Long after most of our secular society has set aside it’s festive music, food and merriment, the Catholic Church continues to rejoice in the birth of our Savior. For 12 days following Christmas day, as in the traditional carol, we are encouraged to celebrate with all the gusto the rest of the world partook in during Advent.
Several major feasts are placed on the days immediately following Christmas. Including St. Stephen’s Day, also called Boxing Day in many parts of the world. The first martyr, St. Stephen was stoned to death and is depicted in many images holding the instrument of his death. Catholic Icing recommends homemade rock candy on this day, and I have friends who eat Pop Rocks. I like just breaking up some of the many candy canes floating around and making peppermint bark; it resembles a whole bunch of stones lying around, and it’s tasty.
Remember to take a few bottles of your favorite vintage to Mass on December 27th and ask for this blessing to be said over them. Be sure to toast to St. John on his feast day and if you’ve selected a wine that stores well, throughout the year on family name days and special holidays. If we remember to get wine blessed, we usually can’t make it last past Candlemas on February 2.
On the Feast of the Holy Innocents we remember the baby boys killed by King Herod in his search for Christ and our family also remembers the thousands of innocent children killed each day by abortion. You can pray outside a clinic or collect items for a crisis pregnancy center. Traditionally, many families celebrated the youngest member of the family on this day, also called Childermas, and cribs were decorated in red. We can continue this by letting the baby pick the meals and the activities as best as he or she can. Pureed prunes for everyone! It is the perfect day to remember that every life, no matter how small, is precious and a blessing.
In America, the feast of Epiphany is moved to the Sunday closest to December 6th. That often means there are less than 12 days of Christmas. Whether you mark the arrival of the Magi on an American calendar or the traditional liturgical one, the evening before has long been celebrated as 12th night with several accompanying traditions families have enjoyed for centuries.
There is no fasting as on Christmas Eve because, according to Abbot Gueranger, “The Child whose coming we were then awaiting in the fervour of our humble desires is now among us, preparing to bestow fresh favours upon us.”
The highlight of the evening for our children is the King Cake. Within a cake a tiny bean, or sometimes we use a chocolate coin, is hidden. You may select one of the official ‘King Cake’ recipes out there, but a Betty Crocker baked sheet cake has always been well received here. The child who finds the prize is king or queen for the evening, and in our house, chooses dinner for the Octave of Epiphany. Don’t forget to have a crown on hand for the special young lady or gentleman. Catholic Icing offers several DIY crowns to make. Although only one child can be crowned the king or queen, there’s no reason there can’t be several more prince or princesses. Making crowns can keep kids entertained on an otherwise cold and dark day.
During the 12 days of Christmas our children also wake up and search our living room, eager to see how far the Wise Men have travelled during the night. From the far side of the room by the dining table, across many shelves and the piano until finally, by 12th night, they are right outside the creche.
We are blessed to celebrate 12th night most years with dear friends, and if affords us another opportunity to crack open blessed wine, or enjoy it in a punch. Boil for five minutes and serve to the king and his court.
St. John’s Love (serves 8)
1 quart red wine
3 whole cloves
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
My husband has always taken his Christmas vacation during the 12 days and so we are lucky to spend the time visiting friends and family, attending daily Mass more frequently and enjoying the numerous customs mentioned above. If your family must head back to a normal routine, many of these crafts and activities can be done in the evenings and keep a Christmas spirit going, even as the stores are putting out Valentines day cards.