I have compiled some quick tips, ideas, and links to bring joy and festivity into your domestic church. This is not a list of every single feast day in the Advent season, but will be a very good start.
Feast days that you will find in this post!
1. St. Nicholas
2. Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
3. Our Lady of Guadalupe
4. St. Lucy
Note: This is not a full list of resources on my blog for feast day celebrations, activities, and recipes in the month of December. Go browse around for saints and feast days that are special to you.
St. Nicholas (died c. 350) was the bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey, where he was famous for his generosity to the poor. The details of his life have not come down to us, but a host of legends have sprung up to fill the void, almost all of them emphasizing Nicholas’ goodness to people in need.
It is said that St. Nicholas rescued three innocent men who had been falsely accused of robbery and were about to be executed, and that he saved the crew of a ship that had lost its mast in a storm and was about to sink.
The most famous legend tells of a widowed merchant whose business went bankrupt. He and his three unmarried daughters survived by pawning their valuables, one by one. At last there was nothing left to sell and no hope that any man would ask for the hand of a young woman who was a pauper; the father feared that his daughters would be forced to become prostitutes.
St. Nicholas heard about the family’s desperate situation, and, so, after dark one evening he walked to the merchant’s house and tossed a bag of gold coins through an open window. Now the eldest daughter had enough for a respectable dowry. The next night, he went again to the merchant’s house and threw in a second bag of gold for the second daughter. Finally, on third night, the merchant and his daughters were waiting for him. As the third bag of coins sailed through the window, the grateful family flung open the door and rushed outside to thank their benefactor.
The story of the three bags of gold is the origin of giving gifts on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6). But how he became the patron saint of children comes from another legend, which is not for the squeamish.
Nicholas was traveling, and when night came he stopped at an inn where he asked for a room and a meal. The inn-keeper, proud of the opportunity to entertain a bishop, declared he would serve Nicholas a splendid dinner, including meat that had been delivered fresh that day. Bishop Nicholas did not say a word, but pushed the man aside and walked into the kitchen. There, in the middle of the room, stood a large wooden tub brimming with fresh meat. Nicholas made the Sign of the Cross over the tub, and the meat vanished, replaced by three little boys. The innkeeper had murdered the children and planned to serve them to his guests.
After his death, St. Nicholas’ tomb in his cathedral in Myra became a destination for pilgrims. Then, around the year 1085, the Seljuk Turks conquered Myra. Christians across Europe feared that the Turks would desecrate or destroy the saint’s relics.
In Italy, city officials in Venice and Bari resolved to rescue St. Nicholas, but the men from Bari got to Myra first. They took the saint’s casket from the cathedral, and on May 9, 1087, sailed into the Bari harbor bearing the relics of the saint. The relics are still in Bari, enshrined in a crypt beneath the Basilica of St. Nicholas.
For centuries, St. Nicholas was one of the most popular saints, with many churches, chapels and altars raised in his honor. Before the Reformation, there were more than 400 churches dedicated to St. Nicholas just in England. He was named the patron of Greece, Russia, Sicily, the French province of Loraine, as well as many cities and towns. Newlyweds, longshoremen, sailors, pawnbrokers, thieves and children venerated him as their patron saint.
Today, St. Nicholas is still widely venerated in the Orthodox Church and among Catholics of the Eastern rites, and in many parts of Central and Northern Europe his feast day is still celebrated, especially by children. But in the United States, devotion to the saint is virtually nonexistent.
Blame it on Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of biblical studies at the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1823 Moore published a poem titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known today as “’Twas the Night before Christmas.”
There was a popular trend among New Yorkers of the early 19th century to try to “recapture” their city’s Dutch heritage. Influential men such as Moore and the author Washington Irving (who wrote the stories of Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman) invented a host of traditions and folklore that they claimed had been part of day-to-day life in old New Amsterdam. Moore, Irving and their friends were especially enchanted by the stories of St. Nicholas, and so claimed that the first Dutch colonists arrived in Manhattan aboard a ship bearing a figurehead of St. Nicholas (it didn’t); that the first church in New Amsterdam was dedicated to St. Nicholas (it wasn’t); and that the Dutch colonists celebrated St. Nicholas Day (they didn’t).
Moore took these innocent fabrications and used them as the basis for a full-blown treatment of a brand-new Christmas legend, complete with eight flying reindeer, a sleigh full of toys and an elderly overweight man in a red suit who climbed up and down chimneys. It is a delightful poem; and in Santa Claus, Moore has given the world one of the most memorable characters ever, one that is recognized all across the globe.
