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Part 1: Last Days of Advent

"The Lord Is Nigh"

Blow ye the trumpet in Sion, for the day of the Lord is nigh: behold, He shall come to save us, Alleluia, Alleluia!
--Theme Song for the Last Days of Advent from Vespers for the Fourth Sunday

{Opposite is a simple little "theme song" for the days immediately preceding Christmas. Other such songs or antiphons are included throughout "The Twelve Days of Christmas Book." It is suggested that they be sung before grace at meal times, at family night prayers and during the special ceremonies, and throughout the day. Children love to sing these little songs and learn them easily.}


If each successive Christmas season is to plunge us ever more deeply into the mysteries of Christ, it is necessary that all our celebrations and customs be an overflow of our participation in the holy Sacrifice of the altar. Moreover, all these family customs and observances in the school, parish, and apostolic group, should lead us back to the Mass and to a more meaningful participation in this great central Act of our lives where we meet Christ and grow in grace.

We meet Christ, too, in the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, which an increasing number of families and lay apostolic groups today are adopting and adapting as their family and community prayer. The Divine Office with its readings, psalms, hymns and prayers extends the theme and spirit of the Mass through the whole day, enveloping us in the particular mystery which the Church is celebrating.

For the Church not only re-presents the great mysteries of Christ in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Divine Office--but she allows us actually to re-live these mysteries through our participation in her prayer. Her feasts are not merely an historical commemoration of the life of Christ; they are not merely an example to inspire us--they are the re-living of the whole work of Christ on earth by His Mystical Body.

Pope Pius XII explains in "Mediator Dei": "The liturgical year devotedly fostered and accompanied by the Church, is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is rather Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church...His mysteries are ever present and active; they still influence us because each mystery brings its own special grace for our salvation."

How can we "live the Mass" more deeply during these Twelve Days of Christmas so that our participation in the holy Sacrifice can lead to the unfolding of Christ's life in us? One way to begin is through reading and studying and praying the Propers of the Masses for Christmastide. The Proper prayers of these Masses are rich, deep, and full of meaning. If they are meditated upon and absorbed, they have the power to form our minds, feed our souls, transform our lives. Throughout this book, the Masses of the Christmas season are emphasized as the foundation for the family's celebration--the heart and center of any observances in parish, school, or apostolic group.

As an introduction to the Divine Office in English for family prayer, the antiphons and psalms and lessons of the Christmastide office have been included wherever possible in this booklet. The Christmas Novena, for example, is patterned after Matins; Christmas Night Prayers before the crib are an abbreviated form of Compline.

It is with the Mass and the Office that we must begin our celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Once the genuine keynote, the true and deep theme of the feastday is struck in the morning's observance at the altar and carried through the day in the Hours of the Office, we can be sure that our family customs and our celebrations in community, parish, and apostolic group will be a true "living with the Church" and will help to transform us "unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ."


The theme of the Advent season has been one of joyous expectancy as the Church, in vigilant preparation, waited and watched for the first signs of the coming of the Lord. The very name Advent, and the Masses of the four Sundays with their urgent plea to Christ to "hasten and delay not" have reminded us that we are awaiting His coming in grace at Christmas, and in glory at the end of time.

On the evening of December 17 the last and most intensive phase of Advent preparation begins. On this evening is inaugurated the first of the Great "O's" of Advent. The "O Antiphons" are seven jewels of liturgical song, one for each day until Christmas Eve. They seem to sum up all our Advent longing as they paint in vivid terms the wretched condition of mankind and his need of a Savior. Addressing Christ with seven magnificent titles, they beg Him with mounting impatience to come to save His people.

