The Editors
Readers share more stories exemplifying the true meaning of Christmas
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A Night to Remember

On the first Sunday of Advent, our family's 100-year-old presepio is erected in a corner of Nonna's living room. Each year two grandchildren, with awe and reverence, uncover the figures central to this event.

The presepio is an Italian tradition that recreates a pastoral scene.  Mountains are formed from crumbled brown bags; stars hang from a midnight blue backdrop; a waterfall is created with dull foil, replete with a bridge and woman crossing with bucket of water.  Women wash clothes on stones in the stream, and one privileged woman has her basket filled with clean nappini to carry to the Christ Child.  The entire village, filled with bustling life, awaits the Light of Life.

As we treasure and place each figure, we tell the stories of how God chose the marginalized and the poor to be rich with His light.  Small lights are placed within huts, and Herod's palace is seen at a distance.  The cooper rolls his barrel down a hillside; a woman carries a sheaf of wheat from the field. One figure tills a field, another repairs shoes and others are tending a night fire while a sturdy corral holds beasts of burden feeding on real straw. Many shepherds are tending numerous sheep.

On this night of nights a large, noisy gathering unites us in celebration of the harvest of all the gifts of the earth, especially the wheat and grapes that symbolize the gift of our Lord, about to descend into the reality of this life.  The musicians and dancers are so real that it almost feels possible to dance and join in the festivities.

The figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wise men are disproportionately large and placed in the forefront of this pastoral scene.

On the night of Christmas Eve—the big night in our family tradition—following a feast of fish and other food (remembering the old church law of fasting before a feast) our holy night begins.  After the reading of the birth Christ from Scripture, a grandchild is chosen to carry the figure of the Infant to each person.  We gently and reverently kiss the babe while singing the Italian hymn “Descende d'all le Stellae,” “He Descended from the Stars.”  The large figure of the Christ Child is then placed into the sacred space of the presepio.

My Father brought this tradition with him when he emigrated from Italy in 1918, and we have continued this every year.  Some of the figures are over 100 years old, others newly purchased, but the purpose of each is to acknowledge that our loving Savior chose to come among us, in the messiness and beauty of daily life, to bring abundant life to all.

Theresa Stavale Bruemmer, Cincinnati, Ohio

Music, Mass and More

I am a cradle Catholic from Zambia in Central Africa.  My siblings and I were blessed to have been brought up by a devout Catholic mother, who helped us appreciate the true meaning of Christmas through our faith, liturgy and music. The “Merry Christmas Polka” by Jim Reeves, always lights up my Christmas spirit!

In our home the first sign of Advent was waking up to the sound of Christmas carols and the sweet smell of rich, traditional homemade fruitcake, which had matured throughout the Advent season.   A little later in the season, we put up and decorated our fresh pine-scented family Christmas tree.  

We attended daily morning Mass, and we always went to the Christmas vigil Mass as a family and spent the rest of Christmas day together.  In the spirit of sharing, we gave out surprise Christmas presents to selected people or families in need. 

The only thing we never got to have was a “white Christmas” because Zambia is located in the tropical region and we never get snow.

Clare Mukolwe, New York, N.Y.

Christmas on the Computer

I am an international student from South Korea. When I lived at home, our family would go to church on Christmas and then have dinner with all our relatives at our house, where we exchanged presents. Since I came to the United States my family can no longer celebrate together, but we made a plan to send our presents and letters, by mail, a few weeks earlier. On Christmas day, we use the computer to talk face to face and to discuss our lives and our presents. Even though we are far away from each other, we feel like we are actually together. This new tradition is a reminder of Jesus’ love for us— although we are not next to each other, we still can feel the love we have for each other.

Gina Jang, Birmingham, Mich.

Celebrating Advent Through Poetry

The Tree is shelter.

The Wreath is an everlasting circle.

The Star gives light from Heaven.

The Angels are messengers in song.

The Stable shelters a Family.

  Joseph has found a place for the coming Christ,

    with dry hay and warmth of the breath of animals.

  Mary has brought the swaddling clothes and the Christ.

 When visitors come to worship—

  the humble and poor, the rich and royal,

  shepherds brought by angels, kings by a star—

They come in awe and adoration.

They come to recognize their Messiah.

They can offer a lamb or gold or spices; they receive much more:

   the hospitality of joy, warmth, welcoming, and song.

