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Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Dec 23, 2015

As I finalize the preparations for Christmas, my thoughts go back to Christmases past, both from my childhood and my own family. Through all the years at Grandma's house, or recovering from surgeries, there are two traditions for our children that have stayed constant, even if was a pared-down, simplified Christmas. These are simple yet very visible and tangible ways to reinforce that Christmas is the day of Christ's birth.

Silent Night: A Babe in the Manger

Our Christmas tradition is to attend Christmas Eve Mass (not midnight yet) then eat dinner together. Gift opening happens first thing in the morning

Before we open the presents, we have a little ceremony where we place the Baby Jesus in the manger. We make this short and sweet, because the children are anxious to see their gifts. This is just a little way we put Christ first on His birthday. Even when we travel to Grandma's house, we bring the manger and straw and Baby Jesus. 

Some years we do this after Christmas Eve Mass, but usually it is so busy that we wait until Christmas morning. The youngest child holds the figure of the Infant Jesus, sometimes we have a candle for our older son to carry. We process into the living room singing "Silent Night." Some years we have read an abbreviated reading from the Roman Martyrology

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace,
JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,
was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and when nine months had passed since his conception,
was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,
and was made man:
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

or the passage from the Gospel of Luke:

And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

As the children get older, we can expand our prayer service, deciding whether it should be evening or morning prayer. We take our inspiration from Helen McLoughlin's Christmas Eve Ceremony.

Regardless of what else we do, two verses of Silent Night is a constant:

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin Mother and Child,
holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia.
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King.
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.

I've described our family manger and Baby Jesus before in last year's post, Straws in the Manger. We choose to use a small doll that the younger children could touch and carry and caress which brings the reality of a newborn baby closer to home. Ours is a vinyl doll, about 6-8″ old Vogue doll, which I found inexpensively on eBay a few years ago. The body isn't in perfect condition, but I knew it would be covered up by the clothes, a simple sac pattern, with gathered neck and sleeves, cut from white flannel.

I find that the little ceremony is short and sweet enough to not raise eyebrows from other relatives nor torture the children too long before opening their gifts. Of course, there are sideways glances at the goodies that await before them, but I still know that physically putting Jesus first will resonate with them later. 

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus

The second tradition is having a birthday cake for Baby Jesus after the Christmas dinner. For our family I make sure the cake is free of allergens so that my son with food allergies can enjoy it together with the whole family. The cake is simple, and the ceremony requires no script because it is familiar to every child: lighting candles and singing the "Happy Birthday" song to Baby Jesus.

There is such delight on the children's faces. This simple tradition speaks their language, and it is one that endures no matter if there is sickness or travel or other Christmas complications. Even a store-bought cake works, because for a child, it's not the cake, but the singing and blowing that is important. They recognize that Jesus is the Guest of Honor at the Christmas celebration.

Christmas Through the Eyes of the Child

Our children continue to grow, so these little traditions will evolve, but for now they are a joyful, simple tangible reminder of what we really celebrate at Christmas: the remembrance of the birth of Christ, the Son of God. 

May you all have a blessed Christmas.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Dec. 23, 2015 3:28 PM ET USA

    Thank you for all the posts on your family practices. they are an inspiration.