Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas: Celebrating the Golden Days

"I’m participating in the Keeping Christ in Christmas Blog Carnival, hosted by Raising (& Teaching) Little SaintsTruly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Jesus as the Reason for the Christmas season. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries.”

In a perfect world, I would cancel all outside activities during December.  My son would stay home from Catholic school and my daughter would skip her homeschool co-op.  I would eliminate sports practices and dance classes.  Instead, we would start each day by attending Mass and end each day with Advent vespers or by meditating on the Infancy Narratives.  Our days would be filled with reading good books, making  symbolic ornaments for our Christmas tree, visiting our parish's Adoration Chapel, helping at the food pantry, visiting with the elderly at a nursing home, baking cookies and other treats for family and friends, and creating meaningful homemade gifts for everyone on our list. 

Alas, I don't live in a perfect world.  I can't realistically pull my son from school and my daughter from co-op.  I can't eliminate all outside activities. In fact, I can't even skip secular activities like sports practices and dance classes. You see, my high-energy kids are happier and better behaved when they get a lot of physical activity--the strenuous physical activity that comes from swim team, soccer, basketball and ballet. Without that exercise, they would  be bouncing off the walls, bickering at each other and getting into mischief.  And I would be exhausted just trying to keep them out of trouble!

So I keep my sanity by continuing with our sports practices and dance classes.  The downside:  we are never home before 8 p.m. on a weekday night. When we do get  home, we only have time for a quick dinner, baths, homework and perhaps a chapter of Tabitha's Travels before bedtime. 

I constantly struggle with trying to put more spiritual meaning into December. But it's hard, very hard when we are home only a few hours each day, and that time is spent eating dinner, cleaning up, preparing for the next day and then getting ready for bed. 

So I asked myself:  how can I put Christ back into this season during the few hours we have together?  Well, we have to eat.  Could I do something to turn our meals into a time when we remember the true reason for the season? 

I read about the Golden Nights on Catholic Cuisine,  and discovered the ancient Benedictine monastery custom of praying the O Antiphons and enjoying special meals and gifts on the seven nights before Christmas Eve (December 17-23).  Hmm, I thought.  This would be the perfect way to turn our focus back to Jesus on the days leading up to Christmas. I asked myself:  could I do something like this, if I keep it super simple?  

I did a bit of research using the resources on Catholic Cuisine, Catholic Resources, Catholic Encyclopedia,  the USCCB website,  Women for Faith and FamilCatholic Icing and Family Feast and Feria. 
Maybe I could do it, if  I did a bit of preplanning yet still kept it simple. Thought I'd share my plan for those who are also looking for a simpler way to keep Christ in Christmas.  Even if you are reading this after December 17, you could still incorporate some of these ideas into the days leading up to Christmas.  You could deviate a bit from  the monastery custom and perhaps double up on days or pick the antiphons and symbols that would resonate most with your family. 

Basically, each day at dinner we will replace our usual prayer by saying the O Antiphon of the Day and the Magnificat.  If it's really late, we simply sing the appropriate verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  We're using Jennifer Gregory Miller's O Antiphon Prayer Companion, which you can find here.   

December 17 
Theme:  O Sapienta/O Wisdom
Small Gift or Special Meal:  It was an especially late evening, so we ate out between dance class and sports practice.  While driving, I told them about the Antiphons and how we would be adapting the monastery custom for the next week. I mentioned that today's theme was "O Wisdom."   At the fast food restaurant,  I encouraged the kids to select something with eggs or tomatoes, which are known to be "brain food," or to have chicken, which has wings like the dove representing the Holy Spirit, also a symbol of wisdom.    At home, we pulled out the Prayer Companion and discussed Christ's messianic title of O Sapienta/O Wisdom.  I then gave the kids a package wrapped in gold paper. Inside, they found a gold tablecloth and matching napkins.  I explained that gold is traditionally the color associated with wisdom and knowledge.  I also mentioned that the next few nights are known as the Golden Nights, so we will use this gold tablecloth at each of our meals through December 23.