They and you can take away to others

   faith, hope and charity in

   the Love of Christ for humanity:

 Forgiveness, encouragement, rescue, tolerance, humor,       

 inspiration, support, knowledge, wisdom, the future.

 Your New Year resolutions, unwrapped, waiting for an Epiphany.
 
Louise K Schmidt, Tampa, Fla.

The Joy of Being Together

For many people, Christmas is a time to shop, fight for the item you want and run from store to store in the hope that what you want is still there. Christmas is supposed to be a time to remember Jesus’ birth and our families.  My family, like many, gets caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. We can forget the true meaning. But we do have some Christmas traditions that help us see Christmas for what it truly is.

With a family of six people my house can get crazy at Christmas. Everyone has things they want to do over the long break. My mom and dad spend all their time getting things ready for Christmas dinner. My dad comes from a family of five, and on Christmas his siblings and their families come to our house. We have about 30 people in all, but it’s not just family. My parents always make sure everyone has a place to go for Christmas, so friends who don’t have families to spend Christmas with always come to our house. An extra seat is always set at the table.  You never know when someone might stop by.  Christmas dinner is the biggest tradition in my family. When all of us come together, the true meaning of Christmas is always present in the joys of our family and friends. From going to church before dinner to opening presents after, everyone is happy just to be together.

Emily Ebaugh

The Tree as a Shelter

For my parents who came from Bavaria, the holy night began on the evening of Dec. 24.  We saw no presents under the tree but rather a bed of moss on which was built a crude stable. Yes, presents were scattered around, but not under the tree. In the words of “O Tannenbaum,” the fir tree is treue, a symbol of everlasting faithfulness and fidelity. It will shelter the expected Christ.
On Christmas Eve, the manger was empty; Mary and Joseph and the animals were waiting. In the morning, Christ was in the manger. It had been a holy night.

Paul J Schmidt, Tampa, Fla.

The Christmas Bread

Every year around Christmastime, my family and I spend the season together doing the same things. Before Dec. 25, we decorate our tree and set up the nativity scene atop our fireplace while listening to some Christmas music or watching a classic Christmas television special. On Christmas Eve, we meet with my father’s side of the family to gather, eat and exchange gifts. Christmas day begins with a small gift exchange and a rushed breakfast, followed by a trip down to the church where we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in all its joy and splendor. My family attends mass every week, but Christmas Mass is very significant and important and helps us to feel the fullness of the holiday. Then it is off to see my maternal grandparents.

My grandfather is Greek and so the tradition at Christmas is to bake Greek bread and cut it into different slices representing Jesus, Mary, Joseph and other religious figures, as well as the house and all the people gathered around to celebrate the holiday. This tradition is very special to our family, because it gives us time to recognize the magnificence of Jesus Christ, and the fact that without his saving glory we would not be celebrating and spending Christmas with each other every year and realizing that we are blessed to be a faithful family who has one another.

Claire B., Royal Oak, Mich.

The Bread of our Ancestors

If you trace the familial line of my grandfather’s mother, you can find one very special Christmas tradition that occurs every year:  the making of hardtack.  This very old form of bread was originally made for ancient people to take when traveling on long journeys because it lasts a long time, and is easy to make in large quantities.  In my family, the recipe most likely traveled over to the United States from Sweden with my great-great-grandparents during the middle of the 19th century. 

Hardtack is made from flour, water and salt.  After each of these ingredients is mixed together, a special type of rolling pin is used to flatten the dough.  This rolling pin has tiny knobs, which make small divots in the bread.  This is used to roll out the tack to a thin consistency before it is baked. Today we have many spreads for this bread, and my favorite is some butter or jam.  This edible tradition is great because every time I have a piece, I think of my ancestors and how and when they would have been eating it.

If possible, my grandparents like to keep alive any type of traditions that they can because they feel it is very important to remember our past. I know that I will be able to make it when I have children, and that they will pass it onto their children.  Hardtack is very economical, which was helpful to people 500 years ago and is equally helpful today.  Every year I can hardly wait to go to my grandparent’s house to see the fresh plate of hardtack sitting on their kitchen counter and watch as my brother runs to the fridge to get the butter! 

Erin Scott, Troy, Mich.

