Tag Archives: Christmas

Where did the Nativity scene come from?

December 22, 2011

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If you’ve set up a Nativity scene in your home, maybe the “supporting characters” you’ve arranged in the stable are waiting for you to lay the Star of the show–the baby Jesus–in the manger on Christmas Eve. Whether it’s under your tree, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand or full of lights in your yard, a movable model of the Incarnation not only completes the Christmas decor, but offers a tangible means for reflecting on the source of our joy this season.

The number of Nativity scenes seems to be limited only by the imagination. As I started seeing the familiar figures, Mary Joseph, Jesus, the Wisemen … in different settings, I wondered about the origin of these scenes which are so much a part of our holy celebration.

Known as a creche in French or presepio in Italian, the Nativity scene represents a combination of passages from Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. Scripture says nothing about the shepherds, the Magi and the animals all gathered together at the same time with the Holy Family.

The first Nativity scene

But Christians began depicting the Nativity this way as early the 2nd century with frescos in the Roman catacombs.

In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi created the first living Nativity scene in a cave near Greccio, Italy, at midnight Mass in an effort to make Christmas more meaningful for the townspeople. The scene contained the manger and live animals but not the figure of Mary, Joseph or Jesus.

St. Bonaventure writes about the event in his biography of St. Francis:

Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was changed by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King, and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.

It is said that miracles occurred after St. Francis’ Nativity scene, including a vision of the Christ child in the manger and healing properties of the hay used in the scene.

The first stationary Nativity scene was crafted in marble about 65 years after St. Francis’ midnight scene. Others were constructed in wood, terracotta or stone. After the Middle Ages Nativity scenes could be found in most Catholic churches.

Many Nativity scene traditions

Different countries developed their own traditions. Small hand-painted terracotta figures called santons are popular in Provence, France. In southern Germany, Austria and northern Italy figurines are hand-cut in wood. Polish szopka incorporate a historical building into the scenes. The English had the most unusual custom of baking a mince pie in the shape of a manger to hold the Christ child until dinnertime when they would eat the pie.

Some traditions place Adam, Eve and the serpent; Noah and his animals or other biblical figures in the scene. Others depict events such as Mary washing diapers in the Jordan river, or a dove descending on the baby Jesus.

Whatever our own Nativity scenes look like, large or small, they remind us daily what the season is about–Christ who came as a baby to save us.

A great way to enter into Christmas is to view Father Jerry Dvorak’s collection of 275 creches displayed until Jan. 29 at the Church of St. Peter at 6730 Nicollet Ave. S. in Richfield. Viewing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday* and after all weekend Masses.

*St. Peter’s building won’t be open Dec. 23, 26, 30 and Jan. 2.

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Catholic sisters get a hand from actress playing a sister

December 21, 2011

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Actress Kimberly Richards has audiences at St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts rolling in the aisles as the one nun in the one-nun comedy, “Sister’s Christmas Catechism: the Mystery of the Magi’s Gold.” And she adds a nice touch at the end of each show that benefits retired women religious locally.

Before the play ends, Sister makes a plea to support the nuns who taught and nursed so many during their active years and need and deserve our support now that they’ve retired. She stands at the exit with a bucket and accepts donations that will go to assist the retired sisters from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul and the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato.

Publicist Connie Shaver told The Catholic Spirit that the results have been amazing. In the show’s first week donations totalled $6,000. The show runs through Dec. 31 at the Ordway’s cozy McKnight Theatre, so hurry to catch the fun — and drop some bills in sister’s bucket!

The Catholic Spirit staff and members of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocesan staff attended on two different nights last week, and my sides still ache from laughing. Going with a group not only can get you discounted tickets ($25), but some of you may get called up to be part of sister’s “Living Nativity” scene. You’ll have to guess who from Archbishop Nienstedt’s staff was picked to play Mary last week!

 

 

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This Christmas, remember who was an angel in your life

December 19, 2011

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Here’s an idea we just tried at our Advent wreath prayer that you might find would add meaning to your family’s Christmas gathering.

Giving everybody a couple days notice, we invited them to think of a time when someone was an angel in their life, and then to share that story with everyone around the Advent wreath. This would be great around the Christmas tree, especially with aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and cousins.

Minutes after the e-mail invitation went out I got replies from everyone that they were in — and they knew just what they were going to share.

If you try this, you may want to have a box of tissues handy. A couple people in our little gathering got pretty emotional in telling about the angels who were there when they really needed someone.

The angels that sang Gloria in Excelsis Deo on that first Christmas give you the perfect into to make this year’s a Christmas party that doesn’t bypass the messages Jesus taught when he walked this earth. I guarantee it will be a Christmas everyone will remember.

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What’s your favorite Christmas show or movie?

