Listen to God's voice at the foot of the crucifix." ~St. Gaspar del Bufaro~

Catholic 12 Days Of Christmas

Baby Jesus is in the manger, gifts are opened and the house is finally cleaned up but "Hallelujah", Christmas isn't over!  We don't touch our decorations until after the 12th day of Christmas, the Epiphany.  I just love the 12 days of the Christmas Season so I can finally breathe a little easier and enjoy.  The schedule is still a little lighter, a long with money in the bank,  so there's certainly more  time around the house to listen to Christmas music, reflect on our Advent journeys and focus a little more on the Christmas story.   

It is said that the Twelve Days of Christmas song lyrics were written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England (1558 until 1829).  One article I found suggests that the song was written by English Jesuits during the 16th century.
You can also read more about the meaning behind the song at Catholic Culture and Our Sunday Visitor.

I just love the symbolism and meaning to share with my children as we enjoy the
12 Days of Christmas this week.
We are reading this book with beautiful illustrations from the traditional song.
Then we are comparing the book and traditional song with the real meaning that I have compiled below here from what I have read and added my own images.
The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a Catechism Song

Gift Interpretation:
The "12 Days of Christmas" song gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."
December 25: A Partridge in a pear tree …….. Jesus.
December 26: Two Turtle Doves …….. The Old and New Testaments.
December 27: Three French Hens ……. The three theological virtues – faith, hope and charity.

December 28: Four Calling Birds ……. The four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists:
 ~Matthew, Mark, Luke and John~
December 29: Five Gold Rings …… The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, giving the history of man's fall from grace.
December 30: Six Geese a-Laying …. The six days of Creation.
December 31: Seven Swans a-Swimming ….. Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (piety, fortitude, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fear of the Lord, wisdom). Also it can help us remember the seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.

January 1: Eight Maids a-Milking …… The Eight Beatitudes – a set of eight blessings contained in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Four beatitudes also appear in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke, where they are contrasted with four woes.

January 2: Nine Ladies Dancing ……. Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-31.

January 3: Ten Lords a-Leaping…… The Ten Commandments.

January 4: Eleven Pipers Piping….. The eleven faithful Apostles.
January 5: Twelve Drummers Drumming …… The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed.
From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440. The border shows the legend of the composition of the Apostles' Creed, according to which the Twelve, before dispersing thoughout the world to preach the Gospel, composed the Creed as a sure rule of the Faith, each of them contributing one of the twelve articles. In the center is depicted the legend of the Ten Thousand Martyrs, represented here symbolically by only ten figures.
"Regardless of whether this tale is made up of both fact and fiction, hopefully it will be accepted in the spirit it was written. As an encouragement to people to keep their faith alive, when it is easy, and when any outward expressions of their faith could mean their life. Today there are still people living under similar conditions, may this tale give them courage, and determination to use any creative means at their disposal to keep their faith alive."
~Fr. Hal Stockert~

(I know this is kind of a goofy picture but I guess we're just dorks that way:)

On the 12 days of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A plan for our family!
My husband and I sat down together this year to make a family plan for celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. (We decided to go beyond the Octave, or eight days, of Christmas and "go for the gusto"...all 12 "plus some" to include the Epiphany proper:)  Either way, it was fun to share our goals to keep our Catholic faith burning and churning through the rhythm of the liturgical wheel, into the New Year. I thought we'd share what we have planned so far!  [Please note...This year,(2011) the Christmas season "officially" lasts 16 days plus an evening.  If you want to get the low-down, The National Catholic Register has a great article to explain the count!]
We incorporated family reflection or discussion topics with ways to respond and an evening prayer as we light our white Christ candle in the center of our Advent wreath.
DAY 1: (December 25th)
It's Christmas Day~Rejoice!
Read and reflect upon God as love coming as a baby, a Messiah, a promise to His people. God loves us so much that he wants us to be happy with Him forever; knowing, loving and serving Him.
Respond: We express our charity by placing baby Jesus in the manger, exchanging gifts, and celebrating Christ's birth.
"When are we most happy? When we do that for which we are made"~Archbishop Fulton Sheen~
Pray: We pray for all of our family and friends to know God's love.