A Tradition of Sharing

During my childhood, from 1931 to 1949, the candle burning in the window of my family’s dining room was a ritual, particularly on the vigil of St. Nicholas, who was expected to arrive at our door and leave candy. The feast was a “little Christmas” and helped us kids prepare to know the Child to be born of Mary and to wait in expectation for the coming of this Light of the World. Christmas presents were something made or baked; my father took scrap wood to make toys, in particular a “hobby horse” for our youngest brother. Coffee cakes were my Mom's specialty since she had eight sisters and two brothers to whom she gave gifts. We learned to think not of buying but rather of sharing. My mom was a home seamstress and there were always surprises coming from her needle. She also taught us to sing Christmas songs around the piano. Finally, we would walk down a hill to the cathedral parish for midnight Mass and some of us sang in the choir—songs like “Jesu Bambino.”

We set up the Christmas tree with a small crib scene early on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner was an open house for our aunts and uncles and families at our place. We rented our house, and my Dad did not have a car because worked in a factory, but we always made a ritual of homemaking. In 1949, I joined the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which has become my other family.

Fr. Gerald McGovern, O.M.I. San Antonio, Tex.

A Time of Waiting

We keep Advent in our house—no Christmas decorations, just Advent items—until Dec. 23.
In a way, the tradition started by accident: our second daughter was born on Dec. 21, and we came home at noon on Dec. 24 to find my father-in-law and my husband’s grandmother decorating the Christmas tree.  The next year, on my daughter’s first birthday, we once again hadn’t decorated for Christmas.  I guess I liked the waiting.
 
Over the years we've done Advent wreaths, Jesse Tree prayers, O Antiphons, Little Blue Book from Saginaw, and Advent calendars—my mother would get a chocolate-filled one for each set of grandchildren; with four kids in the house, the little darlings always made sure that the December birthday girls (the two oldest) got to open the calendar on their birthdays.
 
The kids are all grown up now and out on their own.  My spouse and I celebrate with either the Little Blue Book or by praying with the Mary Candle (found in an old, old Catechist magazine years and years ago) which focuses on the Angelus and Scripture reading for the season and also some time to reflect, share, and pray.
 
Christine Laing Detroit, Mich.

Open House, Open Hearts

This Advent we will welcome over 100 women and children into our home.  If last year is any predictor, there will be four or five Santas, a number of choirs, and a passion play. We’ll also get to serve about 14,000 meals during Advent alone. Those of us who are secular Franciscans will try to keep up with the daily office. We'll all write a little newsletter, to beg for the money to stay open another year, and we'll try to invite every precious volunteer who is new to almsgiving this year to make it a habit. We'll try to joyfully remind everyone about the special nature of Advent and the Feast of the Epiphany by traveling to Mexico with the late donations and leftovers.  Mostly, we pinch ourselves to make sure we're not dreaming, because the people of God are so generous our cup always runs over in Advent.  We are so honored to be counted Catholic, and we pray we might be counted on by Christ and his poor always.

Leia and Dwight Smith, Melissa Nicholas & Allyson Crosby, Orange County Catholic Worker

Time-Capsule Christmas Tree Ornaments

Since a beautifully decorated tree has been an important tradition in my family for many generations, I inherited many lovely glass ornaments, some well over one hundred years old.

One day, while picking up the pieces of one of these treasures, I thought about how wonderful it would be to know who had, long ago, placed this ornament on a tree. At that moment a tradition was born.

Now, whenever I buy a new glass ornament, I carefully remove the metal-pronged clasp in the top of the bulb. I write a short prayer on thin paper for the person who finds this note, sign and date it; then I roll the paper tightly, place it inside the ornament and the replace the top.

After doing this for about forty years, my tree is filled with tiny “time capsules” that I like to imagine some great-great-great-great grandchild will find and perhaps say a prayer for the person whose name is revealed. I often give these filled ornaments as gifts, so the tradition has already spread outside my family.

Joan Burrough, Melbourne, Fla.

The Gift of Time

Whether you’re spending time with the people you love, giving to the less fortunate or celebrating the birth of Jesus, Christmas is the time to truly look inside ourselves. My family is centered on giving to others and trying to make a difference in other people’s lives. Sure we do typical Christmas rituals like decorating the Christmas tree, shopping for gifts and drinking egg nog on Christmas Eve. However, we see a greater purpose in giving to others that are less fortunate than us. Last year my godmother lost her job, so my mom and I tried to make her Christmas much easier by cooking and baking different foods for her. To us, there’s no greater reward than helping those who truly need it.

