The season of Advent is rich with rituals and traditions: prayers like the O Antiphons and St. Andrew Christmas Novena; Advent wreaths; nativities; Lessons and Carols; the feasts of St. Nicolas, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Lucia. Each of these point us to our Bethlehem, stretching us in desire and anticipation for the Father’s most generous gift to us: his own, beloved son.
But what about the Christmas season? Suddenly, after four weeks of preparation and deeper silence, you’ve arrived at the humble stable where our Savior was born, perhaps with a sense that there’s less time or opportunity to celebrate liturgically. It’s true the Christmas season might bring with it different social obligations than the days prior--matters like travel and extended visits with family and friends--yet it’s still possible to truly enter into Jesus’ birth by creating new spiritual traditions of your own. Here, five suggestions for continuing to cultivate prayer, reverence, and wonder with your fiancé or husband after the fourth purple candle is lit:
Go to Mass, as a couple, as often as possible.
If the two of you have time off from work or school, take advantage of daily Mass. At Christmas, the reality of the Incarnation--of our salvation come down to us in the flesh--rings out. Meditating on the living Jesus in the Eucharist, in light of his coming to us as a tiny child, is profoundly beautiful. May we receive him, may we come to adore him, in full. Even if you’re staying with faraway family or friends as guests or have a packed social calendar, carving out an hour to attend Mass together, maybe with time for a quick coffee date after, is a relatively small investment of your time that pays dividends in graces received.
Host a Christmas morning party…
...in the middle of the night. If you’re attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, invite friends from your parish or community to celebrate with you after. It can be as simple as a potluck, caroling and games or as involved as a more formal, elaborate meal. One of my fondest memories of growing up is the block party my parents and neighbors would hold each year on the night of Christmas Eve, chatting in the street around a fire pit while sharing Christmas cookies, wine, and simple hors d'oeuvres.
Delve into the gift of self.
St. John Paul II wrote, “The human body includes right from the beginning…the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” If you’ve never taken in this great saint’s Theology of the Body, a series of weekly audiences intended to illuminate our identities as man and woman within the Father’s divine plan for creation and salvation, the Christmas season is the perfect time for an introduction. The Theology of the Body explains the ancient, constant truth of God’s immense love of lavishing gifts on us, his created and embodied children--made out of love, for love, in his own image--in the language of spousal imagery and the hope of our resurrection and eternal life. After all, it’s through the body that Christ is born to the world; through the body that he lays down his life; through the body that we receive his real presence still, the source and summit of our faith.
Create a ritual to celebrate the Christmas Octave.
The Octave of Christmas, as its name suggests, is the first eight days of the season, beginning on Christmas Day and concluding with the Nativity of the Lord. Liturgically, each day of the octave is celebrated as a solemnity, as if each day is equal in magnitude and joy as December 25.
To acknowledge and feast in these eight days, consider employing a special ritual with your beloved for each day or night of the Octave. You might exchange daily love letters or prayer intentions, Mass or Adoration, and enjoying a treat together--samplers of coffee, spirits, or chocolate are widely available, at every price point, around this time of year.
It’s a great gift to us that seasons within the Church are so distinctive, with particular practices for all her various feasts and celebrations. As the Feast of the Epiphany, the conclusion of the Christmas season approaches, take time to consider ways you might celebrate as a couple, such as King Cake or the Chalking of the Doors.
The first year we were married, my husband and I drove four hours to stay our families for the holidays, the trunk of our shared car packed with half-ready gifts. We stayed up long past midnight on Christmas Eve, drinking coffee and wrapping presents. He hoped, he told me, that every Christmas to come would be marked with a similar giddiness borne of anticipation, exhaustion, and a shared life. My heart beats faster when I stop to recognize that in the years since, that’s been more than true.
We love walking with you in your vocation and your own pilgrimage to the Christ Child, and would love to hear the Christmas rituals you’re developing in your own relationship and home!