"Let us enter into the spirit of the Church, and prepare
ourselves, in all the joy of our hearts, to meet the Saviour
who is coming to us. Let us observe with strictness the fast
which is prescribed; it will enable our bodies to
aid in the promptness of our spirit."
Liturgical Year - Advent Volume
By: Dom Gueranger Imprimatur 1927
'AT length,' says St. Peter Damian, in his sermon for this holy eve, 'at length we have come from the stormy sea into the tranquil port; hiterto it was the promise, now it is the prize; hitherto labour, now rest; hitherto despair, now hope; hitherto the way, now our home. The heralds of the divine promise came to us; but they gave us nothing but rich promises. Hence our psalmist himself grew wearied and slept, and, with a seemingly reproachful tone, thus sings his lamentation to God: "But Thou has rejected and despised us; Thou hast deferred the coming of Thy Christ." (Ps. lxxxviii.) At another time he assumes a tone of command and thus prays: "O Thou that sittest upon the Cherubim, show Thyself!" ( Ibid. lxxix.) Seated on Thy high throne, with myriads of adoring angels around Thee, look down upon the children of men, who are victims of that sin, which was committed indeed by Adam, but permitted by Thy justice. Remember what my substance is; (Ibid. lxxxviii) Thou didst make it to the likeness of Thine own; for though every living man is vanity, yet inasmuch as he is made to Thy image, he is not a passing vanity. (Ibid. xxxviii.) Bend Thy heavens and come down, and turn the eyes of Thy mercy upon us Thy miserable suppliants, and forget us not unto the end!
'Isaias, also, in the vehemence of his desire, thus spoke: "For Sion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest, till her Just One come forth as brightness. Oh! that thou wouldst rend the heavens, and wouldst come down!" So, too, all the prophets, tired of the long delay of the coming, have prayed to Thee, now with supplications, now with lamentation, and now with cries of impatience. We have listened to these their prayers; we have made use of them as our own, and now, nothing can give us joy or gladness, till our Saviour come to us, and, kissing us with the kiss of His lips, say to us: "I have heard and granted your prayers."
'But, what is this that has been said to us: ready; for on the morrow the Lord will come down"? We are, then, but one half day and night from the grand visit, the admirable birth of the Infant God! Hurry on your course, ye fleeting hours, that we may the sooner see the Son of God in birth. You, brethren, ware the children of Israel, that are sanctified, and cleansed from every defilement of soul and body, ready, by your earnest devotion, for to morrow's mysteries. Such, indeed, you are, if I may judge from the manner in which you have spent these sacred days of preparation for the coming of your Saviour.
'But if, notwithstanding all your care, some drops of the stream of this life's frailties are still on your hearts, wipe them away and cover them with the snow-white robe of confession. This I can promise you from the mercy of the divine Infant: he that shall confess his sins and be sorry for them, shall have born within him the Light of the world; the darkness that deceived him shall be dispelled; and he shall enjoy the brightness of the true Light. For how can mercy be denied to the miserable this night, in which the merciful and compassionate Lord is so mercifully born? Therefore, drive away from you all haughty looks, and idle words, and unjust works; let your loins be girt, and your feet walk in the right paths; and then come, and accuse the Lord, if this night He rend not the heavens, and come down to you, and throw all your sins into the depths of the sea.'
This holy eve is, indeed, a day of grace and hope, and we ought to spend it in spiritual joy. The Church, contrary to her general practice, prescribes that, if Christmas Eve fall on a Sunday, the fasting alone shall be anticipated on the Saturday; but that the Office and Mass of the vigil should take precedence of the Office and Mass of the fourth Sunday of Advent. How solemn, then, in the yes of the Church, are these few hours, which separate us from the great feast! On all other feasts, no matter how great they may be, the solemnity begins with first Vespers, and until then the Church restrains her joy, and celebrates the Divine Office and Sacrifice according to the lenten rite. Christmas, on the contrary, seems to begin with the vigil; and one would suppose that this morning's Lauds were the opening of the feast; for the solemn intonation of this portion of the Office is that of a double, and the antiphons are sung before and after each psalm or canticle. The purple vestments are used at the Mass, but all the genuflexions peculiar to the Advent ferias are omitted; and only one Collect is said, instead of the three usually said when the Mass is not that of a solemnity.