The "O Antiphons" are intoned with special solemnity in monasteries at the Vesper Hour, before and after our Lady's great song of thanksgiving, the Magnificat, which is sung every evening as the climax of this Hour of the Divine Office. But in recent years families interested in the liturgy have discovered these gems of poetry and have used them as part of their family evening prayers, sometimes in conjunction with the "O Antiphon House." This is a little house which can be bought or constructed simply; it has seven sealed windows, each masking an appropriate symbol for the different "O Antiphons," and an eighth window hiding the Christmas scene. These windows are opened one by one each day at the singing of the antiphon. "The Twelve Days of Christmas Kit" contains an "O Antiphon" Tower which the children can cut out and put together. The "O Antiphons" in an English translation follow.

O WISDOM, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

O LORD AND RULER of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arm.

O ROOT OF JESSE, who stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come to deliver us, and tarry not.

O KEY OF DAVID, and Sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts; who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O DAWN OF THE EAST, brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O KING OF THE GENTILES and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom You formed out of the dust of the earth.

O EMMANUEL, God with us, our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Because the idea of making a Novena on the last nine days of Advent appeals to many families, a traditional "Christmas Novena" is presented here, adapted and shortened for family use. Drawing on the rich texts of the Advent season, the Novena also includes the proper "O Antiphon," sung before and after the Magnificat each day. The Novena begins on December 16.

FATHER: Our Father, Hail Mary (silently). O Lord, open my lips.

ALL: And my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.

FATHER: O God, come to my assistance.

ALL: O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. * As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen. Alleluia.

FATHER: The Lord our Coming King, hasten to adore.

ALL: The Lord our Coming King, hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: Rejoice, O daughter of Sion, and exult, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold the Lord shall come, and in that day there shall be a great light and the mountains shall bring forth sweetness, and the hills shall flow with milk and honey.

ALL: The Lord our Coming King, hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: Behold, He that is God and man shall come forth from the house of David, His father, to sit upon His throne, and you shall see Him and your heart shall rejoice.

ALL: Hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: Behold, the Lord shall come, our protector, the Holy One of Israel, bearing on His Head the crown of a kingdom.

ALL: The Lord our Coming King, hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: The Lord will descend as rain on the field. His justice shall rise in those days and abundance of peace; and all the kings of the earth shall adore Him, all nations shall serve Him.

ALL: Hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: A Child shall be born to us and He shall be called the God of strength. Bethlehem, city of the Highest God, out from you shall go forth the Ruler of Israel, and peace will be on the earth, when He shall have come.

ALL: The Lord our Coming King, hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: Glory be to the Father and to the Son * and to the Holy Spirit.

ALL: Hasten to adore.

ELDEST CHILD: The Lord, our Coming King,

ALL: Hasten to adore.


A thrilling voice by Jordan rings Rebuking guilt and darksome things; Vain dreams of sin and visions fly Christ in his might shines forth on high.

Now let each earth bound soul arise That sunk in guilt and wounded lies; See the new stars refulgent ray Shall chase disease and sin away.

ALL SING: Blow ye the trumpet in Sion, for the day of the Lord is nigh; behold, He will come to save us, alleluia, alleluia!

FATHER: Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult; * praise the Lord, you mountains.

ALL: Let the mountains break forth into gladness * and the hills with justice.

FATHER: For the Lord shall come, * and to His poor He shall show mercy.

ALL: Drop down dew, you heavens, from above * and let the clouds rain the Just One;

FATHER: Let the earth be opened * and bud forth the Savior.

ALL: Be mindful of us, O Lord, * and visit us in Your salvation.

FATHER: Show to us, O Lord, Your mercy * and grant us Your salvation.

ALL: Come, O Lord; in peace visit us * that with a perfect heart we may rejoice before You.

FATHER: Come, O Lord, do not tarry; * do away with the offences of Your people.

ALL: Come and show to us Your countenance, O Lord; * You sit upon the Cherubim.

FATHER: Glory be to the Father and to the Son * and to the Holy Spirit.

ALL: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen.

ALL SING: Blow ye the trumpet in Sion, for the day of the Lord is nigh; behold, He will come to save us, alleluia, alleluia!


