Keeping Meaning in the Christmas Season


by Terry Rogers

Christmas is a week away and many families are busy with all the preparations for the big day. With all the parties to attend, cookies to bake and presents to wrap, it is easy to forget that there is a reason for the Christmas season. Judy Purcell, Education Director for St. John the Apostle and St. Bernadette Catholic Church, says that there are many ways for the community to practice faith.

“Parents and adults are the greatest role models for our children,” Purcell said. “We need to put our faith in action and practice what we preach and take advantage of Reconciliation Time, the Eucharist and attending mass. Our education classes are working on preparing for the coming of the birth of Christ by thinking of others with our “Giving Tree,” bringing in gloves, mittens, scarves and hats for those in need. WE are also helping the adults to collet food for the food baskets. At St. John the Apostle/St. Bernadette, families are purchasing gift cards so we can distribute them to the families, giving them time to shop for their children. Again, as adults we practice our faith so our children can see and learn.”

One activity that Purcell says can help children understand the meaning of Christmas is a Jesse Tree. The tree is named for the father of King David, an ancestor of Jesus, who is mentioned in Isaiah 11. The project goes through the ancestry of Jesus and how each of his ancestors played a role in salvation history. Once the tree is completed, it can be used as a holiday decoration, serving as a continual reminder of why Christmas is celebrated. The tree can be created from poster board and symbols placed in the tree include Earth, to represent God the Father, apples and snakes to represent Adam and Eve, a mirror to represent Seth and a rainbow to represent Noah. Grapes can be used to represent Shem, 12 stars to represent Abraham, a ladder to represent Jacob and a coat of many colors to represent Joseph. Moses is represented by the Ten Commandments, Joshua by the Wall of Jericho, Rahab a red chord, Samson, scissors and hair, Solomon a temple and Elijah fire.

“Ruth can be represented by wedding rings, Jeroboam and Rehoboam a broken crown, Isaiah an “I” scroll, John the Baptist a dove, Joseph and L-square, Mary a rosary and Jesus the cross,” Purcell said. “The symbols are made and put on the tree to represent Christ’s family tree. It provides many opportunities for families to talk about the Old Testament and salvation history.”

St. John the Apostle annual Nativity Play, a Christmas tradition presented each year by student’s in the Religious Education program, was performed on December 16. The play began with a potluck lunch with each family bringing a dish to share.

“The Nativity Play is a heartwarming and memorable experience for both students and parishioners,” Purcell said. “We sometimes get lost in the stress of the holidays and this gives us an opportunity to enjoy this time with family, reflecting and celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Christmas for us actually begins at midnight on Christmas Eve. We then celebrate for the next 12 days, thus the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Christmas then ends on January 6, a gift giving day, the day that the three wise men brought their gifts to Christ.”

Purcell explained that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” dates back to a time when it was illegal to practice the Catholic faith in England. From 1558 to 1829, England was an Anglican country and, if a person was caught in possession of Catholic religious material or practicing the Catholic faith, they would be severely punished. The song is said to have been written to help young Catholics remember the tenets of their faith. The “true love” mentioned in the song is referring to God an the “me” is referring to any baptized person. Each gift is thought to represent symbols of the Catholic faith.

“For us in the Catholic church and other Christian churches, Christmas is just beginning when everyone else is taking down trees and lights,” Purcell said. “Some of the feast days we celebrate in church include the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Catholic martyr which is celebrated on December 26. The Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist is celebrated on December 27 while The Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28. The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated the first Sunday after December 25. ON January 1, we celebrate The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord and the Sunday after January 6, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated.”

St. Bernadette’s will celebrate the season at the end of Christmas with a play “The Night in Bethlehem” on January 6 and a “Christmas Around the World” party from 11 to 12:30. This gives families time to share and get to know how other cultures celebrate with decorations, gift giving and food.