Catholic Christmas Traditions

As Christmas is only a few months away, we here at Scripture Catholic were having a discussion about what each of us do for Christmas, and we came to realize that even though we’re all Catholics, most of us have celebrated Christmas differently from one another in one way or another.

Catholic Christmas traditions can be very different to that of many other Christian and non-Christian faiths. For Catholics all over the world, not only is it a time to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; it is also a time to better connect with our local communities, and this is where we noticed the differences between our own experiences.

This discussion has inspired us to share our own experiences and traditions with each other and you, our readers. Join us as we write about the true meaning of Christmas, the traditions we all have in common, and what made our Christmases unique from one another’s. Please feel free to share your own family or community Christmas traditions in the comment section below.

Secular and Non-Christian Christmas Traditions

Before we start covering the traditional Catholic Christmas traditions, lets talk about the modern, more commercialized and materialistic Christmas, that is celebrated around the world by many non-Christian faiths, and non-practicing Catholics.

Christmas is such a powerful and culturally ingrained tradition, that even though the true meaning of Christmas may have been lost on many of these people, they still use the birth of Jesus Christ to celebrate Christmas in their own way. It matters not whether these people are aware of this, but the birth of Jesus Christ still brings people of all walks of life together each and every year.

A Catholic Inspired Non-Christian Christmas

Beginning on Christmas Eve and ending the day after Christmas, friends and family gather to celebrate the Christmas Season. They share meals with one another, and exchange gifts. Loved ones that have not seen each other all year, use this time to reconnect, and strengthen their bonds.

Regardless of their individual faith and beliefs, many other Christian faiths and non-Christians around the world, join Catholics in their Christmas celebrations and traditions.

Cultural and Geographic Differences

To give you an idea of just how much of an impact of where you live can have on how you celebrate Christmas, we will be discussing the childhood experiences of one of our writers.

Growing up in Australia, he never new a cold winters morning on Christmas Day. He never saw freshly fallen snow blanket the streets, or experienced the warmth of gathering around a warm fireplace with his loved ones.

You see, unlike America where it is winter during Christmas, in a country like Australia, it is the middle of summer. This means that their schools take their 6 week summer vacation during the Christmas Season, and friends and family can actually gather around the backyard pool, or even outside at the beach or lake. Nor are they are confined to being stuck indoors to stay warm.

They can celebrate their Christmas during their vacations as they visit loved ones that are far way. They may even remain in the country for Christmas Day, but could spend the next 12-21 days abroad.

The idea of a summer vacation and Christmas occurring at the same time is a strange concept for some of us to grasp. You see, for some of us, summer vacation tends to be more of a selfish time, it’s more about having fun either on our own with just just our friends or spouse, or with the kids. It’s generally not so much about gathering with our larger family or the local community. Yet Australian Catholics appear to have found a way to combine the two traditions.

Secular Laws and Christmas Traditions

Just like America, many countries around the world are more secular then religious with their laws. This does have the unfortunate effect of not automatically respecting all religious holidays, or allowing people to take time off from work in order to celebrate these days.

Fortunately, most secular countries have their laws and traditions based upon the Catholic faith. This means that Christmas is respected as the Holly Season for which it is, and Christmas Day is a day for celebration and respect, and not for business as usual.

Then there are countries that go the extra mile. Again using Australia as an example, Catholics not only get to spent Christmas Day out of the office, but some states have made Christmas Eve a public holiday, with all states treating the day after Christmas as a federal holiday as well.

So even though not all non-Catholics, including other Christian faiths, may not reserve the day after Christmas, December 26th, as the Feast of Saint Stephen; in countries like Australia, and the UK, while they may call it Boxing Day, and it is generally used to have another feast of their own, just as Catholics would in honor of Saint Stephen.

Additionally, many businesses in Australia also take the time to close/suspend trade during the Christmas season. From close of business, Christmas Eve (December 24th), to between January 7th and 14th; many Australian businesses will remain in a shut down state.

It may appear as though these business shut downs are simply to coincide with the summer school vacation and public/federal holidays; but these businesses are actually making it mandatory for their workers to take leave during the 12 Days of Christmas and the Epiphany.

Further more, even if these non-Christian Australians aren’t celebrating Christmas as a reflection of, or in anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ; they are still gathering together on Christmas Day, and then spending the day(s) after Christmas, feasting and celebrating with their friends, family and neighbors just as many Catholics around the world would.