Lesson from Isaias the Prophet. The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice and shall flourish like the lily. It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise; the glory of Libanus is given to it, the beauty of Carmel and Saron. They shall see the glory of the Lord and the beauty of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees. Say to the faint-hearted: Take courage and fear not. Behold, God himself will come and save you. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free; for waters are broken out in the desert and streams in the wilderness. And that which was dry land, shall become a pool, and the thirsty land, springs of water.

ALL: Thanks be to God.

Sing or pray the "O Antiphon" for the day, beginning with "O Wisdom" on December 17 (see page 17). On December 16, the first day of the Novena, the following is said:

Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His Name shall be called Emmanuel, alleluia, alleluia.

FATHER: My soul magnifies the Lord, * and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

ALL: Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid, * for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

FATHER: Because he who is mighty has done great things for me, * and holy is his name;

ALL: And his mercy is from generation to generation * toward those who fear him.

FATHER: He has shown might with his arm; * he has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

ALL: He has put down the mighty from their thrones * and has exalted the lowly.

FATHER: The hungry he has filled with good things * and the rich he has sent empty away.

ALL: He has given help to Israel his servant, * mindful of his mercy--

FATHER: As he promised our fathers--* toward Abraham and his descendants forever.

ALL: Glory be to the Father and to the Son * and to the Holy Spirit.

FATHER: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen.

ALL: Repeat Antiphon of the day.

FATHER: O Lord, hear my prayer.

ALL: And let my cry come to You.

FATHER: Let us pray. Stir up Thy power and come, we pray Thee, O Lord, and with great might help us; may our deliverance, which our sins impede, be hastened by the help of Thy grace and the forgiveness of Thy mercy. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

FATHER: Let us bless the Lord.

ALL: Thanks be to God.

FATHER: May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy ofGod rest in peace.

ALL: Amen.


What of the necessary material preparations for the family Christmas observance? If these last days of Advent are to be the crown of our spiritual preparation, how can we manage to preserve their spirit and still attend to the many material details which must be completed before the holydays?

Today there is a growing movement among families across the country to de-emphasize the glamor and glitter of the commercial Christmas and to judge the appropriateness of all the family preparations in the light of Bethlehem's simplicity. In the context of the Child in the manger, the artificial frills drop naturally by the wayside, leaving the genuine, the truly beautiful--only what can be readily integrated with the spiritual preparation. The cleaning, holiday cooking, preparation of the festive decorations and the holiday outfits all can, with ingenuity and forethought, be linked to the Advent call of "making ready the way of the Lord." If frequent Mass and Advent prayer are put first, all the rest falls into proper order, and becomes a charming and reverent game of getting ready for the Christ-Child.

More and more schools, too, are postponing elaborate preparations for parties and Christmas presentations to the Epiphany season. As this idea grows, parents and teachers will be able to complement each other's efforts to make Advent a real preparation for the Christmas mystery.


How can this integration of the spiritual and the material be accomplished practically? One of the most obvious places to begin is with gift giving. Our American custom of generous giving at Christmas can be linked most appropriately to the generosity of the Father who gives His Son to us. Parents can help their children reflect this spirit in preparing gifts for relatives and friends. Children may, theoretically, know the meaning of the gift exchange at Christmas; yet it is sometimes hard for them to grasp that the presents they buy in the department store even if they have saved up their pennies to purchase them--can represent the gift of themselves. Many families are encouraging their chilen to make their own gifts, and some of the long Advent evenings are happily occupied with Susie's sewing of aprons and pot-holders, while Johnny fashions bookends or wooden tea trays under father's watchful eye in the basement. In employing their ingenuity and creativeness to prepare their Christmas gifts, the children not only gain an understanding of gift-giving but also realize a sense of achievement which no purchased gift could give them.

Nor are the poor to be forgotten. Preparing gifts of food and clothing can also be a means of helping the children to an outgoing spirit and a concern for others at this that they do not concentrate exclusively on what they themselves are going to "get" for Christmas. The final touches on the Christmas baskets--and their delivery--make fine projects for the vigil morning.


