Like Advent traditions, Christmas customs can be easily explained to children, for example, the Christmas crib: St. Francis of Assisi popularized the crèche scene. Mistletoe was a sacred plant of the Druids and symbolized good luck and happiness. The holly branch symbolizes Mary’s heart filled with a flaming love for God.
The origin of the Christmas tree combines two medieval religious symbols: the Paradise Tree and the Christmas Light. Christ as the Christmas light finds expression in a candle that is placed in the window to symbolize Christ the Light of the world.
The home of the poinsettia is in Central America. It resembles the star of Bethlehem. In Mexico, it is called the “Flower of the Night.” Laurel wreaths are a custom of ancient Rome and symbolize a friendly greeting, victory, and joy of a celebration. The Christmas pageant helps children to re-enact the first Christmas and to pay homage to the Infant King.
Origin of the Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
We are all familiar with the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which appeared in England in the eighteenth century, a time when Catholic persecution was still intense. Not until 1829, with the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act, was Catholic persecution in England officially ended. The carol has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to Catholics of the time. Each element in the carol has a code word for a Catholic religious tenet which the children could remember.
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.” The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves.” Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments. The fun of the song is to repeat the previous number and its lyrics–all in one deep breath!
“On the third of day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens.” Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four calling birds.” The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five golden rings.” The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
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“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying.” The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming.” Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge piety, and fear of the Lord.
“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking.” The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing.” Nine ladies dancing were the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords a-leaping.” The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping.” The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.