December 16, 2011

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The Christmas Holiday season is in full swing, so now seems like a good time to ask, “What’s your favorite Christmas show or movie?” Is it one of the classics like “It’s A Wonderful Life” (pictured above) or something more recent like “The Santa Clause 2”?

Whether it’s a TV special like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or a feature-length film such as “Miracle on 34th Street”, share with us your favorites in the comments below.

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Ever thought of yourself as an angel? Here’s how you could be one

December 16, 2011

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All this Advent spreading of inspiration. What follows is a post that was headlined “Silent Christmas Angels” and shared by Bob Proctor as his “Friday story” on http://www.Insightoftheday.com

 

By Virginia Hay

 

From the emails I have been receiving lately and my own observations out there in the world I would have to say that a lot of people are really going through some difficult times right now.

 

The population is aging and this is impacting those who are growing older, those who are taking care of them, and those who are alone.

 

The other day I witnessed a lady in our building who had just been dropped off by one of those handicapped vans, and even though she was not in a wheelchair herself, I could see that she had serious mobility issues.

She had just returned from visiting her beloved husband and lifelong companion who was now confined to a nursing home. I had seen them out walking together a few years earlier, laughing and holding hands and thoroughly enjoying each others company.

As she slowly made her way to the front of the door, she held the key in her hand ready to open the lock. And then at that precise moment she just leaned in toward the building and started to cry. I could see from the look of anguish on her weary face, that she was trying to summon the courage to enter the building, walk up the stairs, and open her apartment door, just to be alone once again for yet another evening without him.

 

 Should I go comfort her?

 

My heart went out to her. I wanted to rush over and hug her but got the feeling to just honor her presence instead and the precious space she was in. I sensed that she was a very private person and just needed to be alone in that moment. Sometimes the moment can carry us through when we don’t have the strength to carry ourselves.

 

I did hold her in the light in my heart and whispered a quiet prayer that somehow things would get better for her and that she would know that she is deeply loved, even though I am sure she was certainly not feeling that love right then.

 

I think sometimes if we can simply acknowledge each others pain, without trying to fix things, then that may be the greatest gift we can give to another human being. I don’t mean wallow in the pain or focus on it, but to just acknowledge it with deep compassion, would make a huge difference to so many.

 

We are human and pain is part of the journey. If we ever allow ourselves to love anyone or anything for that matter, pain is an integral part of the process because some day we may, probably will, lose that person, place or thing to which we have become attached, either physically, mentally or emotionally. Of course, the price of not loving, of not seeking, of not becoming involved, is a much deeper and emptier pain that strips away at our soul and destroys our spirit.

 

Your spirit will always reach towards the love and your soul will always take the higher road.

 

 Let’s do our angelic part

 

And so I would suggest that this holiday season, we answer our soul’s calling and “take the higher road” by becoming “Silent Christmas Angels” for each other, especially at this difficult time of year for so many. Christmas has a way of surfacing so many emotions and memories, some joyful and some not so joyful.

 

So, as a “Silent Christmas Angel”, be on the look-out as to where you could shine your light on someone else’s darkness. Be constantly aware to where your wings may take you, whether it be in a busy shopping mall, a lonely sidewalk cafe, a homeless shelter, a park bench, a Christmas dinner or party. Be constantly vigil of where you could look beyond the surface to the deeper pain that may be lurking there and attend to it in whatever way and means may lie before you.

 

Pretend you have been given a mission and are part of the “Silent Christmas Angel Invasion” of whatever city you live in or visit and it is your job to keep the home fires burning and heal the hearts and souls of those you encounter along the way.

 

Sounds daunting? Fear not! You have at your command an arsenal of tools with which to do your work.

 

We have all that it takes

A magic wand that you can point and shoot better than any camera will ever do and grant silent wishes to unsuspecting troubled hearts, uplifting them in the twinkling of an eye and restoring peace on earth.

 

A big, beautiful, heart full of love, with light beams that extend from you for miles and miles ahead washing away any sadness that may appear in the distance and replacing it with joy, wonder, belief in the magic, trust in the knowing, that we are all in this together and we are truly loved.

 

Dancing, daring, delightful Angel eyes, that dispense laughter, spread kindness, seek miracles, offer compassion, give thanks and beam these out into all the other eyes that meet yours along the way, eliciting an enchanting smile of knowing and surprised look of tender acknowledgement.

 

And we “Silent Christmas Angels” have the ability to recognize each other. A knowing glance, a curious nod, a gentle, sweet and unsuspecting touch. A sacred salute to a comrade in arms and wings and halos.

 

And so, dear heart, will YOU join me? Will you take your place among us? Will I sense you standing there next to me wherever I may journey?

 

I think I already have and I know that I will, for I feel you here, reading these words, and I already recognize you.