Let us enter into the spirit of the Church, and prepare ourselves, in all the joy of our hearts, to meet the Saviour who is coming to us. Let us observe with strictness the fast which is prescribed; it will enable our bodies to aid in the promptness of our spirit. Let us delight in the thought that, before we again lie down to rest, we shall have seen Him born, in the solemn midnight, who comes to give light to every creature. For surely it is the duty of every faithful child of the Catholic Church to celebrate with her this happy night, when, in spite of all the coldness of devotion, the whole universe keeps up its watch for the arrival of its Saviour. It is one of the last vestiges of the piety of ancient days, and God forbid it should ever be effaced!
Find 100's of fasting recipes here and read last years Christmas Eve planning post here. May you and yours have a most holy night in the celebration of our Infant Saviour whom is almost here! May He shine His light bright upon us all!
"...the Virgin has not yet brought for her divine Treasure;
it is not yet time to sing..."
Advent is a mere 6 days away, the Catholic count down to the coming of Our Lord and Saviour! As it would appear from the view down the street and amongst the busyness in town it would seem that those around us are already celebrating the great feast which has not yet approached. The Advent season is prescribed by the Church as a time of preperation, not necessarily putting up the lights, getting the tree and the gifts but for preparing our hearts for the coming of Our Lord. Advent is about making the way for HIM in our hearts. Before we get to our sub-theme's for this week we wanted to share a bit more on keeping the Advent spirit about when Jesus is 'asking admission to our hearts.' "He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house."
Dom Gueranger, in his Advent volume of the Liturgical Year, says about Christ coming to us, 'Now, in order to appreciate the whole of this ineffable mystery, we must remember that, since we can be pleasing to our heavenly Father only inasmuch as He sees within us His Son jesus Christ, this amiable Saviour deigns to come into each one of us, and transform us, if we will but consent, into Himself, so that henceforth we may live, not we, but He in us. This is, in reality, the one grand aim of the Christian religion, to make man divine through Jesus Christ; it is the task which God has given to His Church to do, and she says to the faithful what St. Paul said to his Galatians: 'My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed within you! (Gal. iv. 19)" But as, on His entering into this world, our divine Saviour first showed Himself under the form of a weak Babe, before attaining the fulness of the age of manhood, and this to the end that nothing might be wanting to His sacrifice, so does He intend to do in us; there is to be a progress in His growth within us. Now, it is at the feast of Christmas that He delights to be born in our souls, and that He pours out over the whole Church a grace of being born, to which, however, not all are faithful.
For this glorious solemnity, as often as it comes round, finds three classes of men. The first, and the smallest number, are those who live, in all its plenitude, the life of Jesus who is within them, and aspire incessantly after the increase of this life. The second class of souls is more numerous; they are living, it is true, because Jesus is in them; but they are sick and weakly, because they care not to grow in this divine life; their charity has become cold! (Apoc. ii.4) The rest of men make up the third division, and are they that have no part of this life in them, and are dead; for Christ has said: "I am the Life." (St. John xiv. 6.)
Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men's hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house. The house indeed is His, for he built it and preserves it; yet He complains that His own refused to receive Him; (Ibid. i. 11) ; at least the greater number did. 'But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, but of God. (Ibid. 12,13.)'
He will be born, then, with more beauty and lustre and might than you have hitherto seen in Him, O ye faithful ones, who hold Him within you as your only treasure, and who have long lived no other life than His, shaping your thoughts and works on the mobile of His. You will feel the necessity of words to suit and express your love; such words as He delights to hear you speak to Him. You will find them in the holy liturgy."
Now that we have the Advent spirit in mind, let us look to some of the traditions kept during this time to help us keep that spirit within and around us.