DAY 2: (December 26th)
It's the Feast of St. Stephen, the church's first martyr.
Read and reflect  (Acts 6 and 7) on St. Stephen.  Being one of the church's first deacons, ordained by Jesus himself, Stephen was given the task of helping care for the poor.  It was fun to discuss the story of King Winceslas and his connection to the Feast of St. Stephen and the Christmas Carol:)
~Resources for our reading and prayer~
Respond: As we clean spaces and make room from gifts and new toys received, spend time this day gathering toys and clothes for a local shelter. We gathered a loot and still working on more to take to our local shelter on Thursday!
Pray for those who are persecuted in other parts of the world, for those physically and spiritually poor, and for those who care for them.
DAY 3: (December 27th)
Feast of John the Apostle & Evangelist
Read and reflect on St. John through the Gospel and letters attributed to him.  The more we read the Bible, the more it becomes a part of our way of thinking and living.  St. John's message is the central them of the teachings of Christ: "Love one another."
Respond:  As an act of love, gather up all of our Christmas cards and place them in a basket. Choose one at random each evening to read at dinnertime. Explain how we know them and how they have blessed our lives.  This feast day is also a day of reconciliation.  In 1983, it was the day that Pope John Paul II reconciled with the man who tried to assassinate him.  Resolve to take an opportunity during these Christmas days to reach out to an estranged family member or friend, even if it's just sending an e-mail.  If there is no reconciliations to be made there are always reconnections to strive for!  I have a list of people who I need to reconnect with:)
Pray for all of those in our basket...One of the children thought of putting together a litany prayer with all of the names of people who sent us Christmas cards...great idea!  We'll see how it goes:) We will also pray for the intercession of St. John for reconciliations and forgiveness. 
"Bridge building is costly, as the Cross demonstrates, but the people stranded on both banks are all freed by the bridge."-Magnificat 10/6-

DAY 4: (December 28th)
Feast of the Holy Innocents
Read and reflect upon the Holy Innocents (Gospel of Matthew and Saints for Young Readers) when King Herod sent his soldiers to kill all male babies in Bethlehem under the age of two, in the hopes of killing the Messiah among them.  These little children are honored today by the Church as martyrs and are called the Holy Innocents.
Good Resource: Word on Fire
Respond: Make Baby Jesus Rolls!  I found this cute idea over at Catholic Missionary Family.
Pray for those who abuse and neglect children.  We can also ask the Holy Innocents to intercede our prayers for the protection of all children from harm and to change the hearts of those who promote abortion.
~We pray this list may be helpful to others...More days to come!~
Ideas adapted from this great article at U.S. Catholic

Daily Prayer for Christmastime
Lord Jesus, God from God,
Guide my every thought today.
Heaven and earth, rejoice!
Lord Jesus, my Redeemer,
Let my lips speak only your word.
Heaven and earth, rejoice!
Lord Jesus, my King,
Fill my deeds today with your love.
Heaven and earth, rejoice!

Day 5: (December 29)
Feast of St. Thomas Becket
Theme: The Nativity of the Lord

Reflect and Read the Nativity of the Lord, as a family, from the Gospels (Matthew 1 and 2 or Luke 1 and 2)  We will be following a long with the beautifully illustrated picture book, The Nativity.  The focus of our discussion will be the angels and shepherds.  The angels first proclaimed the Good News and the shepherds made haste, or rushed in from the hills, to see God's promise fulfilled with the birth of the Messiah.  
Discussion questions:  How can we be heralds of the Gospel?; Have we seen God's glory in our own lives?; In what ways can we rejoice with the angels: "Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!"~Psalm 96~  How can we move closer to the Lord, keeping the shepherds in mind: "The shepherds went in haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in the manger."~Luke 2:16~
Respond:  Make an angel craft AND a Gingerbread Manger.  We used this Usborne book as our guide for this hand print angel art.
Angel Baby in action...
I am not a "messy Mom" so I always have to relinquish my desire to keep things neat and clean.  This is a struggle for me and something I always have to work at!
The end results are usually worth it when hands and faces (and sometimes hair) are all cleaned up!
(Especially when art project turn out so cute:)

The older kids worked on this Gingerbread Manger with Dad:) Yep, I admit we bought the 'cheater' supplies so it was pretty effortless.  
The Claydough Nativity set can be found online here. By the way, mine came in a nice plastic encasement for storage and protection...That makes the price a little more bearable.  Plus, they sure are cute!
As I've mentioned before, Dad is pretty good at this stuff:)  He wanted to create a humble and simple manger, without any gumdrops on the roof.  You know what that means? More candies from the kit for the kids to eat right away:)
As you can see, they used Nutella for the frosting on the Gingerbread Manger....YUM.  "Somebody" got a fun sampling of the Nutella:)
We browned some coconut for the manger hay and this is the finished project, mostly edible! (Except for the claydough figures of course)

Pray:  Stations of the Manger that were created last year.
Today we also decorated our white Christ candle that we light each night during the Christmas season.  It was simple to add some Nativity stickers and glitter.  
Our parish bulletin had a nightly Christmas table blessing that I Mod Podged to the back of the candle for easy prayer access!