An increasing number of families are discovering another effective means towards restoring the true spirit of Christmas in making as many of the decorations as possible together--the tree decorations, the table centerpiece, the festive dress for window and mantelpiece. We decorate the home to reflect outwardly the inner spiritual joy of the family at Christ's coming, and if everyone has had a hand in creating the decorations, the idea behind their use is understood more easily. And the children can learn much through the experience--not only the satisfaction and joy of working with their hands but valuable lessons in the meaning of the coming feasts.


When one thinks of Christmas decorations, one thinks first perhaps of the Christmas greens which represent the everlasting life the Incarnation has won for mankind. Many beautiful effects can be obtained from the simple, naturally decorative sprays of evergreen, and the children love to work with the spicy, piney branches.

Put evergreens up as a background for the Christmas crib; make sprays for the windows with evergreen, pine cones and red ribbon; make gay Christmas pompons of greens on a potato ball base to hang from ceiling and light fixtures. And best of all, make the traditional round Christmas wreaths of evergreen for the windows and front door, twining the sprays on wire coat hanger bases, and explaining to the children the significance of the circle as the sign of eternity. Directions for making a number of evergreen decorations are contained on a separate sheet in "The Twelve Days of Christmas Kit." If the family has had an outing the previous fall to gather such treasures as pine cones and milkweed pods, they will have some auxiliary materials ready.

Christmas cards which begin to arrive at this time can be used as effective and colorful decorations, symbols of the love that binds us to relatives and friends in a special way at this time of year. Place them on the tree; string them on thick yarn and hang them on a stairway, or tack them to mounting board and display them in the living room.


Tree decorations are another appealing family project. For the smaller children, there are on the market today simple cardboard tree decorations, gaily colored and ready to punch or cut out. In one family nearby, the little boys could not stop talking about "their decorations," even though they had done nothing more complicated than punching them out and hanging them on the tree. For older children there are limitless possibilities, and lately the popular household magazines have been full of ideas on "how to make" home decorations, as even the secular world becomes surfeited with the artificial and sophisticated baubles and longs for a "good, old-fashioned Christmas."

"The Twelve Days of Christmas Kit" contains patterns and directions for a set of meaningful, striking tree decorations to cut out and assemble. When these decorations are hung on the Christmas tree, it is transformed into the "family tree" of Christ, since each decoration is a symbol either of an ancestor of Christ, an Old Testament type, or a prophecy foretelling His coming.

Thus there are decorations like Noe's Ark, since Noe was a savior and the father of a new race, prefiguring Christ, the Savior who fathers a race of new men in the supernatural order, sheltering them in the ark of the Church. There is the "Sun of Justice," a favorite figure of the psalmist; there is the flower rising up from the root of Jesse, as Isaias had foretold in his prophecy of the Incarnation, and a dozen others. The "Jesse tree" as this very special Christmas tree is sometimes called, is becoming increasingly popular, and the making of the symbolic decorations is an opportunity for a meaningful, instructive family project. The illustrations at the left give an idea of these Jesse tree symbols. A brief explanation of each one is contained in the "Kit."


Making the crib figures is another family project to consider. Figures of modelling clay; Mary, Joseph and the Child carved in Ivory soap, or even cardboard cutouts which the children can make are just a few of the possible mediums. What if good St. Joseph smiles a bit hideously from behind his beard, or if our Lady has a definite cross-eyed look as in one crib on proud display--in a home where a wise mother and father did not try to improve on their children's efforts. To these children their crib was more beautiful than the most elaborate carvings, and they set the figures lovingly in place with the conviction that their work had given honor to the Christ-Child.

A full set of crib figures to paint and punch out are printed on sheets of thin cardboard in "The Twelve Days of Christmas Kit." They are folded back to give a three-dimensional effect. (Full directions are printed on the pattern sheets.)