In fact, this year my mom’s job will be to provide less fortunate families with gifts and food for Christmas. Having to worry about having enough money for gifts and Christmas dinner should never be a burden for any family. This is why we take it upon ourselves to help anyone in need. Volunteering is a truly amazing thing to do; it’s definitely a way that my family and I see God.  Especially this upcoming Christmas season, I encourage everyone to give back to those who don’t have anything. Jesus’ goal was to give himself to us and die for us. Volunteering during the Christmas season is a way to give yourself to others just like Jesus did. Volunteering is the best Advent ritual that my family and I practice, because it brings us closer to God and helps us celebrate Christ’s birth while helping others.

Melanie Shaw, Detroit, Mich.

Slowing Down the Season

As the world around me speeds up, I must slow down by:
• Reading Starlight by John Shea each advent to find the holy in decorating trees, giving gifts, lighting candles and our other traditions
• Try to have presents wrapped by the 1st Sunday of Advent.  Yes, try.
• Be the peace of Christ
• Be the customer who is gentle and kind to the sales personnel
• Be the driver who stops to let other cars merge
• Recognize that waiting in line is a gift of "non doing" and being in prayer
• Decorate slowly, savoring the memories of each ornament and decoration
• Spend a few moments watching the flickering of the Advent candles
• Remembering no one's treasured Christmas memories include sparkling floors, spotless glasses and silverware shining.
• Skip commercials and ads.  The greatest gift has come and "lies in the manger."
• Remembering Dec. 25th is the first—the beginning day of the Christmas season, not the end.

Denise Anderson, GPW, Mich.

Bringing Family Together

Every Christmas, my family and I are constantly enchanted by the commercial joys of the season—gift giving and receiving, our favorite Christmas movies, the bright red and green lights, the spirit of Santa Claus and the childish magical joy of that time of the year. But even though media and stores try to overshadow the true meaning of Christmas with material goods, for my family, the real reason for the holiday is prevalent. We remind ourselves of what Christmas really is every year. Each Christmas Eve, we attend mass. We watch the children act out the Nativity story and reflect on the tiny baby who changed the world. Being at that mass, encompassed by masses of people, sometimes overflowing the pews, who believe and do not forget the true meaning of Christmas is incredibly powerful. While the following morning is always filled with piles of presents, we never forget how lucky we are. We always tend to reflect on how grateful we are for the material things that we are blessed with, but we are much more blessed with having each other. Throughout the day we bond together as a family. Perhaps it is not a deep-rooted tradition, but something as simple as being surrounded by those who love me, reveals more about the true meaning of Christmas to me than anything else could.

Jesus was born into this world to teach us one thing—how to love. His message is clear and simple. Christmas is truly magical in that it always has a way of bringing people together. It brings families, like my own, closer. But that is not the extent of it. The true meaning of Christmas is seen everywhere—in the spare change that is dropped in the Salvation Army’s collection boxes, in the helping hand at the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, in the mountains of toys donated to less-fortunate children. Buried not too deep underneath the glimmer and glitz of Christmas is it’s fundamental truth of love. As long as there is love, there is the true meaning of Christmas.

Amanda Peters, Royal Oak, Mich.

The Place of Animals Around the Crib

Recently in a class at a Dominican school in Wyandanch, N.Y., we were discussing children’s books about animals.  The subject morphed into a response to my question, “What animals are important at Christmas?”  The Hispanic women attending the class first thought of Santa's reindeer.  Then I said, “But what other animals are part of the real story of Christmas?”  A pause...then the women happily shouted: “the animals around the manger.”

As we discussed the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem, one student exclaimed, "there were cows and camels and donkeys."  Another said flatly, "No monkeys!"  She had mistaken 'donkeys' for 'monkeys.'  After we all enjoyed the laughter, the students said, "The animals breathed on the baby Jesus to make him warm."  And I said, "I think the baby Jesus smiled on them to make them both warm and happy." 

So the students brought home to their little children the story of Jesus and the animals, while this teacher has a new story to tell his grandchildren this Christmas.

Ed Thompson, Farmingdale, N.Y.

