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The holly’s sharp leaves remind us of the crown of thorns which Jesus wore during his passion and the red berries remind us of the blood he shed for all of us. While at Christmas we remember the birth of Christ, we must never forget that he came to suffer, die and rise again for our salvation.

Presents ne Christmas tradition which is loved by children of all ages is the giving of presents. This custom has of course been taken up and exploited for all its worth by our consumerist society. For Christians, behind every gift is an expression of love between two people. The tradition of giving gifts seems to have various sources. In some countries gifts are given to children on behalf of the three wise men on the feast of the Epiphany in memory of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which they brought to Jesus. The figure of St Nicholas of Bari from whom Santa Claus was developed, had a great love for children and gave gifts to the poor in his town and in some countries gifts are exchanged on his feast day on 6th December.

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Giving gifts to loved ones is good, but true charity and generosity call us to go beyond our immediate friends and family. The poor, whom Jesus said would always be with us, suffer particularly at Christmas and during this time the Christian duty to give alms becomes particularly urgent. Ultimately all love flows from God and his greatest

gift to us is Jesus Christ, therefore when we have been given so much it seems only right that we pass on his generosity to each other.

The Christmas Season hile in the High Street, Christmas seems to begin in September and end on Boxing day, the Church gives us set times to prepare well for Christmas and to celebrate it with due reverence, solemnity and joy. The four weeks of Advent have two aims: to look towards Christ’s second coming, and then from the 16th December onwards there is a novena (nine days) to prepare to remember Christ’s birth. The 16th can be a good date to put up decorations or the crib.

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Key Feasts he Christmas season lasts twelve days, from Christmas Eve to the Epiphany on 6th January, and the liturgies, feasts and prayers of the Church in that time all concentrate on the mystery of the incarnation. The Christmas Octave gives us 8 days in which we can celebrate Christmas day. The feasts of the Holy Family (first Sunday after 25th December), the Holy innocents (28th December), Mary Mother of God (1st January) all help us to remember the events and the people that surrounded Christ’s birth.

The Crib

Key Books to Read

and other

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras: 522-525 Advent and Christmas, CTS (Do 834) Advent and Christmastide with the Saints, CTS (D 680) Advent, Christmas & Epiphany, CTS (LF 29)

Christmas traditions

Christmas Novena with Benedict XVI, CTS (D 712) Companion to St Joseph, CTS (Do 686) New Companion to Advent and Christmastide, CTS (Do 745)

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Christmas doesn’t last just one day; the Church gives us a generous time of feasting which she invites us to observe fully, in line with the momentous event which we celebrate.

Visit: www.cts-online.org.uk www.ctscatholiccompass.org A wide range of inexpensive publications is available from CTS to help nurture your faith and keep you informed about a wide range of issues. If you would like to receive further information please contact us: CTS, 40-46 Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. Or visit www.cts-online.org.uk Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046

ISBN 978 1 86082 405 655 0 9

LF 40 54

All rights reserved. © 2006 Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. Cover image © Benelux/ zefa/CORBIS, © Royalty-Free/Gettyimages, © Joe Benyon/AXIOM/Gettyimages, © RoyaltyFree/CORBIS.

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The Heart of Christmas any traditions surround Christmas, some ancient, others more modern, some rooted in Christian devotion while others have more commercial or even pagan origins. For Christian families it is vital to remember that at the centre of everything done during Christmas, is the joyous event of the birth of our Saviour. The things we do during Christmastide can and should help us to live our faith more fully and ensure that the season of Christmas does not pass by without Christ being at its centre.

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Christmas is a time of generosity and good will, a time for families and friends to meet together and share hospitality, gifts and time in surroundings enriched by old customs, special fare, decorations and all the other things which make the season of Christ’s birth so special.

The Crib 1. Origins

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he representation of the scene of the nativity is a tradition that is almost a thousand years old. In the year 1223 St Francis decided to celebrate the feast of Christmas in a new way. His aim was to help people to better call to mind the poor surroundings in which Jesus was born and to make the wondrous event of the incarnation more real to the people of the time. In the town of Greccio, with the help of a local landowner, a nativity scene was set

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up with a stable, animals and straw. People came at night from the town with candles and torches to attend holy Mass by the crib and seeing the scene, be reminded of God’s love for us in sending his only son to be born in the poverty of a manger. Re-creating the scene at Bethlehem soon became very popular and while many places continue to this day to present the scene with real people and animals, St Francis’ idea has spread in a simplified form to countless Churches and homes all over the world. Cribs range in complexity from small figurines of the main people involved in the nativity, to large busy scenes of Bethlehem with ornate scenery. Basic sets are not expensive and can be of real help as a focus for domestic devotions during Christmastide. 2. Meaning

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o prepare a crib carefully with one’s children, or to give them the task of making a stable or a backdrop can be a wonderful activity during advent to help prepare for Christ’s birth. The crib should have a place of honour in the house throughout the season of Christmas, and family prayers can be said beside it. It is a perfect way to inspire devotion to Jesus and gratitude for his saving intervention in human history, at a particular place and in a

particular time. A good date to set up the crib is on the 16th December, at the beginning of the preparatory novena before Christmas. It can be good to wait for Christmas Eve before putting the figure of baby Jesus in the crib, to heighten the sense of expectancy. The season ends on the 6th of January although in some countries the crib and decorations stay up until the 2nd February (feast of the Presentation of Our Lord). The crib contains a beautiful meditation on the whole life of Christ. The wood of the manger reminds us of the wood of the cross on which the adult Christ will suffer and die, the cave or stable reminds us of the tomb from which he will rise. The baby Jesus sleeps in a place from which creatures take their food, reminding us that in the Eucharist Jesus himself becomes our food.

The Christmas Tree 1. Origins

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he Christmas tree is less obviously religious in both its significance and origin. It seems to have originated in Germany and may well stretch all the way back to pagan practices. Its Christian significance however, seems related to St Boniface, the English saint who converted Germany to Christianity in the 8th Century. He chopped down a sacred oak tree which the people worshipped and in its place grew a fir. The tree pointed up to God, whose everlasting love was symbolised by the evergreen tree.

2. Meaning

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ohn Paul II had a great affection for this tradition and ensured that a large tree was placed in the centre of St Peter’s square every year. He explained its significance with these words: “The Christmas tree is a very ancient custom, which exalts the value of life, as in winter the evergreen becomes a sign of undying life. It reminds us of the ‘tree of life’ (see Genesis 2:9), representation of Christ, God’s supreme gift to humanity. The message of the Christmas tree, therefore, is that life is ‘ever green’ if one gives: not so much material things, but of oneself: in friendship and sincere affection, and fraternal help and forgiveness, in shared time and reciprocal listening.” For some, the baubles on the tree remind us of the apples on the tree in the garden of Eden, the cause of original sin from which Jesus came to save us, while on top of the tree it can help to use a star which helps us remember the star of Bethlehem or an angel which recalls the announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, rather than a fairy which has no Christian significance.

Holly t Christmas, holly is an ever-present, whether it be used for advent wreaths, on cards or to garnish the Christmas pudding.

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