December 18 
Theme: O Adonai/Or Lord and Ruler
Small Gift or Special Meal: Stouffers Skillet Meal (ready in 15 minutes--yeah!)   For dessert, Milano Cookies decorated to look like the 10 Commandment tablets and fig newton cookies that were decorated to look like little Bibles. Here is a photo of the cookies:

  Here's a photo of our table:

On the side of the table I display a magnet board with the name of the day's antiphon, along with the artwork in Jennifer Gregory Miller's Prayer Companion. 

December 19
Theme: O Radix Jesse/O  Root of Jesse
Small Gift or Special Meal:  Since today's antiphon mentions roots, I made a crockpot beef stew with lots of root vegetables like carrots and potatoes.  Here's a photo of our beef stew simmering in the pot:

I also made poinsettia cookies for dessert.  This required a bit of pre-planning. A week ago, when I made our Christmas rolled sugar cookies, I cut out some simple shapes that I would use to put together the poinsettia cookies and our sunrise cookies (for another antiphon day).  To make the leaves for the poinsettia flower, I used a measuring cup to make medium sized circles and a football shaped cookie cutter  to resemble a poinsettia petal.  (After a few tries, I realized that if I bent the football cookie cutter a bit, it looked more like a petal.)  

 I decorated the petal shaped cookies with red frosting and sugar, and the round shaped cookies with yellow frosting. Then I assembled the pieces together on a plate to look like a poinsettia, like this:

 Here's a photo of our table:

December 20
Theme: O Clavis David/O Key of David
Small Gift or Special Meal: Basketball practice and Confessions tonight, so we will have these Crockpot Greek Chicken Pitas followed by Marie Callender's individual key lime pies which I picked up from our supermarket.  I also found some decorative keys at Joann's Craft Store a couple of weeks ago, which I will be tying to our napkins. The keys will then be used as ornaments for our Christmas tree.   A couple photos:

December 21
Theme: O Oriens/O Dayspring
Small Gift or Special Meal:  Friday is usually our day to eat eggs, so we will have "sunny-side up" eggs and waffles or pancakes cut/baked into sun shapes. Also, we will enjoy this Texas Sunrise drink from the Catholic cuisine website.  Sports practices are cancelled tonight (yeah!) so we will have a family movie night and watch one of our favorite holiday flicks, along with enjoying "sunrise" cookies (cookie dough cut in round shapes and long rectangles, then decorated with yellow frosting.  I'll share a photo soon!)  I've also planned a special gift for tonight--some battery lit candles that change color, which we will use for some of our upcoming holiday meals.  

Here's a photo of our Texas Sunrise drink and sun-shaped cookie dessert. 

December 22
Theme: O Rex Gentium/O King of Nations
Small Gift or Special Meal:  It's Saturday, and only one sports practice today (and no games or swim meets) so I have a bit more time to prepare a meal!  Since today's antiphon mentions a "cornerstone," I'll be serving individual meat loaves to represent cornerstones, along with mashed potatoes to represent the kingdom of heaven. For dessert, mini bundt cakes decorated to look like crowns.  After supper, our special activity will be to visit a "drive through" Nativity play at one of the churches in the area.

December 23
Theme: O Emmanuel/God With Us
Small Gift or Special Meal:  No outside activities today besides Mass!  It will be a family day to decorate the tree and finish getting ready for Christmas.  Our traditional Sunday dinner is usually pasta, so I'm looking for uniquely shaped pasta that might tie in with our theme.  It may be a stretch...but perhaps a mixture of angel hair pasta (to represent the angel's announcement to the shepherds) and campanelle pasta, which looks a bit like a lily, the flower that is used to symbolize both Joseph and Mary.

I'll add bread and wine since they symbolize the Eucharist and we will enjoy some Nativity shaped sugar cookies made along with the poinsettia cookies. For a special evening activity, I've wrapped up a nativity themed puzzle that we can start working on together. 

Want more ideas on how to keep Christ in Christmas?  Check out these great blogs!