Christmas Celebration: Polish Style…

Every year on Christmas Eve, my family and I go to early Mass and then go to my grandmother’s house. For dinner she makes mushroom soup from a 100-year-old recipe that has been passed down in our family as a Czechoslovakian tradition. Before we eat, my papa says the blessing, makes a toast and shares oblatky wafers that we get from our church. Polish, Slovak and Lithuanian families all celebrate this tradition on Christmas Eve. The wafers are usually white and pink and feature intricate design depicting the Nativity scene and other Christmas images. When we break the wafers together, it reminds us of Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, which literally means “House of Bread,” and of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. We express our love and best wishes to each other while also asking for forgiveness. Then we pass out broken pieces of the wafers and dip it in honey.
This is an important tradition in my family that we share each year, and I hope to continue on the tradition when I have my own family.

Madeline Mehall, Royal Oak, Mich.

…and Slav                       

A few days before Christmas we have the Hejka Christmas Party. All of our family attends, bringing gifts for the other family members they might not see during the rest of the year and a dish to share with everyone else. After we catch up with each other, it is time to eat. We have an older family member lead us in saying grace and then line up for food and drinks. Later the children sing a few songs, and Santa comes to visit. He gives all the little kids a small gift (like a snow globe), and then he passes out all the other presents.
On Christmas Eve, we go to my paternal Grandmother’s house to celebrate with our aunts, uncles and cousins. We bring presents for each other so we can open them later on in the night. Since my Grandma is 100 percent Polish, she makes traditional Polish dishes like pierogies and kielbasa. Each person also brings something else to eat. After dinner, when we start unwrapping the presents, we always begin with the oldest and end with the youngest.  On Christmas morning, we open the presents under our own tree and then go to our maternal Grandmother’s house for brunch, where we get a few presents and a stocking.

Scott Hejka, Royal Oak, Mich.

Candles, Stars and Silence

My family has an Advent wreath that we light every Sunday until all four candles are lit. We do readings for each candle that we light. When my family puts up a tree, we put a star at the top. This reminds my family of the star that led to the place where Jesus was born.

Andrew John Stefanko, Beverly Hills, Mich.

In our home, we light the candle(s) on the Advent Wreath nightly. As the candle(s) burn there are readings, songs, and times of silence. During Advent we also refrain from eating at restaurants, and give the money we would have spent to St. Vincent DePaul Society.

Teresa & Gerry March, Temperance, Mich.

Away in the Manger

Sixty-five years ago my Uncle Max spent hours making three mangers out of miniature split logs. He stained, polished, glued, nailed and hammered them into works of art. I guess he was touched by the story of the Holy Family not having a home, and he wanted to make one for them that would be perfect. And it was. My grandmother and two aunts drove to Hamtramck, Michigan, to a special store that sold figures for the manger. They might have been from the same side of the family, but the three women all had different tastes. Each bought a different crèche set and hurried home. After everything was in its place, my grandmother hung the angel Gabriel on the outside of the manger to welcome all who came to look at the little family.

My Uncle Max, my grandmother, and my Aunt Bernice are now gone, but Max’s wife, who is now 95, is still with us. Somehow, even though she is almost blind, she puts up the manger. It brings Max to life for her—with memories of past Christmases, filled with love and tradition.

My mother inherited one manger, Aunt Bernice’s daughter inherited the other, and Max’s son, Michael has the original one. On Christmas Eve at Michael’s house, it is comforting to look at the manger made so many years ago. Traditions and times may have changed, but in our family, the little split-log manger, made with love, still warms our hearts on a cold winter’s night.

Katie Hewitt

Reading and Reflecting

We have six adult children and many grandchildren. At our Christmas celebration everyone is asked to bring something they read or wrote that reflects the season. Last year, one had a reading on peace by Ivanla Vanzant, another read something on hope by Father Andrew Greeley. One wrote about all the happenings of a bad year and ended with excerpts from Maya Angelou's Amazing Peace. My husband chose to read a few paragraphs from A Christmas Carol. The little ones read poems, complete with motions. My son wrote a story about the reactions of shopkeepers and customers when he, a fire alarm specialist, was forced to test the alarms and empty the mall on Christmas Eve.  The kids talk more about their readings than any of the gifts. We always end our gathering by reading Luke 2: 1-20.

