Can we share uplifting and inspirational thoughts for this time of the year?
If you do not mind, Lesley, I would like to post a reply to this question, but it will be a little bit more on a traditional and Catholic point of view, because that is what I am. The elements I hope could in some way inspire those of other denominations as well.
While Advent and Christmas seasons Seem to ”focus seems to be mainly on eating, drinking, giving presents and having a jolly good time”, this really not what these times are spiritually meant to be!
Advent really is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ in the flesh and the Word made Flesh was born in order to redeem mankind from sin. As such All merry making and eating should be done in a more spiritual way in order to benefit our spiritual growth as Christians. Even the Christmas exchange of presents could be more subdued to make it less materialistic. I try to be give practical presents to friends and family, including my wife, while remaining modest in purchasing something.
Let us start with Advent!
What is Advent?
A period of prayer in preparation for Christmas, including four Sundays, the first nearest the feast of St. Andrew, November 30. It is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. The use of the organ and other musical instruments is restricted in liturgical functions. However, it is allowed 1. in extraliturgical functions, 2. for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, 3. to support singing, and 4. on Gaudete Sunday, feasts and solemnities, and in any extraordinary celebration. Altars may not be decorated with flowers. In the celebration of matrimony, the nuptial blessing is always imparted. But the spouses are advised to take into account the special character of the liturgical season.
Now some will see that we have lost some of the spiritual aspects of preparation that was done in the good old days. Believe me it not that hard to accomplish, but it does require a steadfast intention to achieve this to benefit ourselves spiritually.
In former days, marriages were not permitted in the Catholic Church, during Lent or Advent.
Advent fasting was at one time was an obligation on the faithful. This helped us directly curve our more mundane and animal instincts and directly aided our spiritual life. Fasting was done in Advent, on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as the Ember Days Fast. Of course, Christmas Eve was also a day of fasting, except when Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, like it will this year. Nevertheless, it would remain a day of abstinence. This is why many European Catholic regions still eat fish on the Eve of Christ’s Birth!
Even so food still had it’s tradition place in Advent, albeit the the festive mood as not really there.
The Ember Day Tart has it’s place since the Middle Ages.
Believe me the above is not physically demanding, but it will help in making one more mature in a spiritual way. I have done this for many years, so I am not simply writing this a mere suggestion that is all talk. Many pastors still preach about it, but I feel the importance is in that fact if they want to encourage these past traditions, they must lead by example, which they are not. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words.
All this said about food and merriment does not mean these things do not have their place at Christmas or during Advent!
Examples of eating in an appropriate disposition can be quite helpful and at the same time a tool of catechism for all Christians. Some we have lost in modern times.
For example, in Charles Dickens book A Christmas Carol we can see a glimmer of this in Bob Cratchit’s household. There is the Christmas pudding and the Smoking Bishop drink. Done in moderation food and drink do have their place at this time of the year!
The drink mentioned by Dickens book was nothing new. Some have mentioned it in a short rhyme more than hundred years earlier:
Come buy my fine oranges, sauce for your veal, and charming, when squeezed in a pot of brown ale: Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup, They’ll make a sweet Bishop when gentlefolk sup.
I do not think the either Ebenezer Scrooge or Bob Cratchit were real drinkers in this novel, so a moderate traditional drink would seem to be in place.
Smoking bishop can be made ahead of time, strained, and reheated with great success.
One 750 ml bottle of port
3 oranges (Seville, if possible)
Dark brown sugar to taste
My wife and I watch the classic movie A Christmas Carol every Christmas and Advent.
From December 16 - 24, there is time to pray a Christmas Novena. A Christmas novena is usually prayed, starting nine days before Christmas.
- O Antiphons (also known as the Great Advent Antiphons or Great Os)
The O Antiphons (also known as the Great Advent Antiphons or Great Os) are Magnificat antiphons used at Vespers on the last seven days of Advent in Western Christian traditions. They likely date to sixth-century Italy, when Boethius refers to the text in The Consolation of Philosophy. They subsequently became one of the key musical features of the days leading up to Christmas.
The texts are best known in the English-speaking world in their paraphrased form in the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".
What about Christmas?
The Christmas Season starts with First Vespers of the Nativity of the Lord and continues with a holy joy until the 2nd Vespers of the feast of the presentation of the Lord (February 2nd).The celebration of a 40 day season for Christmas goes so far back into antiquity that it is impossible to know at what point in time it became a tradition. The Feast of the Presentation was established as a feast on this date at least by the 6th century. Mary was obliged by Jewish law to present Our Lord to the Lord 40 days after his birth, thus bringing the joys of Christmas to a natural conclusion.
