The Christmas season lasts from sundown on December 24
until sundown on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in January.
Find out more about the season here.
Then check out some of the information and activities below.
A distinctive feature of Christmas decorations in Ireland is the very large candle placed near the front window and lighted on Christmas Eve. According to one belief, the candle long served as a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph who sought shelter in vain on that first Christmas Eve. The ceremony of lighting the candle is one of simple ancient rituals during which prayers are said for the departed and the privilege of striking the match is usually given to a daughter named Mary. (Another tradition is that the candle be lighted by the youngest member of the family and snuffed out only by someone named Mary). This flickering symbol also served as a signal in times past to any priest seeking shelter and protection that he was welcome in this house and that it was safe to say Mass there.
Christmas Time Activities for Children
Watch Linus tell what Christmas is all about
Christmas Customs crossword
Write a story
'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
This carol, generally considered the first Canadian carol, was originally written in the Huron Indian language in 1640 and set to an old French tune by a Jesuit priest, Jean de Brebeuf. In retelling the story of the Nativity, Father Brebeuf used symbols and figures that could be understood by the Hurons, and the hymn entered the tribe's oral tradition. You can listen to a YouTube of the song sung in Wendat (Huron), French and English.
1) ’Twas in the moon of wintertime, When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim, And wondering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In excelsis gloria.
2) Within a lodge of broken bark The tender babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin Enwrapped His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh, The angel song rang loud and high:
3) The earliest moon of wintertime Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on The helpless Infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
4) O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou,
The holy Child of earth and Heav’n Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy, Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
Good King Wenceslas (for December 26)
The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of (907–935). In 1853, English hymn writer John Mason Neale wrote the "Wenceslas" lyrics set to the melody of a 13th-century spring carol. Read a great article about the real Wenceslas here.
To learn the story listen to the hymn and read the words.
(This is 1973 postage from Britain designed by David Gentleman.)
Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen When the snow lay round about Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night Though the frost was cruel When a poor man came in sight Gath'ring winter fuel
King: "Hither, page, and stand by me If thou know'st it, telling Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
Page: "Sire, he lives a good league hence Underneath the mountain Right against the forest fence By Saint Agnes' fountain."
King: "Bring me flesh and bring me wine Bring me pine logs hither Thou and I will see him dine When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went Forth they went together Through the rude wind's wild lament And the bitter weather
Page: "Sire, the night is darker now And the wind blows stronger Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer."
King: "Mark my footsteps, my good page Tread thou in them boldly Thou shalt find the winter's rage Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod Where the snow lay dinted Heat was in the very sod Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure Wealth or rank possessing Ye who now will bless the poor Shall yourselves find blessing
Color a picture of Wenceslas and his page.
Twelve Days of Christmas
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. The song has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.
(Thanks to M Hess for sending this one.)
Check out this unique way to follow the 12 days of Christmas
Read Tomie dePaola's book The Story of the Three Wise Kings or watch it on YouTube.
Be sure to read the note in the book about Mary, Seat of Wisdom and learn more here.
You can find a boatload of information on Annie's pages for Epiphany, Wisemen and Twelfth Night.
Find out how other countries celebrate Epiphany.
Matthew 2:11, "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother."
Around January 6, the symbol +C+B+M+ with two numbers before and two numbers after (for example, 20+C+B+M+18) is seen written in chalk above the doorway of Christian homes. The letters are the initials of the traditional names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. These letters also abbreviate the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, "May Christ bless the house." The beginning and ending numbers are the year, 2017 in the example above. The crosses represent Christ.
Marking the lintels of doorways is an old European practice used throughout the world and usually represent a traditional Epiphany prayer and blessing.
MYRRH AND FRANKINCENSE
The gifts brought by the Magi were both appropriate and expensive. The value of gold is obvious but what of the other presents? Myrrh is an aromatic substance made from the sap of Myrtle balsam trees found in India, Africa and Saudi Arabia. It is a natural antiseptic and useful as a medicine. Egyptians used myrrh for embalming mummies. It is now used for toothpaste and mouthwash.
Incense is a hardened gum that also comes from trees found in the same areas. The word "Frank" comes from an old French word that means "marked." It is a stamp that the incense is "free" from contaminants or "pure". (Franking is still used for free mail rights given to members of Congress.) Incense was used primarily to cover up the smells caused by animal sacrifices. Hence it was connected with worship.
Were They Kings?
There have been numerous traditions that have grown up about the Wise Men. Typically we think of there being three wise men because of the number of gifts, but Matthew doesn't tell us the exact number. Since the 3rd century, Christian writers have referred to them as kings, even though Matthew doesn't specifically tell us that they were royalty. Their names in the West, Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar date to the 6th century. The names mean: Master-of-Treasure, King, and Protect-the-King, respectively. The Syrian Church has given them the following Persian names: Larvandad, Hormisdas, and Gushnasaph.
St. Bede the Venerable fills in a few gaps, providing colorful details about the Magi:
The first was called Melchior. He was an old man, with white hair and a long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as to his King. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was middle-aged and called Balthasar. The myrrh he held in his hand prefigured the death of the son of Man (see The Catholic Source Book).
St. Bede hints that the magi represent different races, an idea that was further developed around the 14th century, in which the wise men were said to represent the three known races of the time, European, Asian, and African.
Epiphany is also traditionally when celebrants serve King's Cake, a custom that began in France in the 12th century. Legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake; the recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party. See http://www.americancatholic.org/features/mardigras/
Kings' Cake (Super Easy) Recipe
2 tubes of Pillsbury Grands Cinnamon Rolls
1) Leave the five rolls attached and unroll the dough. Press dough to help attach the strips together. Re-roll the dough in the opposite direction (hot dog) and twist. Join the two strips of dough and press ends together to form a circle. Bake longer than directions on package.
2) While baking make gold, green, and purple colored sprinkles: In a bowl combine a T or 2 of sugar and a drop of food coloring. Use yellow, green, and purple (a combination of red and blue) food coloring.
3) After removing the pastry from the oven slip a coin into the cake. Squeeze on one package of frosting and allow it to melt and spread on the warm pastry. Shake sprinkles onto the warm frosting.
The Epiphany Star
Christ is the star that all wise people follow, as did the Wise Ones of old. For ancient people a five-pointed star at the top of a tree symbolized the pentagram--the so-called "star of mankind." But for Christians a five-pointed star represents the star followed by the non-Jewish (Gentile) Magi.
You can see how to fold and cut a perfect 5-pointed star on YouTube.
Return a Different Way
A favorite depiction of the magi being warned in a dream not to return to Herod is The Dream of the Wise Men--a column capital from the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare in Autun, France credited to Gislebertus. Compare this to the illustration in Tomie de Paolas's book The Story of the Three Wise Kings.
Here is a quote from "The Mystery of the Magi" by Michael Paul Gallagher which originally appeared in The Tablet in London England in December of 1989.
"...in the stonework of France's Autun Cathedral, where the three are in bed under a large blanket, all wearing their crowns. An angel wakes them to point out the star. One of them is shown with eyes wide open in wonder, another half-awake, but the third remains sound asleep--as if to evoke the three stages of spiritual alertness in the medieval tradition."
Interested in Astronomy?
Try this link to find out more about the Star of Bethlehem.