Ann Hoenigman, Gates Mills, Ohio

Sing a Song of Christmas

Friends first introduced me to Handel's Messiah by inviting me to join them at a “Sing Your Own Messiah.” The words stir my heart and soul: “All we like sheep, have gone astray,” “Who is this King of Glory?,” “His name shall be called Wonderful! Counselor!...Prince of Peace.”  Now, with my husband of 25 years, this sing-along is our family tradition. Every December we prepare ourselves to welcome Christ anew into the world by searching out this event somewhere: at the University of Portland, in one of the Protestant churches, at a symphony performance. We once even hosted Sing Your Own Messiah in our parish. Throughout the year we nudge each other whenever we are reminded of our Messiah by any line from Handel's Messiah.

Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss, Portland, Ore.

Surrendering Christmas Gifts

About 25 years ago, thoroughly annoyed by the Christmas culture of buying and gifting, I told all my friends and relatives that my Christmas gift to them would be sent to my missionary friend, John Halligan, S.J., in Quito, Ecuador.  When they agreed to this, I actually sent much more than I would have paid for gifts, and I suggested that they could send any gift intended for me to a charity of their choice.

This was easier for me than for those with children so, for them, I recommend a modified plan. I would announce long in advance that a substantial part of their gifts would be sent to a worthy cause and then set up communication with the charity to provide information about its work so that friends can develop a connection with the cause. This stream of information can be continued throughout the year, and letters of gratitude can be used to lessen the pain and increase the spirit of giving in a meaningful way the following year.

Joe Gersitz

A Season of Stories

Certainly, remembering the true meaning of both Advent and Christmas has always been a priority for my wife and me.  I must admit, with four children between the ages of five and fifteen, this has never been, nor is it now, an easy task amid the hustle and bustle and commercialism of the holiday. I would suggest it is especially difficult when the youngest of the four had a first draft of a letter to Santa shortly after the fourth of July.  We do, however, try to keep central to our celebrations the birth of Christ and the miracle of God’s love in our world and in our lives.

We have a number of family traditions to help mark the celebration. My favorite, and one that I hope will be handed down to future generations, is the annual reading of The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Since our oldest son was born in 1995, we have been faithful to this tradition. After Christmas Eve Mass we all return home and gather in the living room in front of the fireplace for The Reading.  It’s a wonderful story that captures the magic of Christmas through the eyes of a child. I am always moved by the closing line: “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”  My hope is that my children will always believe in the magic of Christmas—the true meaning of Christmas!

Marty Farrell, Drexel Hill, Pa.

Other Family Recipes

We make a booklet for our grandchildren, listing and explaining the good works of several charities. Then we ask them to choose which one they would like us to make a donation to on their behalf. Each of these charities—whether it's helping a Bangladesh cyclone survivor, or buying a goat to give milk for a family, or educating a child for a year—helps us understand the needs of others and how we can help.

The children sort through their toys and select some that are "lightly used" to give to a homeless shelter or other local organization serving children in need. Each family member draws the name of another family member. We do not divulge the name we drew. During the twelve days of Christmas, each of us performs small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness for the person he or she has drawn.

With our children (grandchildren) we plan and prepare a meal for someone who is housebound and deliver and share it with them. We choose another country and learn how the people there celebrate the birth of Jesus. Do they have special foods, songs, traditions?  How are these traditions similar to or different from what we do?

On Christmas Eve we read Luke's account of the nativity and talk about what it would have been like for Joseph and Mary to make the journey to Bethlehem and welcome their child far away from friends and neighbors.

Jan Attridge, Publisher, America Press, Inc., New York, N.Y.

Handing on the Gallette Maker

When I was a child, my French relatives made special cookies at Christmas using a heavy, cast-iron gallette maker that was heated on the stove.  Once I was married with my own family, I inherited my grandmother’s tool, and the tradition took hold in Puerto Rico. My five children have their own irons and still make gallettes at Christmas; the only difference is we now use Belgian waffle makers. 

As a child, I remember waiting for Baby Jesus to arrive just as eagerly as I waited for Santa. Our own family has kept that tradition alive. My children played with a nativity set for decades and were on a first-name basis with all the traditional figures and animals alike. My son had the responsibility of putting Baby Jesus in the manger early on Christmas morning. When he visits us at Christmas now, he does the same thing with his two sons.