Until 1969, the ancient Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, which is of Oriental origin, was known in the West as the feast of the Purification of Our Lady, and closed the Christmas season, forty days after the Lord's birth.- Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (120) of the Vatican Website.
Traditionally speaking, our Christmas trees should go up on Christmas Eve and brought down on the Feast of the Epiphany with the arrival of the Magi with their gifts of gold ,frankincense and myrrh. On this day the three wise men are added to our manger scenes! In Europe, the Christmas Crèches are only taken down on February 2nd.
- The Three Christmas Masses
The custom of saying three Masses on this day is also very ancient, and recalls to our minds the threefold birth of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – His eternal birth from the Father before all ages, His temporal birth in Bethlehem, and His spiritual birth in the souls of men.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a beautiful summary of these three comings of Christ that is featured in the Church’s Office of Readings during Advent.
We know that the coming of the Lord is threefold…The first coming was in flesh and weakness, the middle coming is in spirit and power, and the final coming will be in glory and majesty.
To simplify St. Bernard’s summary even further, it can be explained as follows:
First Coming – Birth at Bethlehem.
Second Coming – Spiritual coming to each believer.
Third Coming – Jesus coming again at the end of the world.
St. Bernard continues with his explanation of these three comings, focusing on their connection.
This middle coming is like a road that leads from the first coming to the last. At the first, Christ was our redemption; at the last, he will become manifest as our life; but in this middle way he is our rest and our consolation.
If you think that I am inventing what I am saying about the middle coming, listen to the Lord himself: If anyone loves me, he will keep my words, and the Father will love him, and we shall come to him. - What are the 3 comings of Christ?
- Feast of the Holy Innocents Pabulum Tradition
On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, it has became a custom, not only in the homes of the faithful, but also in convents and monasteries to serve an extra dish consisting of a white porridge (some kind of pabulum, usually cream of wheat with milk, sugar and cinnamon) to the youngest ones children in families and to the novices (a novice in some communities is any religious not yet in solemn vows) in religious houses, at the evening meal. This tradition is known as the Holy Innocents' Pabulum tradition. In know of some traditional (Extraordinary Rite) monastic communities that follow this tradition.
Other Holy Innocent customs include the superiors of some Religious Orders serving the noonday meal to the brethren. For example in some communities the abbot, prior, cellerar, and novice-master serve at table, while the sub-prior will do the table reading. The abbot of Westminster Abbey in Mission, BC serves tables of the brethren on this feast.
The Catholic liturgy, ritual and traditions for the
Epiphany are rich in meaning to help the faithful make this day more meaningful and profound in different aspects throughout this time.
Today is fitting to sing: We Three kings
The Church also blesses chalk today in some areas. The custom of blessing chalk at Epiphany is centuries old and is still found in some of the more traditional parishes.
My personal favourite of this day is the blessing of Gold, Incense, and Myrrh on the Feast of the Epiphany.
Do not forget the three kings cake for a family setting.
A king cake, also known as a three kings cake, is a cake associated in many countries with Epiphany. Its form and ingredients are variable, but in most cases a fève (lit. 'fava bean') such as a figurine, often said to represent the Christ Child, is hidden inside. After the cake is cut, whoever gets the fève wins a prize. Modern fèves can be made of other materials, and can represent various objects and people.
- Feast of the Presentation (February 2nd)
Traditionally this is the last day of the Christmas season. In days gone by Christmas Carols were sung up to this date and the faithful would visit churches to visit the Divine Babe Jesus in the crèche. Traditions as such are now almost none existent. That right Christmas is over after the second vespers of the Feast of the Presentation!
The Presentation of Jesus is an early episode in the life of Jesus Christ, describing his presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem. It is celebrated by many churches 40 days after Christmas on Candlemas, or the "Feast of the Presentation of Jesus". The episode is described in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. Within the account, "Luke's narration of the Presentation in the Temple combines the purification rite with the Jewish ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn (Luke 2:23–24)."
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Presentation of Jesus at the temple is celebrated as one of the twelve Great Feasts, and is sometimes called Hypapante (Ὑπαπαντή, "meeting" in Greek).
The Orthodox Churches which use the Julian Calendar celebrate it on 15 February, and the Armenian Church on 14 February.
In Western Christianity, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is also known by its earlier name as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin or the Meeting of the Lord. In some liturgical calendars, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season, also (since the 2018 lectionary) in the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD). In the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a Principal Feast celebrated either on 2 February or on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February. In the Roman Catholic Church, especially since the time of Pope Gelasius I (492-496) who in the fifth century contributed to its expansion, the Feast of the Presentation is celebrated on 2 February.