Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Christmas Eve
and Christmas Day


Christ is born in Bethlehem, alleluia! The mood of this Feast is summed up by words of the angels to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-14:

And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.

The long-awaited Messias is born, and His Nativity is filled with Mystery. Did you know that "Bethlehem" means "House of Bread"? Yes, the Bread of Life, the Living Bread from Heaven, was born in a town called "House of Bread" -- and, fortelling His future as the Bread of Life Who feeds His sheep, was laid in a manger -- a trough that holds food for animals. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (a.k.a. Gregory of Neocaesarea), A.D. 213 - ca. 270, describes the significance of the manger in his Homily on the Annunciation:

In the board from which cattle eat was laid the heavenly Bread, in order that He might provide participation in spiritual sustenance for men who live like the beasts of the earth.

The Feast of the Nativity is a most joyous one that celebrates the incredible reality that the Second Person of the Trinity was born of a Virgin so He could redeem us. "It was He, the Infant of days, that could appease, O Lord, the Ancient of Days," wrote St. Ephraem the Syrian and Doctor of the Church.

And how providential that He was born on the day that the light of the Sun increases -- the very opposite of St. John the Baptist, who was born as the light of the Sun begins to decrease, per his words, "He must increase, but I must decrease." St. Gregory of Nyssa writes of this:

On this the Day which the Lord hath made, darkness decreases, light increases, and Night is driven back again. No,  Brethren, it is not by chance, nor by any created will, that this natural change begins on the Day, when He shows Himself in the brightness of His coming, which is the spiritual Life of the world. It is Nature revealing, under this symbol, a secret to them whose eye is quick enough to see it; to them, I mean, who are able to appreciate this circumstance of our Saviour's coming. Nature seems to me to say: Know, O Man, that under the things which I show thee, there lie Mysteries concealed. Hast thou not seen the Night, that had grown so long, suddenly checked? Learn hence, that the black night of sin, which had got to its height by the accumulation of every guilty device, is this day its duration shall be shortened, until at length there shall be naught but Light. Look, I pray thee, on the Sun ; and see how his rays are stronger, and his position higher in the heavens: learn from that, how the other Light, the Light of the Gospel, is now shedding itself over the whole earth.

See this page for some interesting information on the date of Christmas.


If Advent preparations have been handled well, the house should be clean, work should be done, and things should be fresh and ready for 12 days of rejoicing!

Once the sun goes down on Christmas Eve, a lit candle is placed in front of a window to guide the Holy Family, and the Yule log is lit in the fireplace. Back when homes had great fireplaces, fires were lit on Christmas Eve using logs so huge as to be able to burn for all the days of Christmas. These Yule logs now tend to be much smaller, but the traditions surrounding them remain: the fire on Christmas Eve should be lit using a piece of last year's Yule Log which has been stored under the bed of the mistress of the house, which folk belief says brings good fortune and prevents lightning strikes to the home. In Provence, the Yule log is lit with great ceremony. The Grandfather will pour sweet wine over it three times while saying:

Alègre! Alègre! Alègre! Que nostre Segne nous alègre!
S’un autre an sian pas mai, moun Dieu fugen pas men!

Which means:

Joy! Joy! Joy! May God bring us joy!
And if, in the year to come, we are not more, let us not be less!

Then he and the youngest child carry the log three times around the Christmas table before taking it to the fireplace. Alas, fireplaces are less common than they once were, but if you have no fireplace, a decorated log can be used as a centerpiece, as is done in Italy where the log is known as a "ceppo."

While the Yule log burns, a candle is put in the window. This is an old Irish custom stemming from the Protestant persecutions: the candle signalled to priests that the home was a safe place for Mass to be offered, but when the English asked questions, they were told that it was a symbolic invitation to Joseph and Mary.