Most families have already established traditional menus and dishes for the Christmas season, so only a few recipes will be included in this book. The leading home magazines today are full of many good ideas for Christmas cookery, and they are easily available. Christmas is the ideal time to introduce the traditional dishes of other lands, especially those foods which are linked with the religious significance of the feast. Florence Berger's "Cooking for Christ" gives some excellent recipes along these lines.

Mrs. Berger also makes an interesting observation on holiday cookery. She points out that we, as American Catholics, can choose the best of the cultures of all nations and make them ours in Christ. "We can call the songs, the stories, the dances and the foods of all peoples our own," she writes, "because in our American heritage there is blood and bone and spirit of these different men and women."

Ideally, everyone in the family has a share in the Christmas cooking. The children help by shelling nuts, patting down and cutting out cookie dough into different shapes or sprinkling sugar trim on freshly-baked cookies. Even Father likes to mix the candied fruit with his favorite fruit cake dough and flavor it with his best brandy.

Christian peoples of all lands have special bread for this season's feasting. It is no accident that bread plays a significant part in the Christmas festivities since Christ was born in Bethlehem, which means "house of bread." Bread, too, symbolizes God's gift to us, the holy Eucharist, which is possible only because Christ became man. So from Bethlehem stems "the living Bread which comes down from Heaven." The Christmas spirit of unity and love is ex pressed in people breaking bread together--the loaf which was one and whole is given, received and shared by all present. Below are several recipes for bread which are particularly suitable for Christmas.


Stollen is a German sweet bread whose shape when baked resembles the swaddling clothes of the Infant in the manger. This effect is heightened by covering the Stollen with a thin white sugar frosting, flavored and decorated with candied fruit.

1 cake yeast 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon sugar 2 cups scalded milk
6 cups sifted flour 1 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt 1-1/2 cups sugar

Dissolve teaspoon of sugar and yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Cover. Combine 3 cups flour, salt, nutmeg and sugar. Add scalded milk (cool to lukewarm before adding). Add melted butter. Add yeast mixture, beat thoroughly. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Now add remaining 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time. Knead until smooth.

Put bread dough on board and knead in the following fruit mixture:

1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup citron
1/4 cup candied cherries
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Cut the dough into three equal strips and braid them together. Bake in moderate oven for 45 minutes.


Christmas fruit bread is a rich, dark date and nut loaf--an excellent substitute for fruit cake if you didn't manage to make any in time to age for the Christmas season. Many countries have fruit bread in one form or another for this season.

5 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 cups brown sugar OR 1 cup molasses
3 cups sour milk
1-1/2 cups chopped dates
1-1/2 cups raisins
1 cup chopped nuts
2 tablespoons shortening

Combine sifted flour, soda and salt. Add dates, raisins and nuts, mix thoroughly. In separate bowl beat eggs, add sugar. Beat well. Alternate milk and dry ingredients to sugar mixture, then melted shortening. Pour into loaf pans, three-quarters full. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake in moderate oven for 50 to 60 minutes. This recipe makes three loaves of fruit bread.


A Polish dish used to celebrate festive occasions is Pierogi. Pierogi is not a bread, but uses an unleavened dough as a covering for a delicious surprise within.

First boil potatoes and mash; add salt, pepper and a plain cheese or cottage cheese and mix together.

Make a batter of unleavened dough, knead it, and roll it out like a sheet about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out circular pieces with a glass about three or four inches in diameter. Place a tablespoon of the potato mixture on each circular; fold, and pinch ends together to form a crescent shape. Place one by one in boiling salt water for about 10 minutes. Stir constantly so the Pierogi will not stick together. Take out of water--the salted water can be used for another batch if necessary. Melt butter, with onions if desired, and pour over the Pierogi so that they will not stick together. After setting the Pierogi out on a plate, they can be garnished with a bit of parsley or green celery leaves. A traditional dish for the Christmas Eve supper.

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