"The Church also, during Advent, excepting on the feasts of saints, suppresses the angelic canticle, Gloria in excels is Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntaries; for this glorious son was sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the divine Babe; the tongues of the angels are not loosened yet; the Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine Treasure; it is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, 'Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.'
As it is not yet time to sing, not yet time to turn on the Christmas music and celebrate we turn to Helen McLoughlin's book on Family Advent Customs (imprimatur 1954) for more information on Advent music. She says the following: "Mother Church has wisely provided her children with Advent hymns, Favorites are the deeply moving Rorate Coeli, translated "Bedew us, heaven, from above," and "Come, O Come Emmanuel." Our children sing these hymns at school. We have a little pump organ at home which they play. Nothing stimulates family hymn singing so much as an organ. It is a happy adjunct to the home that is a "church in miniature."'
Additional songs that might be added to Advent traditions are O Saviour, Heaven's Portal Rend, Maria Walks Amid the Thorn, Blessed Mother of the Saviour, Ave Maria and the O Antiphons chanted.
The Empty Manger
Another great tradition is the manger or creche. There are all kinds of these wonderful Nativity scenes in many different mediums. I remember after my conversion the shock that the infant Jesus was not in the manger come the beginning of December as I had been use to Him being in my growing up years. When I asked why I was given a simple, He has not yet come! Indeed He hasn't come and it makes a heavy impression on a soul to have that empty manger sitting out just waiting and waiting for Our Saviour, for Christ Our Lord! It happens with some faithful that they increase the characters in the manger scene as that great day approaches. First the animals in the stable, and perhaps Mary and Joseph arrive after their search for a place to receive their Lord and God. Then the angels gather around. As Christmas arrives the Infant is placed in the crib on Christmas morning, sometimes by the youngest child of the family. Then the shepherds arrive to adore our Infant God. On the Feast of the Epiphany the three Kings arrive with their great gifts.
Last year we started a tradition with our children of playing a piece of straw in the manger and/or crib for each good deed they preformed so to make the Infant God's bed soft and comfy for Him on Christmas morning. There is nothing sweeter than to see a little child want to take care of the Infant God!
Helen McLoughlin mentions in her Family Advent Customs book that her children each get their own empty manger made from a cereal box or other similar box. They put the straw in it and fill it up during Advent just as mentioned above. She says "On Christmas each child finds and Infant in his manger, placed on a small table or on a chair beside his bed. Usually it is a tiny doll, beautifully dressed; but one of our children receives a Hummel Infant year after year. This custom, which in no way interferes with the larger manger in the living rom, fills the child with a longing in Advent, and gives him an image of his Redeemer as his first happy glance mornings and his last impression at night during the entire Christmas season."
Keeping Advent Catholic Schedule 2012
Feast of St. Nicholas & Immaculate Conception
Feast of St. Lucy & Guadette Sunday
O Antiphons & Christmas Vigil
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.
First Fruits; A Series of Short Meditations
By: Sister Mary Philip
God my Father
" I will arise and go to my father" (St. Luke xv. 18).
No earthly father ever loved his child with a love which will even bear comparison with that of God's love for me, His child. I am His own. He has " called me by my name," nay He has " made me and fashioned me," and therefore He understands me through and through. He knows all the circumstances of my life—all the various phases through which I have passed and which have made me what I now am-and knowing all, He understands all. He can make allowances where others see no excuse, and as He loves me with an infinite love, He uses His knowledge to the utmost in my favour.
O God my Father, in whom can I trust as I can trust in Thee, Who knowest all,
seest all, understandest all? Give me the heartfelt love of a child towards Thee, Who, being my God and Creator, art at the same time my most tender Father and Friend.
Am I now, to-day, giving God the love of a child? Do I turn to Him in joy, in sorrow, in disappointment? Do I take all things from His hands, the loving hands of my Father, Who cares with an infinite tenderness for the good of His child? If so, why am I troubled over the circumstances of my daily life? Why do I hesitate when He shows me His Will and asks me to do it? My God, my Father, what can I say to Thee ! Too late, far too late, have I known Thee and loved Thee ; yet, late as it is, to-day at least I can say, " I will arise and go to my Father." I will trust Him with all that concerns me : my body and my soul, my life and my death, my trials, my temptations, my perplexities and uncertainties. He will care for all I love, for all who have any claim on me, for He is m}' Father and I am His child.