The Christ candle -- a large white candle decorated with holly and such -- is lit for Christmas Eve Supper, replacing the Advent wreath. It is re-lit each night until the Epiphany to represent Christ's Light and in order to help guide the Magi to the manger. 1 The greenery of the Advent wreath itself is now decorated and hanged on the front door, remaining there throughout the Christmas season.

Tradition holds that the weather of the twelve days of Christmas foretells the weather of the coming year -- i.e., the weather of the first day of Christmas (December 25) foretells the weather of January, the weather of the second day of Christmas (December 26) foretells the weather of February, and so on. For some fun, print out this Twelve Days of Christmas Weather Lore Chart (pdf) and fill it in today and for the next eleven days, hang it on your fridge, and see if it comes true (note that there is similar folklore for the twelve Ember Days that are scattered throughout the year).


Christmas Eve (before the Vigil Mass) is a day of fasting and abstinence. The 1983 Code of Canon Law eliminated this fast altogether, but many traditional Catholics still keep the fast, eating seafood (the Italians eat fish -- often seven of them!), noodles, other forms of pasta, etc. for the Christmas Eve Supper.

In any case, on both Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, special dinners are served, some families beginning their Christmas Eve meals when a child sees the first star of the evening in the Noel sky. The table should be beautiful, with greenery and candles, especially the Christ Candle. Some families set a place setting for those who've died during the year or for those who are otherwise unable to attend, and then set a lit candle on it to burn throughout the meal. An Eastern European tradition is to use a white tablecoth to represent Christ's purity and His swaddling clothes, and to place underneath it a bit of hay to recall where he was born. In Provence, three white table cloths of different sizes are used, with the smallest on top.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day foods vary from country to country, but Christmas Eve dinners are traditionally meatless, while Christmas Day is the day of unrestricted feasting, when Christmas candies, marzipan, oranges, apples, tangerines, nuts, and the cookies baked during Advent are all laid out. From a German tradition, the nuts are cracked open with a nutcracker (nussknacker) shaped like a soldier. E. T. A. Hoffmann's Christmastime story, "The Mouse King," written in 1816, uses this type of nutcracker as a character, and since Tchaikowsky wrote his famous "The Nutcracker" ballet based on this story, both the nutcracker itself and the ballet have become seasonal favorites.

On Christmas Eve, the Poles have a beautiful custom that recalls the Eucharist: Oplatki ("oplatek" in the singular) -- very thin, crisp, large rectangular breads with the consistency of Communion wafers and impressed with religious designs -- are eaten on Christmas Eve (Wigilia) . They are laid at the center of the table this night, on a bed of straw. Just before supper, the father wishes all a holy Christmas and recalls those who've died during the year and brings to memory Christmas Eve suppers past. He takes an oplatek that's been blessed by a priest, and breaks off a piece to give to his wife. He places it in her mouth with a blessing such as, "May the Lord bless and keep you through this next year." The mother reciprocates and then hands a piece to the person next to her and blesses him. That person does the same to the one next to him, and so on, until all have received and given a piece. If it is more than just the immediate family present, the oldest person present will initiate by offering an Oplatek to another, and the two break off a piece between them, passing the remainder on to the next person. Oplatki are shared with the family's animals, too. So loved is this tradition that Poles will mail small oplatki inside Christmas cards to those who aren't present for Christmas Eve. Remaining pieces of oplatki are given to animals to bless them, too (note: the "L" in the word for this bread is pronounced as a "W")."

In Denmark and Norway, a Christmas Eve requirement is a rice pudding, sometimes served with a raspberry or cherry sauce, and inside of which is a peeled almond. The lucky person who finds the almond wins a marzipan pig!