Moore’s poem kicked off a Santa Claus phenomenon, but it had an unintended side effect — it all but guaranteed that devotion to the real St. Nicholas would not take root in the United States. We shouldn’t be surprised: How could anyone be expected to pray to a saint who is described as “a right jolly old elf”?
We don’t have to choose between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus; they are two different figures, and we can have them both. Let Santa keep what’s his — the big chair in the department store, the reindeer and the sleigh, the magic of presents under the Christmas tree. And let St. Nicholas have what is his — the Mass in his honor on Dec. 6, the tradition of giving children a little gift or some chocolates on his feast day as a prelude to Christmas. Most importantly, let us honor St. Nicholas by imitating his virtues, especially his generosity to people in need.
St. Nicholas Prayer
O good holy Nicholas,
you who brought joy to children,
put in my heart the spirit of childhood
about which the Gospel speaks.
Teach me how to sow
happiness around me. Amen.
Immaculate Conception (Holy Day of Obligation)
Why do we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?
Since the beginning of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been regarded as the holiest and the most blessed of all disciples. The celebration of the Immaculate Conception began in the 7th century under the title, “Conception of Mary by Saint Anne” and was changed to “Immaculate Conception” with the definition of the doctrine in 1854.
We can say that the Immaculate Conception was the beginning of our salvation and is now one of the central doctrines of our faith. Because of this, we celebrate the Feast Day to highlight the significant place Our Lady has in salvation history. This Feast is so essential that the Church has raised it to the rank of a Holy Day of Obligation. (National Shrine)
Prayer to Our Lady Immaculate
Most holy Virgin, who wast pleasing to the Lord and became His
Mother, immaculate in body and spirit, in faith and in love, look
kindly on the wretched who implore thy powerful patronage. The
wicked serpent, against whom was hurled the first curse, continues
fiercely to attack and ensnare the unhappy children of Eve. Do
thou, then, O Blessed Mother, our queen and advocate, who from the
first instant of thy conception didst crush the head of the enemy,
receive the prayers which, united with thee in our single heart,
we implore thee to present at the throne of God, that we may never
fall into the snares which are laid out for us, and may all arrive
at the port of salvation; and, in so many dangers, may the Church
and Christian society sing once again the hymn of deliverance and
of victory and of peace. Amen.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The feast in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the 16th century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story.
A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower, and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.
Juan was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared, and within it stood an Indian maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.
Eventually the bishop told Juan to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Juan to try to avoid the lady. Nevertheless the lady found Juan, assured him that his uncle would recover, and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma.
On December 12, when Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground, and the bishop sank to his knees. On the tilma where the roses had been appeared an image of Mary exactly as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. (Franciscan Media)
Prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe
O Immaculate Virgin,
Mother of the True God and Mother of the Church! You, who from this place reveal your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection; hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer. Mother of mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice, and prosperity to our people; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, Our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church: hold us always with your loving hand. Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that he may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole People of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in the faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries. Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children. Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul. We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth. Thus, most holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. Pope John Paul II
St. Lucy is a virgin and martyr of Syracuse in Sicily, whose feast is celebrated on December 13th. According to tradition, Saint Lucy was born to rich and noble parents in the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but his early death left her dependent upon her mother, whose name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she was of Greek heritage.
Like so many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor.
Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her, but for three years she managed to postpone the marriage. Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha to change her mother’s mind about her faith. As a result, her mother's long haemorrhagic illness was cured, and she consented to Lucy's desire to live for God.
Saint Lucy’s rejected bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian. The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her to be killed instead.
After a gruesome torture which included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire, but the fire quickly died out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was then executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger.
According to later accounts, Lucy warned Paschasius he would be punished. When the governor heard this he ordered the guards to gouge out her eyes; however, in another telling, it was Lucy who removed her eyes in an attempt to discourage a persistent suitor who greatly admired them. When her body was being prepared for burial, they discovered her eyes had been restored. This and the meaning of her name ("light" or "lucid") led to her patronage with eyes; the blind, eye trouble, and other eye ailments.
(Catholic News Agency)
St. Lucy Prayer
Relying on Your goodness, O God, we humbly ask You, through the intercession of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, to give perfect vision to our eyes, that they may serve for Your greater honor and glory.
Saint Lucy, hear our prayers and obtain our petitions. Amen.