God wants my love. No one else can give Him this love if I refuse it to Him. My Father asks something of me, His child. Am I going to hold back ? He says to me,
" My child, give Me thy heart." It is my one treasure, the one thing I can give Him
that will please Him. Is He to turn away sad because of my refusal—He, my Father !
O most tender Father, take, take all from, me. I give Thee my heart, my love, my
affections. Give me Thy love and Thy grace.
Christ, my friend
" I have called you friends" (St. John, xv 15).
Our Lord chooses His own friends. He has chosen me. " You have not chosen Me," He says, " but I have chosen you." What reason this gives me for full love and
confidence. He chose me knowing perfectly all about me; and He is not fickle as so many earthly friends are, He is" Jesus Christ, yesterday, to-day, and the same for ever" (Heb, xiii.). How, knowing all, He can have chosen me, it is impossible for me to understand, but the very mystery of it is sunshine
to my heart.
"How Thou canst think so well of us,
Yet be the God Thou art,
Is darkness to my intellect,
But sunshine to my heart."
How does Our Lord show His friendship? He is " faithful and true." He never misunderstands, never misinterprets my words or my actions, never shows me anything but infinite patience and love. He is continually sending me gifts and messages. He visits me daily Himself. He waits hour by hour for me to visit Him. Sometimes He asks me to help Him to carry His Cross, but He never leaves me to do so alone. He considers me in all the circumstances of my life. He never suffers me to be tried above that which I am able to bear. In all things He shows me nothing but love, disguised sometimes it is true, but if I have faith in Him the veil is almost a transparent one. "Such is my Beloved, and He is my Friend."
On my side, how do I treat my Friend? Do I willfully refuse to do that which I know
He is asking of me? What gifts do I make Him ? Do I love Him in " deed and in
truth," or is my service mere lip-service? How often do I visit my Friend, how much
time do I give Him in the day?
O Christ my Lord, my true and faithful Friend,
Let me be a real friend of Thine.
Grant that I may give Thee love for love.
Grant that, loving Thee above all things and
in all things, I may at last be united to
Thee for ever in heaven.
" I need Thee, gracious Jesus,
I need a friend like Thee,
A friend to soothe and sympathize,
A friend to care for me."
The Holy Ghost the Comforter
"I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete that He may abide with you for ever'' (St. John xiv. 16).
The Holy Ghost is the Love of the Father and the Son. He is the Spirit of Love. There is nothing the human heart craves for as it does for love. Our desire, then, should be to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are in the state of grace, the Holy Ghost abides with us : " Know ye not that ye are the temples of the Holy Spirit?" (i Cor. iii.). Without this Guest of our souls we are restless and unhappy, for, as St. Augustine tells us, " Our hearts are made for Thee, O God, and they can never be at rest until they rest in Thee." This is why the Holy Ghost is called by Holy Church
"True Rest in toil and sweat.
Refreshment in excess of heat,
And Solace in our grief."
The Holy Ghost is called the Paraclete, that is the Comforter. His special mission is
to enlighten, teach, and comfort the soul. If I ask Him, He will enlighten me to know
His Will, and will teach me how to accomplish it in spite of all difficulties. Then, too, He is ever near to console and strengthen me in all my trials and anxieties. The Hoi}'
Ghost comes to us first at our Baptism, then in a very special way in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and He comes "to abide with us for ever." At all times, in all difficulties, in all my doubts and fears, I can count on the guidance of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within me.
