Origins of Christmas Traditions, Part Two

If we knew why, how and when our Christmas traditions began, we would gain a greater appreciation for the Christnas traditions that enrich our lives and teach our children.

by Shonnie Scarola
used with permission from 'Christian Customs, Folklore, Legends and Feast Days of the Christmas Season'

Origins of Christmas Traditions, Part Two

Saint Luke gave us the Christmas Story

Saint Luke is the evangelist, poet, artist, and cantor of the Holy Infancy of the Savior of Mankind. While Luke did not invent the Christmas narrative, he did give us the story of Christmas. For it was Luke and only Luke who searched out and found and preserved a birth story "too humble for prouder historians to touch." The Gospel of Luke has been described by Renan as the most beautiful book in the world, and the opening chapters the most beautiful of all.

The first two chapters of Luke give us the Christmas story. He is the only Evangelist to provide certain information about the conception, infancy, and childhood of Jesus. The events that Luke alone describes include the Annuciation, the announcement by the Archangle Gabriel that Mary had been chosen to be the mother of Christ. These words of Luke are the basis for the "Hail Mary" and the Angelus (Latin for angel). Luke also gives the only Gospel account of the Visitation. One of the most beautiful prayers, the Magnificat, appears in this passage. He is the only Evangelist to describe the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple according to Jewish custom.

These five events that Luke describes, the Annuciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple make up the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. It is widely held that one of the people Luke interviewed, perhaps at greater length than any other witness, may have been Mary!, the mother of Christ.

It was the "beloved physician" who could describe motherhood in all the holiness of our Christmas narratives. It was "he" who had given all his being to the service of others, and who was never to hold a child of his own in his arms, who set down the raptured words: "My soul doth magnify the Lord". Of all four Evangelists, it is Luke who best reveals Jesus the man, friend always of the poor and the downtrodden, comforting even the despairing thief crucified beside him.

Saint Luke was never married, and lived to be 84 years old. He is venerated as a martyr. According to tradition, he was a skilled artist, and several pictures of Our Blessed Lady, are attributed to his brush. His feast day is elebrated on Oct. 18.

The "O" Antiphons - A Christmas Novena

A novena is a nine days' prayer said as a preparation for some particular feast, or in order to obtain some special favor. The model and the first of all novenas was that made in the Cenacle, after the Ascension of our Lord, by the Apostles and Blessed Virgin in prepartion for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The earliest ecclesiastical novena of which there is record is the Christmas novena, which commemorates the nine months during which the Christ-child was carried in the womb of His Mother. This Novena begins on December 16, ending on Dec. 24.

December 16: "O Shepherd that rulest Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep, come to guide and comfort us." (Follow with Our Father, Hail Mary and the Glory Be);

December 17: "O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!" (Our Father, etc.)

December 18: "O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!" (Our Father, etc.)

December 19: "O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry." (Our Father, etc.)

December 20: "O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death." (Our Father,etc.)

December 21: "O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!" (Our Father, etc.)

December 22: "O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!" (Our Father, etc.)

December 23: "O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!" (Our Father, etc.)

December 24: "O Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, God of hosts, come, show Thy face, and we shall be saved." (Our Father, etc.

(My very old prayer book, dated 1925, states in small print under this Novena: "Indulgence of 300 days, each day....Pius VIII, July 9, 1830)

Saint Barbara and the Holy Helpers

There is a group of fourteen saints known as the "Fourteen Auxiliary Saints" (or Holy Helpers). During times of illness or death, mankind turns to God with prayers and petitions. This was especially true during the 14th century when a plague epidemic caused sudden and painful death throughout Europe. Because death occurred so suddenly, many people missed receiving the final sacraments. In fear, the living sought the intercession of saints known individually for helping with different symptoms of the plague. (Legend has the parents of Saint Nicholas dying from the plague). Thus devotion was established to a group known as the Holy Helpers.

One of these Holy Helpers is Saint Barbara, whose feast is celebrated on December 4. She is often depicted by her tower (in which she was kept prisoner) and the ciborium surmounted by the Sacred Host. She was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. An elaborate legend has her the daughter of a pagan who resisted her father's demands that she marry. She lived in a tower, and during the absence of her father, had three windows built into a bathhouse he was having constructed, to explain the Trinity.

Saint Barbara is invoked against lightning and sudden death. She is the patroness of miners, artillery men, builders, architects, and is also invoked by young unmarried girls to pick the right husband for them. On December 4, unmarried members of the household go into the orchard to cut twigs from the cherry trees, and place them into water. There is an old belief that whoever's cherry twig blossoms on Christmas Day can expect to marry in the following year!

For Christmas Traditions, Part One

For Christmas Traditions, Part Three