It's time to take it back.
Each year around Christmastime we post a slightly
updated version of the following personal Christmas
reflection which offers an alternate custom to the
celebration of the great Feast. I wrote it some years
ago, and every year since I receive email from new
visitors to this site gently chastising The Remnant for
not posting it earlier in Advent so as to allow time for
families to adopt as their own some of the customs
Over the years many Catholic families have adopted the
old Christ Child tradition, believing it to be a
beautiful means of restoring the true meaning of
Christmas while strengthening Catholic identity in
children. And it can be gradually implemented, of
Santa Claus (St. Nicholas), for example, can still be invited to visit
the Catholic home on Christmas morning but in a
dramatically reduced capacity, perhaps leaving a few
stocking stuffers above the mantle and moving on.
As it was in Catholic homes
throughout Christendom, Christmas must become all
about the Christ Child once again.
And a truly merry Christmas remains forever predicated
on careful observance of Advent. No Christmas trees, no
lights, no good things to eat until December 25, when
the time of waiting comes to an end and all of
Christendom rejoices at an event so magnificent even a
two-year-old gets it. Christ is to be born—and the
world, the flesh and the Devil will never change that
reality, no matter how hard they try.
Happy Holidays? Yeah, right! It's
time to take Christmas back, and here's one suggestion for
how to do it, based on traditions as old as Christendom
This will be the tenth Christmas since my father passed
away. I suppose everyone misses deceased family members
most this time of year; I know I do. My father loved
Christmas! I sometimes wonder, in fact, what impact his
larger-than-life celebrations of the birth of Christ had
on the faith of his nine children, each of whom
continues to practice the old Faith to this day. He
believed that, just as Advent—the “mini-Lent”—was to be
kept well, with plenty of spiritual and corporal works
of mercy, so too should Christmas be fêted with all the
merrymaking and gusto a Catholic family can muster
He knew that children are not born theologians who can
grasp the intricacies of the great mysteries of Faith at
an early age. The Faith needed to be lovingly spoon-fed
to them, and so the childlike customs of Christmas were
for him tailor-made to instill love for the Faith before
children were old enough to begin to understand it.
What a shame it is, then, to see well-meaning
traditional Catholic parents discarding those customs
altogether in a misguided effort to counter the
commercialization of Christmas. No gift giving, no merry
making, no feasting on Christmas. Alas, the baby is
being thrown out with the bathwater.
In a dreary world where pessimism and cynicism—rather
than righteousness and peace—have kissed each other, we
must guard against robbing our children of the wonder
and joy of Christmas— the seedbed for a child’s Faith.
Our poor children may live long enough to see Christmas
outlawed altogether in our brave new world, even as it
was once before by the Pilgrims whose Thanksgiving
trumped the “popish” feast of Christmas. Anti-Catholics
have long sought to destroy our great Feasts, which is
why Easter Bunnies dominate Easter, Santa Claus pushed
Christ out of Christmas, chocolate and romance bounced
St. Valentine from February 14th, and everyone gets
trashed on green beer on St.
Patrick’s Day—plastic hats on drunks having evidently eclipsed the
memory of the
mitered saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland.
Still, we must be certain that in our eagerness to
oppose the commercialization of our feasts we don’t
become Puritanical agents working towards the same
diabolical end. What we must do is simply reclaim what
ours by re-catholicizing our own feasts.
So, many Catholics oppose the custom of Santa Claus, for
example—that somewhat off-putting caricature of the
great St. Nicholas. Admittedly, the red suit and the stocking cap
do bare strikingly
slim resemblance to the 4th century bishop of Myra; and
the flying sleigh and reindeer are more reminiscent of
pagan myth than Christian Truth. But, still, few have
provide a good alternative to the Jolly Old Elf or to
find a way of bringing St. Nicholas back to his place of
So I’d like to offer one now by reintroducing readers to
one of the old Catholic Christmas customs that the
Germans called Christkind, or Christ Child, and
that American children of European immigrants would
call, simply, the Baby Jesus. My father handed this
custom down to his children, after having received it
from his father-- an immigrant from the old country. And
I am now handing it down to my children.
to convey to you how it all works will take the form of
a simple reminiscence.