Am I faithful to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit? St Paul says: "Grieve not the Holy Spirit within you." Is my conduct ever a source of displeasure to my Heavenly Guest? Do I beg His light and guidance before every important action that I do, and
before every choice that I make? Do I ask Him to guide me into the path along which He wishes me to tread? O Holy Spirit of God, take possession of me wholly. Guide me, enlighten me, instruct me. Give me the grace never to be deaf to
Thy warnings, never to leave Thy inspirations unnoticed and unattended to, but make me so faithful to Thee that even in small things I may never swerve from Thy
"Dear Paraclete! how hast Thou waited,
While our hearts were slowly turned I
How often has Thy love been slighted,
While for us it grieved and burned I
Now if our hearts do not deceive us,
We would take Thee for our Lord !
O dearest Spirit ! make us faithful
To Thy least and lightest word."
Praying that you all had a wonderful Feast of the Holy Family on Sunday. We are ever nearing the approach of the Lenten Season but while we are still in the Christmas season I thought I would share today a few of our Christmas related projects.
Some where in the internet world there was a blog post about creating Christmas ornaments throughout the year on each of the Feast Days so that when it came time to decorate the tree there were many ornaments featuring Catholic subjects(wish I could give credit where it was due but I've long forgot the location). I thought it was a wonderful idea and so we started a few here and there and hope to keep it up this year with even more to add to our tree. The above ornament is of St. Anne, featuring three different images that were found on the internet. I traced the outline of one side and scanned the image, placing it over the internet image I found online so that it would fit properly when cut out. I then printed as many as I needed and cut them out. A little trimming needed as each paper mache ornament I used was different. Then I used Modge Podge to glue them on and two layers of the top to make it shine a little and protect it from any handling or storage issues. With a glue gun I put lines down the side and poured glitter over the top which gives it a more finished look and extra shimmer. They were pretty simple to make in the end and lots of fun. I have more of these paper mache ornaments stored away for making more this year.
The ornaments were purchased at Micheal's Craft store and you may still be able to find them but they were hit and miss during the Christmas season. I did find some more options here online that are a little more expensive but it gives an idea of what was used in the one above. To the right is another (forgive my poor photography!) of the paper mache one's that we did. My 7 year old son did St. Patrick, which is his patron Saint. He cut out the pieces that were printed and glued them on and put the finishing coat on. After it dried over night I added the glitter as the glue gun requires fast hands.
Several others were also made as Christmas gifts as part of our trying to make more hand made gifts this year.
There were a couple of these ornaments of St. Linus (2nd Pope) on our tree this year which we made back in September
on the Feast of St. Linus. Another Patron Saint in our family. This one was another print out Modge Podged onto a wooden coin that the boys collected from some event we were at. They also added glitter around the edge of this one too and tied it up with a ribbon.
Here is another that the boys made on the Feast of St. Nicholas. They used a print out from the St. Nicholas Center
and then cut it out and colored. It was then taped or glued to a Popsicle stick that they colored green and wrote their name on. There are lots of and lots of ideas at the St. Nicholas Center as well as other places for making ornaments of the real St. Nicholas. A great addition to the Christmas tree and fun to make!