The Original Catholic Christmas Traditions

Like we said, non-Christians in countries like Australia still use Catholic traditions as the guide for their own practices. Here is a few simplifications of some of the Catholic traditions that they adopted:

  • On Christmas Eve in Australia they hold a Carols by Candlelight visual, that is attended and spectated by both Christians and non-Christians alike.
  • Non-Christians still celebrate Christmas on December 25th, just as most Christians do.
  • While Christmas still remains the season of giving for them, they do fail to understand the true meaning of giving.
    • For Catholics, giving is not meant just to be about giving gifts to one another. It is meant to be about giving back to the community, and helping the less fortunate as well.
  • The day after Christmas, the Feast of Saint Stephen, is still practiced by some non-Catholics, albeit under a different name.
  • Some businesses will close down for the duration of the 12 Days of Christmas and the Epiphany, in countries like Australia.

A Traditional Catholic Christmas

When it comes to a traditional Catholic Christmas, there is more to it then just simply gathering together on December 25th. For a Catholic, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, and as such this includes the lead up to his birth, and the subsequent days following God’s gift to humanity.

The Advent

Four Sundays and four weeks before Christmas, Christians take part in the Advent, in the lead up to Christmas Day.

Meaning ‘Coming’ in Latin; the Advent is used by Christians all over the world take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, and to prepare themselves for the three arrivals of Jesus Christ.

Christians use the Advent to reflect on the first Coming of Jesus Christ at his birth over 2000 years ago. Each and every year, they also use it to prepare for the Coming of Jesus Christ into their hearts as devout followers of Christ. And finally, in preparation of the second Coming of Jesus Christ as the King and Judge of all men.

Christmas Day – December 25th

On Christmas Day there are 3 separate masses that are held by the Catholic Church:

  • The Midnight Mass – THE ANGELS’ MASS
    • Held at midnight as Christmas Eve rolls over into Christmas Day.
    • (Luke 2:1-14)
  • The Dawn Mass – THE SHEPHERD’S MASS
  • The Christmas Day Mass – THE KING’S MASS
    • This mass is held when daylight fills the day’s sky.
    • (John 1:1-18)

The rest of Christmas Day can be very different for each Catholic family and community. This is the reason we used Australia as our main example for geographical differences, as the stark difference in season, culture, climate, geopolitical, and socioeconomic lifestyles; can all have an effect on how the rest of the day is conducted.

Those who live in colder climates that can experience heavy snowfalls, will most likely spend the day with friends and family differently to those who are celebrating their Christmas Day in a hotter climate.

As such, we will be looking at a more general take on Christmas Day.

  • Presents may be exchanged in the morning or evening, before or after the King’s Mass.
  • Close knit communities may gather together for street parties, or at the local community hall.
  • Gatherings may extend to include strangers, or be more limited to close friends, neighbors or family only.
  • Meals could take a formal affair, or be as casual as a BBQ at the beach.
  • Consumption of alcohol may occur during the meal.
  • Grace is given at the start of the meal as those in attendance join together and give thanks to the Lord, before joining one another in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Day After Christmas

As Catholics venerate and pay their respects to the Saints, December 26th doesn’t always hold the same level of significance for non-Catholics, including those of other Christian faiths.

For the Catholic Church, December 26th is used to celebrate the Feast of Saint Stephen. Saint Stephen is the first Martyr of the Catholic Church, and is honored in mass, and feasts are held in his name.

The 12 Days of Christmas

Unlike non-Christians who tend to limit their Christmas celebrations to only December 25th, Catholics continue to celebrate Christmas for another 11 days. Ending on the evening of January 5th.

These celebrates can take many forms, from additional feasts, to social gatherings, or even charitable events. They are done in celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. Again, exactly how the 12 days of Christmas is celebrated, will largely depend on the climate and cultural traditions of where the Catholic community or family may be located.

Epiphany – King’s Day

January 6th, is typically the day to celebrate the Epiphany. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to celebrate Epiphany on the 6th. As such, the Church has permitted that the Epiphany can be celebrated on the Sunday that falls between the 2nd-8th of January.

The Epiphany is a festival that celebrates the arrival of the three wise men, the Baptism of Jesus Christ, and the revelation that Christ is God incarnate.

The way each festival is conducted, largely depends on where the festival is being held. Even within the US, there are different states that have their own unique traditions and practices.

Final Thoughts

How others celebrate Christmas can be different from how you celebrate Christmas yourself. Whether it’s due to geographical locations, or cultural differences; these differences are only minor in comparison to what we all have in common.

Catholics and Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas in celebration of the birth of Christ. They spend Christmas with loved ones, are mindful of those less fortunate then themselves, and remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Please let us know in the comments below, how you and your family celebrate either a Catholic or Non-Catholic Christmas.

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