It all began in Advent, when my seven sisters and
brother were expected to prepare for the coming of
Christkind (pronounced Kris-Kint). Under Mother’s
watchful eye, we’d fashion a small, makeshift manger
that would remain unoccupied until Christmas Day. As
Advent progressed, good deeds were encouraged on a daily
basis; and each time it was determined that a good deed
had been done, one piece of straw was placed in the
empty manger—the idea being that Advent was a time to
prepare a bed on which the Baby Jesus could sleep when
He arrived. Under the rules of the old custom, the
practice of virtue was an essential part of a child’s
preparation for Christmas.
Each night after supper, the lights would be turned down
while Advent Wreath candles were lit. The haunting
strains of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel would be
lifted (somewhat awkwardly, I suppose) on the voices of
children. Shadows and flickering flames played on faces
across the dining room table, making it easy for a child
to imagine that he sat with the Israelites of old
waiting for the Messiah to come.
As the four weeks passed seemingly as slowly as those
four thousand years, one question became constant: “Have
my sacrifices been enough to please Christkind?”
And thus the weeks of Advent were spent in preparation
and waiting...as they should be.
Gradually, the empty manger would fill with straw as the
stage was set for a celestial Visitor.
On the evening of December 23rd, my father would hang a
curtain over the doorway of our living room, which, if
that straw was piled high enough, was to be transformed
into the “Christmas room” by the Baby Jesus Himself in
the middle of the night.
Then, it was off to sleep.
The Christmas Eve mornings I remember so well are marked
by a combination of joy and wonder. Children still in
their “jammies” could scarcely whisper the words to a
curiously exhausted mother: “Did He come?”
All day long, we weren’t allowed to go near the curtain,
lest one of us should succumb to the temptation to
“peek”, which would be to risk the instant disappearance
of whatever Christkind may have brought. A
lifetime of self-discipline was taught between dawn and
dusk on Christmas Eve—the very last day of waiting.
After a day of chores, naps, and helping with the house
cleaning, the anticipated hour of 7 o’clock would
The children would gather in the back room and sing
Christmas carols in candlelight as our mother would read
aloud the story that always began the same way: “And it
came to pass in those days that there went out a decree
from Caesar Augustus…” We listened as Father disappeared
into the “Christmas room” to take down the curtain and
see to the final arrangements for the holy ritual. Only
he was worthy to “take over” for Christkind.
The wait seemed interminable. Then, all at once, his
voice would call out from the darkness: “Come children,
Christkind has come.”
Breathlessly, we’d make our candle-lit procession from
the back room to the living room, singing the words of
the old German carol as we went: Ihr Kinderlein,
kommet, O kommet doch all! Zur Krippe her kommet in
We’d gather around my father, who now was kneeling in
front of the nativity scene. We’d do our best not to
crane our necks and look at the darkened Christmas tree
or whatever might be lying beneath it. Each child placed
a crib figure into the crèche, and the youngest put the
Baby in His manger.
Then, prayers were said, Christmas carols were quietly
sung, deceased family were remembered, and Father spoke
of the marvelous thing that had happened long ago “at
midnight in Bethlehem in piercing cold.”
I can still see the cast of Bethlehem bathed in a warm,
peaceful glow, seeming as real to me as if I were a
shepherd boy looking down from that hillside over
Bethlehem. I can hear my father and mother’s hushed
voices as they prayed and sang to the same royal Baby
that shepherds and angels had adored centuries ago. That
sacred moment was like a porthole in time, where
traveling back to the city of David just then seemed not
only possible to a child, but imminent.
Those long ago Christmas Eves remain vivid in my memory,
some thirty-five years later. And the gifts under the
tree? I don’t remember many of them. There was no
question what Christmas was about—we could feel it in
the depths of our souls; we could see it in the tears
that formed in our father’s eyes as he prayed aloud; we
could hear it in our mother’s voice as she sang softly—silent
night, holy night, all is calm.