Just in case you are wondering if we are some "holy family", think again!  I always like to point out that we are not perfect by any means.  Striving for holiness is something we take to heart but we certainly have a long journey ahead with routine struggles:) For example, we no sooner get done with our pleasant angel discussion tonight and our 3 year old Angel Baby yells out from her bedroom: "MOM!  My jammie drawer is all jacked up!"  Well, it certainly wasn't a 'sweet as an angel' exclamation but I got a good chuckle anyway ...Hmmm, wonder where she heard that one?  Time for nightly Guardian Angel prayers! 

**Dad and 2 older boys are serving dinner at a local homeless shelter with our Parish Youth Group.  Praying this makes up for a few of our imperfections*wink*
Day 6: December 30th
Feast of the Holy Family
Reflect upon Jesus living a real human life with a Mother and Father chosen by God.  Discuss how our parents were chosen by God to raise and care for us.  How can we follow the example of Jesus as a child?  How can we follow the example of St. Mary and St. Joseph as parents?
Read the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians 3:12-21.  Discuss how we can treat eachother as St. Paul writes to the Colossians.
Respond: Do something together as a family today, even if it's just sitting down for a meal.  Today our Dad will be gone to work so the rest of us plan on attending daily Mass and getting donuts afterwards.  Didn't the Holy Family eat donuts?  OK, maybe not...But it's still a real treat for us:)
Three of our children served daily Mass for the Feast of the Holy Family. Army Dude helped Father T. give us all a good dousing of Holy Water for a blessing...Sure beats a shower!

  Our activity will be picking the name of a family member from a hat.  We will spend a little time writing about the great qualities of that person and why we love them.  The letters will be read in the evening around dinner or prayer.  Dad can e-mail us his letter from work!

Pray for all families, including those from our Christmas cards started earlier in the week.
"God and Father of all, you gave us the Holy Family to serve as an example of love and obedience.  Grant to all people, in family homes or alone, the grace to hold in honor the bonds of love and respect which bind the human race chosen for adoption as your children, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
~Magnificat Morning Prayer~

Christmas Devotion to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
From the heavenly household on high
Look upon all earthly households today,
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
You were not welcome in Bethlehem;
Embrace those rejected by the world.
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
You were sheltered in a stable;
Protect those who have no home.
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
You heard the angels' song;
Sing to us of heaven's joy.
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
You faithfully observed the divine law;
Show us how to do the will of God.
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
Protected and guided by St. Joseph,
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
Cared for, looked after by Holy Mary,
Pray for us!
Holy Family,
Fulfilled by the Presence of Christ,
Pray for us!
Be our strength in life,
Be our hope in the hour of death.
Pray for us. Amen.

The family is a school which enables men and women to grow to the full measure of their humanity... 
" O God, who in the Holy Family left us a perfect model of family life lived in faith and obedience to your will, help us to be examples of faith and love for your commandments."~Pope Benedict XVI~

Day 7:  (December 31)
Feast of St. Sylvester I
New Year's Eve
Read and Reflect upon John 3:16 and St. Sylvester. It's the last day of the year so we will pause to be thankful for God's greatest gift of salvation, through the birth and death of His only Son.  We are also grateful for personal blessings received throughout the year, including the challenges that are inevitable gifts.  Discussion:  What are we most grateful for this year?  What difficult things have we experienced that have helped us grow closer to God?
Respond:  It is a New Year's Eve tradition in our family that we rotate through our Parish 24 hour Adoration.  It is the perfect way to pause and return thanks to God as we express our love to Him, ringing in a new calendar year.  
Prayer: For the adults and older children, there are beautiful meditations and prayers in the Magnificat that are perfect for the Adoration Vigil, concluding with this prayer: (Note: Magnificat has a wonderful Iphone/Smartphone App...I believe it's still free for a trial period:)  
"I waited, I waited for the Lord, and he stooped down to me...He put a new song into my mouth."~Psalm 40:2,4~
Happy New Year!
I also thought I'd share 3 New Years articles that I enjoyed from other places:
National Catholic Register "Pope Gives Thanks to God"

Day 8: (January 1~Octave Day of Christmas)
Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God
Read and Reflect: upon Mary as the Mother of God.  Read Luke 1:38 when Mary proclaimed her "Yes" to God: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.  Discussion:  In what ways can we renew our own "Yes" to God as we enter this New Year?  In what ways can we renew our faith? 
 How can we have the faith of a little child?
"Mommy, last night I dreamed about Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus and ALL the angels..."
My response:  "Wow, Mommy would love to have a dream like that!"

Respond: Last year we made Blessed Mother of God Brownies.  My wheels are still turning on this one:)  
Pray the Rosary as a family and the Magnificat prayer.

