried into the Temple forty days after His birth to be dedicated to God as required by Jewish Law for every firstborn son, He was recognized by an old man named Simeon and by an old woman named Anna, who had been waiting years for His coming. In some traditions, the feast is also called The Meeting because of Christ’s meeting with the prophet Simon and the prophetess Anna.

These thoughts just skim the surface of all the rich symbolism and significance of these feasts. And there are several more feasts during this time that I don’t have time to go into now.

The point to remember is that the Catholic Church dedicates a long time, the symbolically important number of forty days, to the celebration of Christmas, and, contrary to public opinion, the celebration does not end on December 25.

This poster from 2013 is for a Candlemas Mass

This poster from 2013 is for a Candlemas Mass with candles and a procession

And here is yet another snippet from another post last year on this blog: February 2 A Feast of Manifestation, Purification, and Candles:

Differences of opinion about when Christmas actually ends are nothing new. For example, here is a poem from colonial Williamsburg:

When New Year’s Day is past and gone;
Christmas is with some people done;
But further some will it extend,
And at Twelfth Day their Christmas end.
Some people stretch it further yet,
At Candlemas they finish it.
The gentry carry it further still
And finish it just when they will;
They drink good wine and eat good cheer
And keep their Christmas all the year.

The gentry in the poem were missing the point: by drinking and eating as if it were Christmas all year, they weren’t celebrating the feast of Christmas any more, just gormandizing. Just like we moderns do . . .. But at least none of the people in the poem would be likely to take the Christmas tree down and throw it out the day after Christmas. They’d hold out at least until January 2, “When New Year’s Day is past and gone.”

And finally, there’s this from another Dappled Things blog post of mine from last year On the Thirteenth Day of Christmas 20 + K + M + B + 14:

Parting Thoughts about Christmas, from a Surprising Source

I came across the following apt observations about how Christians should celebrate Christmas, at an atheist website, of all places:

“Conservative evangelical Christians complain about people taking the “Christ” out of Christmas, but they seem to forget that they have already taken the “Mass” out of Christmas (Mass being a service including Holy Communion). When was the last time a prominent figure on the Christian Right has argued that Americans should remember to attend Mass on this Holy Day? . . . This is just one of many masses that have been excised from the season. . . . So, the next time a Christian insists that we put the Christ back in Christmas, tell them that they should also:

· Put the Mass back in Christmas

· Restore Candlemas

· Restore the Feast of the Epiphany

· Restore the Advent season

· Restore gift-giving to the real Christmas season, which occurs after Christmas day

· Don’t put up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve — if at all

· Use Christmas as a day of contemplating Christ, not for engaging in commerce”


When I write about this topic, I am trying to correct misunderstandings and to help other people grasp the beautiful significance of feasts that has been obscured in a commercially oriented secular Christmas. I hope to bring to light and show off some riches from the treasury of the Church’s traditional observation, to give to others some glimpses of the joys of Christmas that they may have never seen before, joys that can only be experienced fully by humbly observing the sober time of preparation that the Church calls Advent.

To close, I want to give G. K. Chesterton and Fr. George Rutler the last words, from a sermon Fr. Rutler prepared for the Second Sunday of Advent.

December 7, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

It would be hard to think of any writer in the last several generations who celebrated Christmas as heartily as G. K. Chesterton. It was precisely because of this, and not in spite of it, that he said with a severity not characteristic of his benign personality: “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes.”

Dangerous, that is, because the rush neglects the deepest mysteries of life which are the stuff of Advent meditations: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell; and by that neglect we are abandoned to a life of anxiety, unable to know why we were made or what we are to become. Disgusting, that is, because rushing Christmas spoils the appetite for higher things and tries to replace holy joy with entertainments that quickly become boring.

Just finished making this poster for the San Jose's Oratory's upcoming Third Day of Christmas Party

Just finished making this poster for the San Jose’s Oratory’s upcoming Christmas Party, which, I’m happy to say, will be held on the Third Day of Christmas

9 Days to Christmas

In recent years, I’ve noticed that Catholics in the United States have increasingly shown an interest during this time of year on truly living the season of Advent. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed that after decades of sliding into the consumerist version of Christmas that has smothered this season of waiting, people who decide they want to “do” Advent suddenly find that they know of no pre-Christmas traditions that don’t involve going to the mall. Digging around a bit they discover the Advent wreath and perhaps make it a point to go to confession, but too many are left with the sense that Advent basically means: Though shalt not listen to Christmas carols before December 25th!

That’s no way to live a season. If our waiting is to be anything more than a negation, if it is to fill us with expectation, we need need practices that will make it fruitful. The great thing about being Catholic is that the Church is truly universal, and where traditions are lacking we can look to the broader Catholic world for guidance. I would therefore like to use this post, as the first of several to come, to introduce what I consider perhaps the most meaningful of the Advent traditions I grew up with in Colombia: the Advent Novena–in the hopes that you may be able to incorporate it into your Advent celebrations as well.


Mmmmm… natilla.

What is the Advent Novena?

Not quite what you think. Like all other novenas, the Advent novena comprises a set of prayers to be said during nine days, but it is also much more. The novena is light, friendship, song. It is, in a sense, a perfect balance of everything truly human, the sacred and the secular brought together in effortless harmony. Starting on December 16th, families, friends, and neighbors begin gathering every night to count down the days until Christmas. There are carols, holiday dishes, prayers, meditations, and companionship.

The way it usually works is that people gather for the novena sometime around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. After ever everyone is settled in, the host for the day begins prayers (if several families are participating, usually hosting duties are rotated day to day), and once these are done, people sing their favorite Advent or Christmas carols (bringing some instruments, even just very basic noisemakers, is definitely a plus!).

After getting in a good session of caroling, it is time to eat! Colombians like to break out the natilla (a custard dish) and buñuelos (fried cheesy breads). I’ll be providing recipes in case you’re feeling adventurous, but feel free to celebrate with your own favorites. After this point, people usually just sit and chat, sign more songs, eat (and on occasion even dance) until bedtime. And then the next day, you do it all over again!

Isn’t it a bit much to do this for nine days straight?

Yes, and no. As I said, ideally you’ll find at least a couple of more households who are willing to rotate hosting duties. And you don’t have to do the full thing every night–feel free to just do some nights quietly with your own family, or just by yourself if you live alone. But try to stick with it all nine days, and to make it as communal as possible. By the end of it, you will feel truly ready for Christmas, and the day will not seem like a blur that just comes and goes, but rather as the culmination of a process of preparation.

So where do I get the prayers?

During the past few years, a couple of translations into English have started popping up on the Internet. Unfortunately, they are not very good (sometimes I wonder if they’re not the product of Google Translate). One part that is almost entirely lost in these translations is a section made up of short rhyming verses inspired by the “O Antiphons” from the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s a truly delightful section, theologically rich and yet always a favorite with kids, but prose translations simply don’t do it justice. For these reasons, I’ve decided to come up with my own translation, which I will begin posting here tomorrow.

Each day I will post the next day’s readings, so if you want to try out this beautiful tradition this year, check back tomorrow (Monday, December 15). Start at home on your own if organizing a gathering of friends for the 16th is too soon, but I encourage you to pick at least one day or two this Advent to actually host a gathering. I’ll post pictures and maybe a video when I host my own novena this Friday the 19th. Do let us know in the comments section if you decide to try it out.

Happy Advent!

UPDATE: Click here for the text of the novena.