The after-Midnight Mass time (see below) is known as "le réveillon" (the "awakening") in France and French Canada. Foods from the Christmas Eve Supper are served up, and, depending on the region of France or Canada, crêpes, foie-gras, oysters, etc. are served, always ending with the fanciful, Yule Log-shaped Bûche de Noel cake. In Provence, seven meatless dishes are eaten for supper, and then, after Mass, thirteen desserts appear on the table and remain there for three days.
On Christmas Day, the English prefer gingerbread, plum puddings, and mincemeat pies. Mincemeat pies are baked in an oblong shape to recall Jesus' crib. To them were added cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to symbolize the gifts of the Magi. These pies were once made illegal by Puritan Oliver Cromwell, Lord Chancellor of England, because it was considered a "popish" dish (their loss!). An old bit of doggerel 2 that describes the anti-Catholic animus:

The high-shoe lords of Cromwell's making
Were not for dainties -- roasting, baking;
The chiefest food they found most good in,
Was rusty bacon and bag-pudding;
Plum-broth was popish, and mince-pie --
O that was flat idolatry!

Along with Christmas Day Feast's "popish foods," the English serve Christmas Crackers -- not a food, but a device invented in 1844 by Thomas Smith. It is a tube filled with candy, trinkets, jokes, and a party hat, all wrapped in colorful paper and broken open by two people, one pulling and twisting at each end. A cracker is placed beside each dinner plate at the Christmas table, and guests pick them up in their right hand, cross their arms, and, with their free left hand, pull the cracker of their neighbor to the right. When the cracker breaks open, a bang is produced when two strips of cardboard treated with silver fulminate strike against each other.

Italians have to have a wonderful Christmas bread called panettone; Germans have their stollen (also crib-shaped, like mincemeat pies, and then "swaddled" in powdered sugar); Americans tend to go for their grandmothers' recipes from the "Old Country." See this page for a few recipes for a classic Christmas.

-- and in all your feasting, don't forget God's other creatures! St. Francis of Assisi preached that animals should be well fed on Christmas, too. 3 He said

If I could see the Emperor, I would implore him to issue a general decree that all people who are able to do so, shall throw grain and corn upon the streets, so that on this great feast day the birds might have enough to eat, especially our sisters, the larks.

Give your dog some cheese and your kitty a little saucer of cream in honor of this great Saint and the Christ Child!

After Supper

It is believed that Christ was born at midnight based on tradition and the time of the Passover that preceded the Exodus from Egypt as recounted in Exodus 12:21-23, 29-31:

And Moses called all the ancients of the children of Israel, and said to them: Go take a lamb by your families, and sacrifice the Phase. And dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith, and both the door cheeks: let none of you go out of the door of his house till morning. For the Lord will pass through striking the Egyptians: and when he shall see the blood on the transom, and on both the posts, he will pass over the door of the house, and not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and to hurt you...

...And it came to pass at midnight, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharao, who sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison, and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharao arose in the night, and all his servants, and all Egypt: for there was not a house wherein there lay not one dead. And Pharao calling Moses and Aaron, in the night, said: Arise and go forth from among my people, you and the children of Israel: go, sacrifice to the Lord as you say.

-- and the words of Wisdom 18:14-15 --

For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction.

-- and a line from the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:

And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him.

So, as near to Midnight as possible on Christmas Eve, or at least when it is dark and "symbolically midnight," the official Proclamation of Christmas can be read to begin Christmas as the Baby Jesus is laid in the manger, and the Christmas tree is lit on a big, glorious display of light and beauty. Dom Gueranger describes the proclamation thus:

At the Office of Prime, in cathedral chapters and monasteries, the announcement of tomorrow's feast is made with unusual solemnity. The lector, who frequently is one of the dignitaries of the choir, sings, to a magnificent chant, the following lesson from the martyrology. All the assistants remain standing during it, until the lector comes to the word Bethlehem, at which all genuflect, and continue in that posture until all the glad tidings are told.

