Catholic Activity: Christmas Eve Celebrations
This is how the Trapp family celebrated Christmas Eve in their family. These traditions can be incorporated into your own family celebrations.
On Christmas Eve in the morning the Church sang, "This day you shall know that the Lord is coming, and tomorrow you shall see His glory," and "Be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the King of glory shall enter in," and "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken."
These promises will be fulfilled during Midnight Mass.
It must be in order that the grown-ups may devote themselves with a quiet mind, unhindered by any commotion, to these great mysteries of the Holy Night, that in most Catholic countries the giving of gifts has been advanced to Christmas Eve. And so Christmas Eve is the day for our children. When the little ones get up in the morning, they find the door of the living room closed, and no one is allowed to go in, much less to peek through the keyhole; because the Christ Child will come and bring the Christmas tree and all the gifts. Only mother and father may assist Him.
Christmas Eve is Confession day. Once more we listen to the voice of St. John the Baptist, who admonishes us to prepare the way of the Lord and to do penance. When the Holy Child is entrusted into our hearts at midnight in our Christmas Communion, He shall find the place clean and swept and warm with love.
There is a certain hush all through the house. People are tip-toeing and whispering; at the same time there is an atmosphere of extreme activity. Mother and father spend the day behind the closed doors, "helping the Christ Child." In our house the large Christmas tree, twelve feet high, always a beautiful, thick balsam fir, requires a lot of time to be decorated "the old way." During the preceding nights, the older children have wrapped up candies in tinfoil or in tissue paper with fringed edges and have then tied red thread to candies as well as to hundreds of cookies. They are hung on the tree first. On the lower branches we hang also small apples and tangerines. Then come Christmas-tree decorations from our home studios — angels and stars worked in silver or brass, which will glitter later in the light of the candles. Yes, candles — because there will be six dozen small candleholders with real candles fastened to the branches. (On either side of the tree there will be a camouflaged bucket with water and a mop with a long handle "just in case." So far we have never needed it.) Next, dozens of packages of tinsel are emptied on twigs and branches; and the last touch is silver chains spinning in spider-web fashion, criss-crossed from branch to branch. The final effect is like a fairy tale.
Every so often the mother is interrupted by a discreet knock at the closed door and as she comes to open she can just hear steps running away. Everything and anything is a big secret today. As she opens the door just a little, she sees either a laundry basket or a cardboard box filled with many packages, each one with its name tag. So every one of the children comes with his gifts, for every one has prepared something for everybody else.
In a large household such as ours — when we are without guests we are eighteen — that means a great deal of arranging and rearranging until finally everything seems to be in its place. The last thing is to put the Christmas crib right next to the tree — the crib in the cold, dark cave where Mary and Joseph have arrived last night after evening prayers.
When, finally, everything in the "Christmas Room" (as the living room is called these days) is ready, the rest of the afternoon is devoted to tidying up the house. Not only the workshops and rooms, but also every drawer and closet is put in order. Then we all dress in our feast-day best. When it gets dusky outside, we meet in the chapel. (Before we had our chapel, we used to meet in a big bedroom upstairs.) Besides the vigil light, there is only the little flame of the Advent candle burning. We say the rosary, and afterwards we sing every one of our Advent hymns and at the end a song to the Blessed Mother. When we are in the middle of it, one can hear clearly the ringing of a little silver bell. A suppressed sigh can be heard coming from the little ones. This is their hour, because the bell announces that the Christ Child has come. Now we all go downstairs, and the double doors of the living room are wide open. A big Christmas tree stands there all ablaze in the light of many candles. Tables covered with white cloths are heaped with beautifully wrapped packages — gifts put there by love. First the youngest in the family steps forward and recites the Nativity story according to St. Luke. Then we sing for the first time "Silent Night" — three verses in German and in English. (For the first time at home, that is. We have sung it many times in our Christmas programs during the last weeks, always anticipating this moment when it would be sung at home.) And then everyone wishes everyone else, not a "Merry," but a "Blessed Christmas" "Gesegnete Weihnachten." After this the mother leads everybody to his or her Place and, for the next hour, the room is filled with happy exclamations.
Then the bell rings for an early supper. This, again, is traditional: carp with potato salad and, as dessert, Knörpeltorte.
Afterwards, there is still a little lingering in the Christmas room and then — also according to tradition — everybody lies down to catch a little sleep before Midnight Mass. Around eight o'clock the house is dark and silent.
Illustrations: Decorations for Christmas Tree: Top two rows are various cookie samples for the tree; third row, apple and tangerine; next six items can be cut from heavy tin foil or aluminum foil, which is available in various colors. Use knitting needle to scratch details into figures. Bottom right samples of candy wrappings. Use colored tissue paper, tie with colored string.
Activity Source: Around the Year with the Trapp Family by Maria Augusta Trapp, Pantheon Books Inc., New York, New York, 1955