For Christians, the time leading up to and celebrating the birth of Jesus is sacred. It is a time of joy and community, a time where we honor the miracle of the manger.
There are several Catholic Christmas traditions rich in meaning that help foster a festive spirit all while keeping the focus on the coming of our king. Together, we’ll explore a few of these Catholic Christmas traditions to practice with your family this Advent.
How Do Catholics Celebrate Christmas?
Just like any great feast, the Catholic celebration of Christmas is marked by joy and festivities. It typically involves attending Mass, sharing a meal with family and loved ones and exchanging gifts. What sets a Christ-centered Christmas celebration apart from the mainstream, however, is the intentional and prayerful preparation that occurs throughout Advent.
These four Catholic Christmas traditions can guide you and your family to approach the season while remembering its true meaning, allowing you to fully embrace and celebrate Christmas Day.
#1 Light the Way to Christ’s Birth: The Advent Wreath
The four distinct candles adorning a ring of greenery are an unmistakable hallmark of the Catholic Christmas season: the Advent wreath. The tradition of the Advent wreath traces back hundreds of years and was first adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages.
The four candles symbolize the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and the coming of Jesus. Through the weeks of December, the candles gradually illuminate the path to Christmas and invite us to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. To create your own wreath, start with a simple green ring and four candles, one for every Sunday of Advent. As each candle is lit, reflect on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love that they represent. The Advent wreath is a beautiful tradition that you and your loved ones can share with prayers and reflections that offer inspiration throughout this holy season.
#2 Immerse Yourself in Bethlehem: The Nativity Scene
For centuries, the Nativity scene has stood as a cherished Catholic tradition during the Christmas season. It portrays the humble birth of our Lord in a manger, surrounded by the presence of Mary and Joseph and witnessed by the adoration of both shepherds and wise men. The essence of this scene is to captivate our focus on the true meaning of the season.
To create a Nativity scene display in your home, start with a stable or manger and add figures that represent the Holy Family and other characters from the Nativity story. Consider incorporating elements like a star, angels or animals to bring the scene to life.
You should place the Nativity scene in a central location, such as a mantle or table in your living room. By doing so, you transform the manger into the focal point of your seasonal decor. As you navigate your daily routine, let each encounter with the Nativity scene prompt you to pause and marvel at the wonder in the humble birth of Christ.
#3 Journey Through Salvation History: The Jesse Tree
The Jesse Tree is another popular Christmas tradition that traces the lineage of Jesus through the Old Testament, using symbols and ornaments that represent key events and people in salvation history. The name “Jesse Tree” comes from the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Jesse was the father of King David, and Jesus is often referred to as the “Son of David.” The Jesse Tree serves as a visual representation of the genealogy of Jesus and the history of salvation leading up to his birth.
The ornaments used on the tree often depict symbols or events from the Old Testament, such as Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments. Each ornament and its associated story reminds us of our connection to God's plan of salvation.
To set up your own Jesse Tree, start with a simple tree or branch and then handmade ornaments or symbols that correspond to each day of Advent. Every day, reflect on a Scripture reading or reflection that focuses on one of the symbols, taking you on a journey through the roots of our faith.
#4 The Origin of St. Nick: Feast of Saint Nicholas
St. Nicholas, a beloved Catholic saint, was known for his generosity and kindness towards those in need. Born in the third century to a wealthy family, St. Nicholas gave away his entire inheritance to the sick, needy and suffering. Through his life. he became a servant of the poor.
To honor and celebrate his legacy, Catholics around the world celebrate his feast day on December 6. A common tradition is to leave out shoes on the night of December 5, filling them with small gifts or treats on the morning of December 6. This is a fun and festive way to embody the selfless spirit of St. Nicholas.
Embrace the True Meaning of Christmas With These Sacred Traditions
Each of these traditions represents unique and authentically Catholic ways to prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ. They serve as poignant reminders, each pointing to the greater reality and deeper meaning of the season. May the light of the Advent wreath illuminate your path to Christmas Day; may the Nativity scene serve as a reminder of the humility of Christ’s birth; may the Jesse Tree inspire a sense of wonder about our salvation history; and may the Feast of St. Nicholas encourage you to generously serve those in need.
To help you further prayerfully prepare this Christmas season, sign up for our Christmas novena, beginning December 17 and ending on Christmas Day!