The proclamation itself:

The Eighth of the Calends of January

Octavo Kalendas Januarii

The year from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created heaven and earth, five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine:

Anno a creatione mundi, quando in principio Deus creavit coelum et terram, quinquies millesimo centesimo nonagesimo nono:

From the deluge, the year two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven:

A diluvio vero, anno bis millesimo nongentesimo quinquagesimo septimo:

From the birth of Abraham, the year two thousand and fifteen:

A nativitate Abrahae, anno bis millesimo quintodecimo:

From Moses and the going out of the people of Israel from Egypt, the year one thousand five hundred and ten:

A Moyse et egressu populi Israel de Aegypto, anno millesimo quingentesimo decimo:

From David's being anointed king, the year one thousand and thirty-two:

Ab unctione David in regem, anno millesimo trigesimo secundo:

In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel:

Hebdomoda sexagesima quinta juxta Danielis prophetiam:

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad:

Olympiade centesima nongentesima quarta:

From the building of the city of Rome, the year seven hundred and fifty-two:

Ab urbe Roma condita, anno septingentesimo quinquagesimo secundo:

In the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus:

Anno imperii Octaviani Augusti quadragesimo secundo:

The whole world being in peace:

toto urbe in pace composito,

In the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, wishing to consecrate this world by his most merciful coming, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months since his conception having passed, In Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary, being made Man:

sexta mundi aetate, Jesus Christus aeternus Deus, aeternique Patris Filius, mundum volens adventu suo piisimo consecrare, de Spiritu Sancto conceptus, novemque post conceptionem decursus mensibus, in Bethlehem Judae nascitur ex Maria Virgine factus homo:



How beautiful it would be to follow up the Proclamation with Psalm 148, Laudate Dominum de caelis:

Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise ye him in the high places. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. Praise ye him, O sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars and light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens: and let all the waters that are above the heavens Praise the name of the Lord. For he spoke, and they were made: he commanded, and they were created. He hath established them for ever, and for ages of ages: he hath made a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all ye deeps: Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds which fulfill his word: Mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars: Beasts and all cattle: serpents and feathered fowls: Kings of the earth and all people: princes and all judges of the earth: Young men and maidens: let the old with the younger, praise the name of the Lord: For his name alone is exalted. The praise of him is above heaven and earth: and he hath exalted the horn of his people. A hymn to all his saints: to the children of Israel, a people approaching to him. Alleluia.

Alleluia laudate Dominum de caelis: laudate eum in excelsis . Laudate eum omnes angeli eius laudate eum omnes virtutes eius. Laudate eum sol et luna laudate eum omnes stellae et lumen. Laudate eum caeli caelorum et aqua quae super caelum est. Laudent nomen Domini quia ipse dixit et facta sunt ipse mandavit et creata sunt statuit ea in saeculum et in saeculum saeculi praeceptum posuit et non praeteribit. Laudate Dominum de terra dracones et omnes abyssi. Ignis grando nix glacies spiritus procellarum quae faciunt verbum eius. Montes et omnes colles ligna fructifera et omnes cedri : Bestiae et universa pecora serpentes et volucres pinnatae. Reges terrae et omnes populi principes et omnes iudices terrae : iuvenes et virgines senes cum iunioribus laudent nomen Domini : quia exaltatum est nomen eius solius. Confessio eius super caelum et terram et exaltabit cornu populi sui hymnus omnibus sanctis eius filiis Israhel populo adpropinquanti sibi. Alleluia.

While these beautiful words (download below) proclaim Christmas and praise God, the Christmas tree can be lit for the first time. The Christmas tree 4 will remain, like other Christmas decorations and symbols, at least until the Epiphany or its Octave, but more properly, until Candlemas (February 2). Some families decorate the tree as a family; in others, the parents decorate the tree outside of the children's sight, then darken the room, light candles and the tree's lights, play music, burn incense, and otherwise set a glorious scene before they lead the children into the room to enjoy the splendor, especially as close as possible to Midnight. Some parents have one special ornament that they will put on the tree last, hiding it so that the first child who finds it gets an extra present or privilege. 5