Christmas was about the Baby, Mary, Joseph, shepherds,
angels and Bethlehem. It was something so powerful that
it could even cause our father’s voice to tremor in the
darkness as he explained Who the Baby is and what He
expects of us.
We knew that Christkind was real because our
father and mother were kneeling on the floor before the
manger… praying to Him.
Moments later, the magic of Christmas—the feast, the
Catholic family celebration—burst into the quiet
reality of the manger. The majestic tree was lit; there
was singing and dancing; bowls of nuts and candies,
specially delivered by the Baby Jesus Himself, seemed to
appear out of nowhere. And there, under the tree were
the gifts, the second-to-last phase of the ritual. He’d
come. He’d brought little rewards for Advent efforts.
The family was together, united in love for each other
and a Child King we cherished with all our hearts.
You must understand, my parents had no money. And yet,
somehow, Christmas came, year after year, and it was fit
for a King! That was part of the miracle.
But this was just the beginning. The toys and good
things to eat were set aside to be enjoyed on each and
every one of the twelve days of Christmas. Now, the soul
of Christmas Eve was about to be celebrated.
Coats and hats, mittens and scarves were the next order
of business. The old station wagon groaned in the frosty
night air as Father turned the key in the ignition. Nine
children were loaded up, and, moments later, the little
ones peered through frosted glass in the hopes of
catching a glimpse of Bethlehem’s star on the way to
It would be Christmas Day before this night would draw
to a peaceful close in a dimly-lit church filled with
the scent of pine needles and candle wax and incense.
Not long before the first light of Christmas Day glowed
in the East, sleepy children would crawl into chilly
beds as content as a child can be this side of Heaven’s
gate. And, why not! Christ is born!
And So It Continues…
The years have passed by so quickly since those
childhood days that I can scarcely believe that the
seven little ones who process into my living room each
Christmas Eve are my own, that my beloved father is no
longer with us, and that the rest of us have aged more
than we care to admit. But, strangely enough, the Baby
Jesus remains unchanged and unchanging. Ever young, ever
new, He’s the same now as He was then. My children’s
imaginations are as captivated by Him now as mine then.
Life is moving on, but somehow Christmas is the one
thing that stays the same.
Needless to say, His midnight visit on Christmas Eve is
the highpoint of the year for my children. Why? Because,
as I see it, this old European Christmas custom is
profoundly Catholic. There is nothing plastic-banana or
phony-baloney about it! Children are neither taught to
equate Christmas with wicked consumerism or Godless
Puritanism. They are taught the mystery of the birth of
Christ and the importance of celebrating the Feast.
Advent is a most essential part of the process, even as
Midnight Mass is its climax.
Even now, my own children—walking in the footsteps of
their little Catholic counterparts from the old
world—are trading daily acts of kindness and virtue for
little pieces of straw that are lovingly tucked away
into an empty manger. For one night soon the Child of
Bethlehem will transform their home and their souls into
a place fit for a King. For a few miraculous moments,
life will stand perfectly still and the line between the
physical world and the spiritual one will become
And President Barrack Obama? Who’s he!
creates in children an indissoluble bond between the joy
of Christmas—which celebrates His birth—and the Catholic
Faith itself which is His greatest gift. In real
Christmas magic the two become one, and the proper
celebration of the Holy Day plants seeds of Faith in the
little garden of children’s souls even as they shout for
As they grow older, their faith in Christkind
transforms itself naturally into belief in the Real
Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament—the true
meaning of Christmas.
There is no deceit in the Christkind custom, for,
indeed, there is no deceit in the Christkind. He
does come down to earth on Christmas Eve; His providence
provides everything we need in this life; and He exists
just as surely as we do. He was born, He has a mother
whom we all know and love, and He comes to us often at
Mass—Christ’s Mass. He comes to us at Christmas.
Has fallen man ever had more reason for Feast or
feasting than this? Advent is here already. Christ is
Viva Cristo Rey!