"In thanksgiving for the time that has been,
in hope for the time that is to come,
Let us pray through the intercession of Mary,
the Mother of God:
We praise you, O Lord, and we bless you."

Day 9 (January 2):
Feast of St. Basil the Great & St. Gregory Nazianzen

Read and Reflect upon the Saints for today who had a well-known and admirable friendship.  Discuss qualities that make a good friend.  How can we be a good friend to others?
 How can we be a good friend to our siblings and those in our own home???

Respond by reaching out to a friend.  Make a point to let your friends know how much they mean to you.  A tangible action can be made by writing Christmas Thank You Notes:)

Pray the 2nd Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary, The Visitation.  Meditate on Mary's gift of charity to her cousin Elizabeth and offer up your friends and all of their intentions.

Day 10 (January 3):
The Most Holy Name of Jesus

Read and Reflect on the Holy Name of Jesus.  We will be using this booklet but there are also many online resources, some good ones listed over at Joyfilled Family.

Respond:  with a craft or project to honor the name of Jesus.  We found this neat idea over at Bible Story Printables, where you can print colored or black and white Names of Jesus Ornaments to hang or place in a binder.
They have even included scripture versus to find all of the names of Jesus in the Bible!  We are thinking about making a fireplace garland to hang through the Presentation of the Lord on February 2 and work on looking up each name in the Bible over the next few weeks!  I'm looking forward to this:)

*Since January is also dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, we will also work on memorizing this scripture: 
"At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."~Phil 2:10-11~

Last year we made a Holy Name of Jesus plaque for our liturgical door wreath and this yummy breakfast snack:)  This yummy pizza was also a lunchtime hit!

~A clean school room in honor of Mother Seton~
Day 11 (January 4)
Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Read and Reflect on the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  She is an important saint for all Americans being the first American-born canonized saint.  After the death of her husband, she continued to raise their 5 children and became a nun while doing it!  Numb with grief, she marched on to found many Catholic schools, orphanages and the American Sisters of Charity.  She holds a special place in my heart as the Patron Saint of Widows and those who have lost children. (She later lost 2 children to tuberculosis) Read the Gospel (John 1:35-42) and reflect on following Jesus.

Reflection: Would we be ready to change our plans for Jesus?  Would we drop what we are doing as readily as both the apostle Andrew, Simon and even Mother Seton?  I am in awe of this when I reflect on my own widowhood and how paralyzed I was at the time.  I pray that I will have the strength and grace to handle future trials with deeper trust and hope in the Lord.

Respond:  In preparation for the Epiphany and the arrival of the Magi to honor Jesus, we are cleaning house!  (Not taking down our decorations quite yet, but cleaning and organizing the clutter:)  As a special honor to Mother Seton, we hit our very MESSY school room this week!

Here are the "before" photos...

One VERY cluttered desk!

After a full day of work, we are tidy again and ready to hit the books!

Our pre-schooler wanted to start back "to work" today!  Every child is different but this one LOVES her work books.
(AND she was the only one with an eager spirit)
The rest of us will start back to school on Tuesday.

Pray Psalm 23, known to be Mother Seton's favorite prayer, and/OR this prayer:
Prayer by Mother Seton
O Father, the first rule of our dear Saviour's life 
was to do Your Will. 
Let His Will of the present moment 
be the first rule of our daily life and work, 
with no other desire 
but for its most full and complete accomplishment. 
Help us to follow it faithfully, 
so that doing what You wish 
we will be pleasing to You.

Day 12 (January 5th)
Last of the 12 days of Christmas
Feast of St. John Neumann

Read and Reflect on the life of St. John Neumann who came as a missionary to 
America. He ministered to American Catholics when there was an extreme shortage. 
(Only 36 priests to serve over 200,000 Catholics) Discuss how it must have felt for 
John to be uncomfortable as he lived in poverty to serve the poor...How can we get
"uncomfortable" to serve those that Jesus calls us to? In what ways can we stretch 
ourselves from our comfort zone?

What have we learned the most from these 12 days of 

Respond:  We will be planning for our Epiphany Royal Celebration to celebrate on Sunday.  

It will take a bit of organizing to gather what we need... We will pretty much 
following the same menu and plan as last year. Our Firefighter Dad will be on duty
through the weekend, until then, so we will look forward to him coming home:)

Prayer for the Epiphany of the Lord:
Dear Jesus, as You led the Three Kings to You by the light of a star, 
Please draw us ever closer to You by the light of Faith. 
Help us to desire You as ardently as they did. 
Give us the grace to overcome all the obstacles that keep us far from You. 
May we, like them, have something to give You when we appear before You. 
Mary, Our Mother, help us to know Your Son. 

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