This one was made when we were studying about St. Brendan and his discovery of America. We read the book Saint Brendan and the Voyage before Columbus
, this was one of the activities we did to reinforce the book. St. Brendan's Cross was free handed onto some thick coordinated cardboard and then cut out with an Exacto knife. Then painted on both sides with gold acrylic paint. Next lots of glue and lots of glitter added to make it sparkle!There are lots and lots of ideas that can be used for adding Catholic ornaments to you tree while making them here and there throughout the year.How about saving all the fronts of your Christmas cards and coming up with a creative way to recycle them into Christmas tree ornaments? Some of the images may even be the right size for the paper mache ornaments. Ornaments can be made for school subjects such as historical studies, Catechism subjects and so forth. Here is a sort list of days throughout the year that could be used for an ornament theme:JanuaryEpiphanyBaptism of Our LordMost Holy Name of JesusHoly FamilyOur Lady of Good SuccessSt. John Bosco FebruaryPurification of the Blessed Virgin MaryCandlemasSt. ValentineOur Lady of LourdesAsh WednesdayMarchSt. PatrickSt. JosephAnnunciation Palm SundayAprilHoly ThursdayGood FridayEaster SundaySt. Leo the GreatSt. GeorgeSt. Catherine of SienaMaySt. JosephFinding of the Holy CrossAscensionPentecostCoronation of Our LadyJuneTrinity SundayCorpus ChristiSacred Heart of JesusSts. Peter and PaulJulyMost Precious Blood of Our LordVisitationSt. Mary MagdalenAugustTransfigurationAssumptionImmaculate Heart of MarySeptemberNativity of the Blessed VirginMost Holy Name of MarySeven SorrowsOctoberGuardian AnglesOur Lady of the RosarySt. RaphaelChrist the KingAll Hallows EveNovemberAll Saints DayAll Souls DayPresentation of the Blessed VirginSt. AndrewAdvent/Jesse TreeDecemberSt. NicholasSt. LucyImmaculate ConceptionJesse Tree SymbolsO AntiphonsHoly InnocentsSt. John the EvangelistNativity
By: Maria Von Trapp
From Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family
If asked about the origin of these old folk customs, one sometimes finds it hard to answer. They have come down to us through the centuries out of the gray past. Some are so old that they go back to pre-Christian times, having been baptized together with the people and turned from pagan into Christian customs. But once in a while we know how one or the other custom originated. The Christmas crib as we have it today goes back to St. Francis of Assisi. Not that he was the one who made the first creche. This devotion is almost as old as the Church. We are told that the very place of Christ's birth and the manger in which He lay "wrapped in swaddling clothes" were already venerated in Bethlehem in the first centuries of the Christian era. Later devout people substituted a silver manger for the original one and built a basilica over it; and, with the centuries, the veneration of the Holy Child Lying in the manger spread all over the Christian countries.
More and more ceremonies sprang up around this devotion, until in medieval times they had grown into a real theatre performance--drama, opera, and ballet combined. Finally, Pope Honorius had to put a stop to this, for it had grown into an abuse. A generation later St. Francis of Assisi got permission for his famous Christmas celebration in the woods of Greccio near Assisi, on Christmas Eve, 1223. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano, tells us how it happened: "It should be recorded and held in reverent memory what Blessed Francis did near the town of Greccio, on the feast day of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, three years before his glorious death. In that town lived a certain man by the name of John (Messer Giovanni Velitta) who stood in high esteem, and whose life was even better than his reputation.
Blessed Francis loved him with a special affection because, being very noble and much honored, he despised the nobility of the flesh and strove after the nobility of the soul. "Blessed Francis often saw this man. He now called him about two weeks before Christmas and said to him "If you desire that we should celebrate this year's Christmas together at Greccio, go quickly and prepare what I tell you; for I want to enact the memory of the Infant who was born at Bethlehem and how He was deprived of all the comforts babies enjoy; how He was bedded in the manger on hay between an ass and an ox. For once I want to see all this with my own eyes." When that good and faithful man had heard this, he departed quickly and prepared in the above-mentioned place everything that the Saint had told him. "The joyful day approached.
The Brethren [the Friars who had gathered around St. Francis] were called from many communities. The men and women of the neighborhood, as best they could, prepared candles and torches to brighten the night. Finally the Saint of God arrived, found everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. The crib was made ready, hay was brought, the ox and ass were led to the spot....Greccio became a new Bethlehem. The night was made radiant like the day, filling men and animals with joy. The crowds drew near and rejoiced in the novelty of the celebration. Their voices resounded from the woods, and the rocky cliffs echoed the jubilant outburst. As they sang in praise of God the whole night rang with exultation.
The Saint of God stood before the crib, overcome with devotion and wondrous joy. A solemn Mass was sung at the crib. "The Saint, dressed in deacon's vestments, for a deacon he was, sang the Gospel. Then he preached a delightful sermon to the people who stood around him, speaking about the nativity of the poor King and the humble town of Bethlehem....And whenever he mentioned the Child of Bethlehem or the Name of Jesus, he seemed to lick his lips as if he would happily taste and swallow the sweetness of that word." (Celano. "Life and Miracles of St. Francis," as quoted in Francis X. Weiser, "The Christmas Book," pp. 106 f., New York, Harcourt, Brace & Co.)
