It might seem like the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving, just after the turkey carcass gets dumped into the garbage can. And it ends on Christmas day with the tossing of the tree to the curb. But, hey, Catholics, it ain’t over till it’s over. So keep those decorations up and make more treats, because we keep on celebrating for a wee bit longer.
There is a bit of disagreement as to when the Christmas season actually ends:
The Solemnity of the Epiphany, January 8th.
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you. ~Psalm 72
The Baptism of the Lord, January 9th.
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” ~Matt 3:17
The older tradition extends Christmas to the celebration of Candlemas, or the Presentation of the Lord, which is February 2nd.
Painting from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)
Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” ~Luke 2:34-35
So we can end up with 40 days of celebration!
In the spirit of Christmas, here are some of our family traditions and experiences this year. My theme: it’s the thought that counts.
We begin Advent with our beat up old Advent wreath and homemade crib. To prepare for Jesus’ coming, we try to remember to say extra prayers and do little acts of kindness. Whenever we do, we put a construction paper straw in the crib to make a softer welcome for baby Jesus. Last year, we kept forgetting and had to try to crank out the prayers and kindness in the last few days.
We used to wait before putting up our Christmas tree but the boys wanted it up ASAP, so it went up on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, some of the lights stopped working. See the top section of the tree? But it’s like that every year. They go out after we’ve gotten the entire tree decorated so that there’s nothing we can do about it.
Last year we packed the tree with almost every ornament we own, including all the sweet ones the boys made as toddlers and little children. But this year my 13-year-old insisted we limit it to red, gold, and white. So I’m guessing he thought it was a bit tacky last year.
This is our simpler tree. It includes the homemade candy canes, the Christmas disco ball, the ornament I won from Carolyn Astfalk’s Ornamental Graces book release party, and our newest addition–the Christmas rooster!
We also set up our Nativity set, minus baby Jesus who doesn’t get to join in the fun until Christmas day. So all the people and animals are all staring at the same spot, waiting for the arrival! This year, two new animals joined in: a Minecraft pig and cow. They were the right size so they gained admittance. And then there’s St. Patrick who doesn’t really belong there, but oh well. We ran out of places to put non-Christmas things. In his defense, he is wearing green and he has some nice quotes about Jesus.
“Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” ~St. Patrick
I fell behind on cookie baking and didn’t get done until the day before Christmas Eve. But we have some traditional favorites that my mom, my sister, and I used to bake: Magic Cookie Bars, Lemon-Cherry cookies (yes, you see stems. I was in a hurry and one jar of maraschino cherries had stems), Molasses Raisin Nut cookies, cut-out cookies, and modified Russian Tea Cakes. All of the recipes are modified based on which nuts are affordable and what ingredients I have or forgot to get. And we made the Lemon-Cherry gluten-free this year.
A special thank you to Carolyn Astfalk who routinely posts delicious recipes on her blog. She gave me the recipe for the cutout cookies and said it was from her mom’s 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook. Here’s the recipe:
Butter Cookie Cutouts
Cream together 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add 1 unbeaten egg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat well. Gradually blend in 2-2/3 cup sifted flour. Chill dough. Roll out on floured surface to 1/8″ thickness. Cut with floured cutters. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes. Cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack.
We made icing from powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. They are delicious!
As the rest of the Christmas season unfolds, we will continue to celebrate at home, at church, and with family and friends. We’ll play Christmas songs and eat more cookies, careful to avoid the stems. We’ll leave our tree up–bad lights and all–until the ornaments get dusty. We’ll add more creatures to the Nativity scene, squeezing them in between the regular and the Minecraft animals and the misplaced saints. And we’ll try to join in all the feast days in these 40 days and understand a little bit more the significance of each one to a Christian today.
- December 26th – Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first martyr
- December 27th – Feast Day of St. John the Evangelist
- December 28th – Feast Day of Holy Innocents, martyrs, the infants slain by King Herod (Matt. 2:16-18)
- December 29th – Feast Day of St. Thomas Becket, martyr
- December 30th – Feast Day of the Holy Family
- January 1st – Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
and the rest which you can find here.
Have a blessed Christmas season, everyone!
I feel bad for leaving our dog out of this post. Rudy was so happy opening his present and ripping up all the wrapping paper this year. Here’s Rudy:
All images are mine or public domain.