Mary Anne Maldonado

Celebrating the Birthday

The joy, holiness and excitement of the Christmas season was alive and well in our family, and the anticipation showed in the faces of our ten young children. The Advent wreath and the candle lit each night by one of the children helped them to count down to the big day. As Christmas approached, the manger with the statues of Mary and Joseph was placed on the broad surface of the buffet.
 
On Christmas morning, all of us woke up to find Baby Jesus in the creche. Our Savior had arrived! Then Dad gathered everyone around as he read the story of the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. Next came the opening of gifts before breakfast. The children had expended great effort to get gifts for each other. My oldest girl had once saved Bazooka bubble gum wrappers all year, because with six wrappers and a dollar she could buy one necklace with a “blue stone.” With enough wrappers, she could get buy one for each of her six sisters, plus small gifts for her three brothers.

After Mass, the Grandparents joined us. Noon found everyone gathered around the table for the big lunch. One of the high points was the opportunity to bring out the Birthday Cake, ablaze with candles, as we sang “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus.
 
All ten of those children are now married and have children of their own—a total of 34 in all. It is touching to see so many of my children, now grown, hear the Gospel of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus and blow out the candles on the birthday cake, welcoming Jesus into the lives of their children.

Patricia J. Gerne, Wayne, N.J.

Hay in the Manger, Straw by Straw

My wife and I started a family tradition when our oldest child, Kate, was about 5 years old and her brother, Matt, was just over 3. At the beginning of Advent we would set up the creche with all the figures except for the baby Jesus. Next to the manger was a small bag of straw. Each night before sitting down to dinner we would stand in front of the manger, take a piece of straw and share a good deed or kind thing we had done that day and place our piece of straw in the middle of the manger. Sometimes it took a little time to come up with the good deed or act of kindness, and there were some nights when one or two of us would have to admit that we could not put in a piece of straw. Four weeks later, the manger was full of hay and the Baby Jesus had a place to lie down when on Christmas morning.

John Briggs, Derry, N.H.

Each day during Advent we placed a piece of straw in the empty manger, but only if we felt that our behavior had warranted it. Had we truly prepared a place for Jesus in our hearts and lives that day? Our goal was to fill the manger with hay.

Fr. Patrick Zengierski, Buffalo, N.Y.

Each time one of the children did a kind deed, opted out of a nitpick with a sibling, or offered a prayer at meals, they could write that deed on a strip of paper and place that “straw” in the manger. I wanted our children to understand the importance of preparing our hearts and home for Jesus’ birth.

Kathy Wray

The Wreath Reflects the Journey

Forty-two years ago my husband and I started to make the Advent wreath part of Advent and Christmas.  We met an amazing florist who made wreaths out of all natural materials, including pine branches, pine cones and berries.  Each Sunday of Advent we read the prayers together and then with each of our 3 children and then all together.  The prayers for each Sunday were repeated each night of the week. We lit a candle on each Sunday and weekday, and then as Advent continued, we lit the successive candles. The wonderful and spiritual florist continues to make them. Even though his location has changed about five times, we follow him, support him and continue to thank him.

These days, my husband and I continue our Advent tradition, and when our children visit with their spouses and their children, we do the Advent lighting and reading.  We find that it is very spiritually meaningful.  It truly makes us reflect throughout Advent and Christmas on Mary and Joseph’s journey and Jesus’ birth.  On Christmas we place four white candles in the wreath. It is the birthday of Jesus, and we welcome him and we thank him for his presence and most vital gifts.

Elaine and Jim Tourtelotte, Longmeadow, Mass.

No More Malls

How do I keep the Advent season sacred? By giving up shopping malls for Advent! 
That is to say, by not setting foot in any of the region's major malls between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most of our family's gift giving will need to be homemade this year (translation: baked goods) as only one of four adults under the roof is currently employed.  The components for that project are available in the local grocer.
 
Claire-Marie Heesacker Kahn, Portland, Ore.

Christmas with the Jesuits

Our family celebrates by going to Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas for the 10 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass, celebrated by Philip S. Postell S.J., the school’s president. This year will be especially poignant, as Father Postell will be leaving this summer after 19 years here to go to Brophy College Prep in Phoenix, Ariz. Our son, Tom, is a senior this year, but we intend to return in the future, like so many alumni and friends who have experienced God's many blessings as part of the greater Jesuit Dallas community.

Susie Andrews, Texas