That is the beginning of the creche as we know it in our own day. St. Francis' idea of bringing Bethlehem into one's own town spread quickly all over the Christian world, and when there was a Christmas crib in every church, the families began to re-enact the birth of Christ in their homes too. With loving imagination, more or less elaborately, the little town of Bethlehem would be reconstructed. There would be the cave with the manger, "because there was no room at the inn," and the figures would be carved in wood or modeled in clay or worked after the fashion of puppets. They also might be drawn and painted and then glued on wood. In some countries whole valleys would take up the carving of these figures--as in Tyrolia and southern Bavaria.
Some of these creches are works of great art. On the long winter evenings, during the weeks of Advent, the people are working on them. First, the scenery is set up again, and then the figures are placed, each year seeing some new additions, until such a crib fills almost a whole room with its hundreds of figures. Outside the town of Bethlehem, Connecticut, the nuns of the Benedictine Priory, "Regina Laudis," have devoted a whole building to their huge Christmas crib, a Neapolitan work that was given to them as a gift. This beautiful crib could become an American shrine, the center for a pilgrimage during the Christmas season. Just as the Reformation did away with statues and pictures of saints in Protestant churches, it also deprived many Protestant homes of the creche. A few of the German sects, however, kept up this custom even after the Reformation, and brought it to America. When the Moravians, for example, founded the town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on a Christmas Eve, they had preserved the custom of the creche.
At home in Austria we wanted a creche which we could make mostly by ourselves. That is why we did not buy one of the ready-made models, but went out into the woods with the children before the first snowfall and carried home stones, moss, bark, lichen, and pine cones. A large table-top, three by five feet, was placed over two carpenter's sawhorses and draped with green cloth. This was the foundation on which every year a slightly different scene would be erected by artistic young hands--the stony hill with the cave, the field, covered with moss, with shepherds in the foreground. For the figures we bought only the heads and hands, beautifully modeled in wax at a little store in Salzburg that sold handmade and artistically decorated candles and "Lebkuchen".
At home we made the foundation of the figures with wire and then dressed them with loving care, and it is incredible what ingenious hands can produce with a needle and thread and remnants of dress material. Every evening during Advent some time was devoted to the creche. At the end of the first week the landscape was completed; the second week was animal week, at the end of which many little sheep were grazing on the meadow and the ox was standing in the cave. In the third week the shepherds appeared, watching their sheep in little groups; while in the fourth week Mary and Joseph could be seen approaching from afar with the little ass, advancing steadily every day. Finally, on Christmas Eve, they reached the cave. The ass joined the ox behind the empty manger. Mary was kneeling down in expectation (that's the beauty of the wire under the blue dress the figures can kneel, stand, or sit), while Saint Joseph hung up a lantern above the manger and everyone seemed to hold his breath, waiting until just before Midnight Mass.
Then the youngest member of the family would put the little Baby into the manger and joy would reach its height. After Midnight Mass, the figure of the big angel would appear, suspended on a long wire above the shepherds, announcing, "Glory to God in the Highest." There is no telling how much love and joy goes into the making of such a crib year after year. Again I must go back to our first year in this country. Of course, Christmas without a crib under the tree would for us have been Christmas with something essential missing.
The beloved figures of our Christmas crib, however, were among the things we had left behind. But now the older children's Christmas present to me in that memorable first year turned out to be a large, elaborate Christmas crib with the figures and the little town of Bethlehem, self-designed, cut out of cardboard and hand-painted. Our neighbors in Germantown had kindly invited the children to help themselves in their gardens to the necessary bark, moss, and stones. In addition to the large Christmas crib in the living room, we had one more custom in our family as long as the children were little. We used to place in the nursery a large wooden crib which could hold an almost life-size Infant Jesus.