Of course, and most importantly, Baby Jesus must arrive in your nativity set's crib this night! A ceremony is made of enthroning Baby Jesus in the manger, with the youngest child given the honor of placing the figurine in the manger as his siblings hold candles whose light symbolize the Light of Christ. A prayer for the occasion:

A Prayer to the Infant Jesus Lying in the Manger

O Divine Redeemer Jesus Christ, prostrate before Thy crib, I believe Thou art the God of infinite Majesty, even though I do see Thee here as a helpless babe. I humbly adore and thank Thee for having so humbled Thyself for my salvation as to will to be born in a stable. I thank Thee for all Thou didst wish to suffer for me in Bethlehem, for Thy poverty and humility, for Thy nakedness, tears, cold and sufferings.

Would that I could show Thee that tenderness which Thy Virgin Mother had toward Thee, and love Thee as she did. Would that I could praise Thee with the joy of the angels, that I could kneel before Thee with the faith of St. Joseph, the simplicity of the shepherds. Uniting myself with these first adorers at the crib, I offer Thee the homage of my heart, and I beg that Thou wouldst be born spiritually in my soul. Make me reflect in some degree the virtues of Thy admirable nativity. Fill me with that spirit of renunciation, of poverty, of humility, which prompted Thee to assume the weakness of our nature, and to be born amid destitution and suffering. Grant that from this day forward, I may in all things seek Thy greater glory, and may enjoy that peace promised to men of good will. Amen.

This is the perfect moment to bring on the Christmas carols; on this page, you'll find the melody and lyrics (downloadable) to carols and other Christmas songs."6 For now, listen to the beautiful 16th century Spanish villancico "Riu, Riu Chiu":

After you've lit the tree and candles, and placed Baby Jesus in the manger, tell your children how it is said that at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals fall to their knees in adoration and speak in Latin praising God. It is said that church bells can be heard ringing from the bottom of the sea, and that the honeybees awaken to sing the 99th Psalm...

A psalm of praise. Sing joyfully to God, all the earth: serve ye the Lord with gladness. Come in before his presence with exceeding great joy. Know ye that the Lord he is God: he made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Go ye into his gates with praise, into his courts with hymns: and give glory to him. Praise ye his name: For the Lord is sweet, his mercy endureth for ever, and his truth to generation and generation.

The earth's rivers are said to turn to wine, her trees blossom, and she lets loose of some of her gems, too -- but one must have a totally pure heart to see and hear these things! Shakespeare wrote in Act I Scene I of Hamlet about how malignant spirits and witches are rendered harmless on Christmas Eve:

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, no witch has power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

So holy is Christmas that folklore says that babies born today are considered especially blessed and able to see spirits, and those who die at the holy hour of Midnight tonight are said to enter straight into Heaven.

Christmas Mass

Mass is obligatory on Christmas, and this can be fulfilled by going to any one of three Masses:

  • the already mentioned Mass at Midnight, called the "Angels' Mass"
  • the Mass on Christmas morning, called the "Shepherds' Mass"
  • the Mass on Christmas day, called the "Mass of the Divine Word" or "Kings' Mass"

The Midnight Mass, though, is the one most Catholics clamor to attend. If the family attends the Midnight Mass, it might be a good idea to have the children take naps after supper so they'll be alert for it and for the placing of Jesus in His Crib, the lighting of the Christmas tree, etc.

Since the invention of television, it's been the custom for a papal Mass to be broadcast on Christmas Eve. This papal Mass is offered at Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major), which is always one of the station churches for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The station churches for Christmas are as follows:

Christmas Eve: S. Maria Maggiore
Christmas Angel's Mass: S. Maria Maggiore
Christmas Shepherds' Mass: S. Anastasia
Christmas Kings' Mass: S. Maria Maggiore

Note, too, that at some point around Christmas, the Pope will give a Christmas address (England's monarch gives an address, too -- "His (or Her) Majesty's Most Gracious Speech" -- on Christmas Day). 