Homeschool Mosaics: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Joy: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Advent Interruptions
The Breadbox Letters: Interrupted by Glory
TwentyTuesdayAfternoons: Keeping Christ in Christmas/ The Season of Giving / A Wee Bit of Beach Holiday Angst
The Learning Basket: Staying With the Nativity Story
Tercets: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Rosary Mom: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Ate Maui: Hoping and Bringing Hope
Written By the Finger of God: 12 Traditions for Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique's Desk: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Felix at Fifty: What Jesus Wants for Christmas
Mommy Bares All: Birthday Cake for the Birthday Boy on Christmas Day
Between Now and Later: Keeping Christ in Christmas, I am trying...
Lique's Antics: Family Antics: Christmas Reflection
Life of Fortunate Chances: Our First Ever Christmas: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Mommy Journey: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Roller Coaster Ride: How to Remind Your Kids of Jesus Christ This Christmas
Cymplified: Christ -Centered Christmas: Cymplified!
Mountain Grace: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Touring Kitty: Grown-up Christmas List
Mommy Chinkysoup for the Soul: A Very Special Christmas
City Girl, Country Home: Finding Jesus in a Flurry
Coffee Moments with Sam: Christmas Unwrapped: 5 Presents Our Kids Truly Deserve
Raising Lifelong Learners: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Diary of a Sower: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Celebrating the Golden Days
Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Raising (and Teaching) Little Saints: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Truly Rich Mom: The Greatest Gift of All This Christmas
Joy-Filled Family: CHRIST in Christmas
Blueberry 010: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Deeper Truth Blog: Keeping Christ in Christmas Carnival
Holy Ducklings: 10 Ways to Make Advent Special for Your Little Ducklings
Green Eggs and Moms: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Green Eggs & Moms Style!

(This list will be updated throughout the next couple of days, so check back for even more ideas!)

 I'm also participating in Annette's Waldorf Wednesday link-up at her Seasons of Joy blog.  Hop on over and check it out  



  1. It is no exaggeration for me to say that I am ABSOLUTELY BOWLED OVER by your creativity. What a fantastic way to keep the focus!! I will keep reading your posts, and thank you for sharing such good ideas.

    1. (I'm blushing here Nancy!) Thank you for your kind words. I really can't take too much credit for it; most of the ideas are borrowed from other blogs and then adapted a bit to fit our insane schedule.

  2. I agree with Nancy. You've done a fabulous job Cheryl at preparing your children for Jesus' birthday! Advent blessings to you!

    1. Thank you, Noreen! Such kind words! Happy Advent to you, too!

  3. What a thoughtful and thorough post. Although raised Catholic I am not practicing but I appreciate the efforts of parents in creating spiritual practices for their families.
    Thanks for vising my blog, Bridgit's Bell and your lovely comments.
    Happy Holidays to all.

    1. Karen
      I was so impressed with the gnomes on your blog. I wish I had discovered Waldorf when my daughter was younger; I am sure it would have appealed to her because we use some Montessori in our homeschooling. I was not sn active Catholic for a while until it came time to start teaching my kids about the faith. I wanted them to love it so I searched for a hands on catechism program instead of the workbooks used so often in CCD classes. I found the Catechesis of The Good Shepherd program and it reallytransformed me and help me better understand the beauty of the faith. The whole story of my coming back is rather long and ironic which convinces me that God definitely has a sense of humor! Wishing you a very happy holiday season.

  4. I wish I was an organized kitchen expert like you. The funny thing is I wish I could send my home-schooled kids to school every once in a while so I can tend to the kitchen uninterrupted.

    1. Anabelle
      I wish I was an expert. The ideas don't come naturally to me but it is getting a bit easier the more I try to do these liturgically themed meals. Like you I wish I could send my homeschooled daughter to school sometimes so I could do some things uninterrupted! The good thing is the more I do them the more she wants to help and her help is actually getting more helpful! It certainly wasn't at first! It sounds like you are homeschooling more than one which is definitely tiring. Merry Christmas and Happy New year to you and your family!

  5. Hi dear Cheryl! :)

    So sorry for the late comment. Thank you SO much for joining the carnival! :) I LOVED reading your post — you really did a fantastic job in preparing your family, especially your kids, for Christmas! :) We don't do the O Antiphons but do other things, but reading your post is making me think that we should do them next year! :)

    Thank you for the reminder of how to keep Christ in Christmas! :) God bless always!