On the first Sunday in Advent it would be empty, but a big bag full of straw would rest beside it. Every evening, after the family evening prayers, each child could take as many pieces of straw from the bag as it had performed sacrifices and good deeds during the day "in order to please the Infant Jesus"--in other words, out of love of God. This is a precious opportunity for a mother to teach her little ones the true nature of a sacrifice brought voluntarily for the love of God. Meal times furnish excellent occasions for self-denial. To take an extra helping of an unpopular vegetable or to pass up a delicious dessert may be a real sacrifice for a child.
So Hedwig ate a whole plateful of very healthy but unloved beets, while Martina followed the chocolate cake with longing eyes, saying, "No, thank you," however. Toys gave another opportunity for self-denial. I could hardly believe my eyes when I found Hedwig's favorite doll, "Happy," in Martina's lap, and Martina's little family of dwarfs--Father Dwarf, Mother Dwarf, and Baby Dwarf--in Johanna's corner, while Johanna had put her otherwise jealously guarded doll house into the middle of the room for everybody to use. These may be acts of heroism; we have only to think of the parable of the widow's mite--in the eyes of God she had given more than any other, for the others gave from their abundance, while she had given all she had. What a race among the youngsters from evening to evening until the crib was finally filled to the brim!
When, on Christmas Eve, little Martina--for a long time the youngest among the children--was allowed to put the Holy Child on His bed of straw, the Infant seemed to smile at the children, grateful for the soft bed prepared with so much love. It is curious how such a childhood habit stays with you through life. You may be grown up, even white-haired, but all during Advent you will feel the same urge to "collect more straws for the crib."
In the old country we had in our house an oil painting showing St. Joseph leading the Blessed Mother, who was with Child and looked fatigued and tired, as they were asking shelter at the inn. Through the crack of the door one could see the ugly, rough face of the innkeeper, and it was rather easy to guess what he had just said. This picture played a big role during the last part of Advent in the custom called "Herbergsuchen" (seeking shelter). By lot, nine members of the household were chosen to be host to this holy couple, to make up for the hard words, each one in turn offering room and shelter for one day. The children, especially, vied with each other, decorating little altars with candles and fir branches and trying to outdo each other in loving care for the august visitors.
The one who was the host for the day could have the picture in his room and spend as much time with his holy guests as he wanted and school permitted. He could, for instance, take his meals together with them upstairs. How inspiring this is for the imagination of the very young--sharing even their meals with the poor Holy Mother, who "doesn't look so tired any more and seems to like it here." Every night, before evening prayers, the whole family would gather outside the room where the picture had stayed for the day, and in solemn procession it would be carried through the house accompanied by the singing of Advent songs, until it reached the next resting place. Each evening there would be enacted the scene before the closed door of the inn. We used to sing the old Austrian "Herbergsucherlied," the song called "Wer Kopfet an": Who's knocking at my door? Two people poor and low. What are you asking for? That you may mercy show. We are, O Sir, in sorry plight, O grant us shelter here tonight. You ask in vain. We beg a place to rest. It's "no" again! You will be greatly blessed.
I told you no! You cannot stay. Get out of here and go your way. When we were in Mexico, we learned that there they have a similar custom, called the Posada. On the nine evenings before Christmas they play the "Herbergsuchen" from house to house. They invite the local priest, who joins the procession, saying prayers. Eight nights the holy couple is refused shelter and on the ninth evening, Christmas Eve, they are let into a house where everything is prepared most lovingly--a large cradle is waiting, and while a statue of the Infant is put on the straw, the cradle is being rocked and a famous lullaby is being chanted, "A la Rurruru." As the weeks of Advent are now our busiest concert season, we have had to give up this custom of "Herbergsuchen"--but only in one way. Every evening of these holy weeks of Advent we sing our Christmas program in a different town. While doing so, we hope we may prepare a warm place for the homeless holy couple in many hearts among our audiences.
Creche Mania has some wonderful Creche's from around the world that you can print right at home, cut out and put together. There are several free one's and many that are very affordable as well! Visit this link for the list of downloads.
We have stareted printing and cutting ours now so that they will all be ready for Christmas. Visit the Crech Mania's video
on how to create a Christmas tree decorated with these beautiful paper Creches!