Gift giving is done differently by different Catholic households and in different (formerly) Catholic countries. Some families present gifts on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas Bishop of Myra after whom "Santa Claus" was partly modelled. Many Catholics (such as Italian Catholics) present gifts on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, in imitation of the Magi. And some exchange them on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day -- or both, perhaps with extended family exchanging them on Christmas Eve, and children finding presents on Christmas morning. Stories are told to children to explain who brings the gifts, and they vary greatly around the world:

Italy La Befana on the Epiphany and, more recently, Babbo Natale on Christmas
England Father Christmas
France Père Noel
Austria and Switzerland Christkind (the Christ Child Himself)
Russia Baboushka
Sweden Jultomten
Mexico and Spain the Three Kings (on the Epiphany)
United States St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) (on Christmas eve/morning)
Hungary angels
Poland Mikolaj or St.Nicholas (on St. Nicholas's Day)

Parents should be extremely careful with any stories they might want to tell their children in this way. If it is done in a very obvious manner of pretending, if it is done is such a way as to keep Christ the focus of the day, then fine. But one must be careful not to let one's children confuse fantasy with eternal Truth, to focus on the former more than the latter, or to get greedy. Two ideas to help prevent Christmas from becoming too commercialized and "consumerist":

  • Give one small gift to the children, in their shoes or stockings, on 6 December (in honor of/"from" St. Nicholas/Santa Claus), larger ones on 25 December (in honor of/"from" Baby Jesus or "Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus"), and another small one on the Epiphany (in honor of/"from" the Magi or La Befana). One benefit of doing this is that you can still give to your children things they'd love to have, but Christmas won't be a deluge of commercialism; another is that the Feast of St. Nicholas and Twelfth Night (the Vigil of the Epiphany) will be more memorable for them.
  • Give your children only three gifts each, in honor of the three gifts Our Lord received from the Magi.

In any case, though, as said, if parents tell stories of mysterious strangers who leave gifts, they need to be careful not to conflate them with the Truth; there should be a most definite difference in the way these two things are spoken of, and of course, Christ should hold first place in the celebrations. And then there's the matter of parents lying about the source of Christmas presents. On the one hand, lying is obviously not an okay thing; on the other, parents want their kids to have fun and a sense of enchantment. Solution: speak of the stories surrounding "Santa" in a "they say" sort of way. I.e., instead of saying "Santa's coming tonight; you need to go to bed!" say "They say that Santa comes tonight -- but only if you're asleep!"

No matter what, though, parents shouldn't spoil their children too much either or allow them to become overcome by a spirit of greed. Christmas in the Western world truly is becoming seen as a secular day of merry-making and lust for material things; the holy meaning of this wondrous day needs to be restored. Limiting the number of gifts, limiting the prices of gifts, insisting only on homemade gifts, spreading the gift-giving throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, etc., are some ways to defeat the intense commercialism.

Aside from the fun gift-giving, Christmas Day is spent with family, feasting, enjoying one another's company, singing songs, playing games, telling stories...

Scripture, Stories
and Poems for Christmastide

What is better than being told a story? Below are links to .pdf files of things to read to your children.

See also: The footnote on the page about the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen for an interesting legend positing a connection between Mary's midwife and the Magdalen's ointment.

Note: 25 December is also one of the 4 English "Quarter Days," days which fall around the Equinoxes or Solstices and mark the beginnings of new natural seasons (i.e., Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall) and which were used in medieval times to mark "quarters" for legal purposes, such as settling debts. The other days like this are: Lady Day (the Feast of the Annunciation) on March 25, the Feast of St. John on June 24, and Michaelmas on September 29.

1 An unscented candle can be scented by burning it a while, and then adding a few drops of fragrance oil (not essential oil, which is rather volatile) to the melted wax. For your Christ Candle during the 12 Days of Christmas, why not try cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cedar, pine, peppermint, frankincense, myrrh, etc.? 