 

Veronica Hay is an inspirational writer. She provides inspirational support and resources to help you live a richer life. Visit her website at:http://www.insightsandinspirations.comor email her at:veronicahay@telus.net


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The story behind the pink Advent candle

December 14, 2011

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As the commercial world is already saturated with red and green, it’s easy to lose sight of the true colors of the season–the Advent season. This week the color pink represents joy. It turns out, the Church has a good reason for putting one pink candle in the Advent wreath.

To discover the story of the pink candle, we first have to look at the origins of the season and the wreath. Until Advent was instituted toward the end of the fifth century, the only season Christians observed was Lent. As preparation for Christmas, the Church established Advent in the spirit of Lent–as a season of reflection and penance.

A wreath of hope

The custom of the Advent wreath originated with pre-Christian Germanic peoples whose evergreen wreaths and fires signified hope in the darkness of December. Christians maintained the tradition and by the 16th century German Catholics and Protestants used the wreath to symbolize hope for Christ’s coming. The practice spread through the Christian world.

By one interpretation, the wreath’s four candles represent the first Advent before Christ’s birth, with each week commemorating 1,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Nativity. Purple candles stand for prayer, penance, and sacrifices and good works done during the Advent season, as we also wait for the Lord’s second coming.

Another view is that the candles in the wreath have specific names which we can reflect on as we light them and pray:  the first is hope, the second peace, the third joy and the fourth love.

The color for joy

A pink candle that signifies joy makes sense since it is lit on Gaudete Sunday–named for the entrance antiphon for that Sunday’s Mass: “Rejoice (gaudete) in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” The joy is subdued, however,  as the penitential violet of the other weeks lessens to rose as we move closer to Christmas.

As Advent is patterned in part after Lent, Gaudete Sunday is similar to the Lenten Laetare Sunday, which also represents joy and falls at the midpoint of Lent.

And that finally leads to the explanation for the pink candle. In the ancient Church on Laetare Sunday in Lent, the Pope gave  a citizen a pink rose. The tradition has continued, as popes bestowed golden roses on Catholic rulers and now more commonly, on places of devotion.

Following the papal rose custom, bishops and priests began wearing rose-colored vestments on Laetare Sunday. The Church then brought the Lenten practice of rose vestments to Advent on Gaudete Sunday.  As a result, the pink candle gained a place in the Advent wreath.

Although the culture tells us it’s already Christmas, the Church reminds us through the pink candle of Advent that there is an appointed time for everything (Eccl. 3:1). The time now is for rejoicing–because the Lord is coming soon!

Related:

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A Big Family’s 12 Days of Christmas Video

December 12, 2011

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What is it like having a large family? Susan and Ken Von say that every time they go grocery shopping, they can’t get very far without someone making a comment about their family’s size.

Everything they sing about in this video is what my husband and I (We have nine children) get asked many times over…often from strangers! I’m so impressed that the Vons were able to get their kids to sing this song without the little ones fighting! I need to take some parenting lessons from them!

The comments from strangers that frustrate me the most:

  • “You must be Catholic.”
  • “Are you having more?”

A personal question that my husband and I hear a lot that the Vons didn’t mention (We think it’s kind of funny):

  • “Did you have all these kids with the same husband/wife?”

Some of the nice things that strangers say to us in public (which make my day!):

  • “You are one lucky mom!”
  • “You kids are so lucky to have each other!”
  • “What a great family you have! You’re doing a super job!”
  • “Children are a blessing!”

Take a moment from the hustle and bustle of Advent, and enjoy this video:

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Advent in two minutes

November 28, 2011

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Cyber Monday

November 28, 2011

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If you are online gift shopping today please consider supporting TheCatholicSpirit.com and our sponsors:

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If you prefer to give to a good cause as a Christmas gift please consider The Pontifical Mission Societies.

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Christians may appreciate sci-fi look at the Magi

January 11, 2011

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Science fiction really isn’t my taste, but this Christmastide I savored an interesting, action-filled novel about the Three Kings.

Probably is best termed historical fiction with leanings toward sci-fi, “Epiphany: The Untold Epic Journey of the Magi” is a terrific read. The sci-fi flavor offers a new take on the old story of the wise men who followed a star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem.

I normally don’t go for stuff about humans with super powers — too much deus-ex-machina for me. But author Paul Harrington doesn’t allow the magic to get in the way of his interesting tale of Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar and all they ran into as the star led them to the place when they could pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews.

Harrington’s fictionalized version of the travels of the Magi is just that — fiction. Matthew’s Gospel reveals only that the Magi came from the east. But Harrington holds fairly close to the basic storyline in the gospel, and the creativity he adds to the scriptural text does nothing to take away from the birth of Christ and the events the gospel writer saved for posterity.

Put a tickler on your calendar to pick it up next Advent when you’re once again setting up your Nativity Season and take the journey to Jesus with some wise men. — bz

(“Epiphany: The Untold Epic Journey of the Magi” is available at http://www.epiphany-site.com and http://www.Amazon.com)

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