Catholic Activity: O Antiphon Days
Reviving the old monastic custom of providing special treats on each day before Christmas is another way to celebrate the "O Antiphons" in the family atmosphere. These begin on December 17.
December days pass by before we realize it. There is a smell of sweet wood smoke in the air because our fireplace is always glowing. White hoar frost hangs upon the trees as the fog rises from the river. Even the sheep have a muffled cry as they huddle in their thatched sheepfold.
By the seventeenth of December, both the Church and the children become increasingly impatient for Christmas. This holy impatience has found expression in the beautiful antiphons which call Christ to come, and to come quickly. It is very natural for children to use the "O Antiphons" for their daily prayer at this time. We say them at the evening meal when the Advent wreath is lighted.
Another old custom which we revived is giving family treats. In the monasteries long years ago, the different monks furnished extra treats on these days before Christ's birthday. The gardener gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits on December 19 when he called on Christ: "O Root of Jesse, come to deliver us and tarry not." The cellarer unlocked the best wine or his treat as he called: "Oh Key of David, come, and come quickly." Finally, on December 23, the abbot gave his extra gift to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot's "O day."
Each one in our family keeps his gift a deep, dark secret until supper time. We begin with the smallest child. Her treat may be only a graham cracker for dessert. Freddie cracked and picked some black walnuts for us. All the pounding didn't give it away because little boys are so often pounding. Ann made some Advent wreath cookies and used up all the cinnamon drops for decoration — on the cookies, her face and her fingers. Mary made a big casserole of baked beans and we couldn't quite decide whether she was treating herself or the family. Finally, it was mothers turn, and then, at last, father's turn to produce something really outstanding. At dessert time father rose from the table without a word, put on his hat and coat without a smile and left us sitting at the table with our mouths open in amazement. After five minutes which seemed like hours, he stamped back into the house — with a big bowl of snow ice cream. The squeals of delight would have pleased an abbot.
Activity Source: Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310, 1949, 1999