2 From R. Chambers's "The Book of Days" (1869) 

3 Some families decorate trees outside with foods that will keep the birds happy. Hang garlands made of strung popcorn, cranberries, raisins, other dried fruits, orange halves, etc., and decorate further with suet balls or other items treated with suet. You can make such suet treats by mixing together warm, melted suet fat, bacon grease, or lard with corn meal, oat meal, raisins and other dried fruits, chopped nuts, tablespoonfuls of peanut butter, sunflower seeds, etc. Dip pine cones into the mixture, or let cool, form into balls, wrap up in mesh, and let harden.

4 Tips for Christmas trees:

  • if time is an issue, you could always put the tree up earlier than Christmas, get the lights on it, but save the ornaments and tinsel and the turning on of the lights 'til Christmas Eve at midnight. Or if wanting to decorate it outside the children's presence for lighting at Midnight, the tree can be fully decorated in a separate room, or kept covered by a screen or sheet, etc., until the time of the unveiling.

  • to keep real trees green and help them retain their needles, keep them away from heat sources and keep as cool as possible. Add sugar to the tree's water, and check the water a few times a day, replenishing as needed. To make artificial trees smell good, put about a teaspoon of pine or cedar essential oils into 4 ounces of distilled water inside a spray bottle and mist. Hang pomanders with the same scents from the branches.

  • Test lights before hanging and have a power strip ready so you won't have to deal with so many cords. The general rule of thumb is that you need a strand of 100 lights for every one foot of tree of average girth, but more are fine if you like a brighter tree.

  • Hang lights first (wrap the trunk first, then the middle of the branches, and then the outer branches for a sense of depth), then garlands, then ornaments. (If you use an artificial tree and have room to store it all set up, keep the lights on it and they will be ready next year.)

  • When hanging ornaments, hang your ornaments first in the middle of the branches, and then at the ends. This will make the tree look fuller, and reflective ornaments in the middle of the tree towards the trunk will reflect any lights you use and make it seem as though you have more of them.

  • For a designer effect, choose a dominant theme for the tree -- Stained glass, Victorian, silk or dried flowers, birds, St. Nicholas and other Saints, whatever you love. For every foot of the tree's height, use roughly 10 larger theme ornaments to every 25 smaller, more "generic" ornaments for color and fullness. Using green-colored hanging hooks, hang the smaller ornaments first, tapering the size of the ornaments so that the smallest ornaments are toward the top of the tree.

  • Some people decorate with chrismons -- monograms of Christ and other Christian symbols (e.g., different types of Crosses, a lamb, fish, anchor, pelican, etc.). Usually chrismons used to decorate Christmas trees are white and gold in color.

  • To make paper snowflakes for your Christmas tree, see these instructions.

  • For a dramatic effect with inexpensive ornaments, take 1 large ball ornament, 1 medium sized one, and 1 small one, monochromatic or in the color scheme of your choice; bind their hangers together and adjust so that the small ornament sits highest, the medium-sized ornament sits in the middle, and the large one lies the lowest. Hang as a cluster. 

5 There's a relatively recent American custom regarding the hiding of a special ornament for children to find. It's become not uncommon for parents to hide a green glass ornament shaped like a pickle -- and called the "German Pickle." This practice poses as an old-country German tradition, but is actually a charming German-American one -- and a clever one, too, in that the green pickle is challenging to spot among the green branches.

6 Beware of certain carols and hymns that are full of heresy. The popular "Mary, Did you Know?", for ex., with its lines "Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you" insults the Blessed Virgin terribly. Yes, Mary knew Who Her Son would be the moment He was conceived; she knew the Messianic prophecies (this is why she is often depicted in Catholic art reading Sacred Scripture as a child), and she encountered the archangel Gabriel. She was also conceived without sin, so didn't need to be made "new."

7 Read about the Christmas Truce in an animated format here (embedded sound!).

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This page is dedicated to my Grandpa Giuseppe, R.I.P.
The shepherds were the first to hear!