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Lacken Family Christmas Tradition

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Processing the Baby Jesus to the crib on Christmas Morning – Our family Christmas procession, 16 years apart.

The Reason for the Season
Just over a year ago, I was browsing through some old family videos from when our children were small. I remember writing about one in particular. You see, back in 2005, when our youngest child was just three years old, we decided to give Santa Clause the boot from our house. Over the years, it became obvious that we had inadvertently allowed Santa to usurp the real meaning of Christmas. Santa had taken the place of the Christ Child. He was also getting more credit from the children than my wife and I, because he was able to give better presents. This realisation came to us one Christmas in particular when we were struggling financially as a family of ten. We were living in Leitrim at the time, and I was loathe to contact St Vincent de Paul for help.

We had once lived on a government council housing estate in County Cork, and every year before Christmas, the money lenders would appear to lend money at high interest rates to poor people, so that the expensive dream and illusion of Santa could be maintained for the children of the estate on Christmas morning. Years later and now living in County Leitrim, on that Christmas when we were struggling financially, the thought of borrowing money we could not afford occurred to me. But, thank God, I quickly dismissed it and went into problem solving mode. The real problem was that Santa was expected to give expensive presents to all children. As I reflected, I began to realise that Santa was not very fair. The richer children tended to get better presents than the poorer children unless the poorer parents were prepared to go into debt. Poorer parents were being put under financial pressure to maintain an illusion. It dawned on me that the money men had taken over Christmas and that we cannot serve both God and mammon.

Please don’t get me wrong, I think that the idea of Santa is wonderful, but it must be contained to its proper place and he must not be allowed to divert the children’s attention from the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. That year, our family received a personal letter from Santa to say that he was really busy that Christmas Eve and could we, as a special favour to him, wait until January 6th, little Christmas, to receive our presents. Our children agreed. Anything to help Santa out. That year, January 6th fell upon a Thursday and the children’s allowance would arrive on the Tuesday before it allowing ‘Santa’ to purchase some presents.

Poverty, whilst a struggle, can be a wonderful teacher, and we decided that we had to change our focus and re-assess our priorities as a Catholic family at Christmastime. At first, we simply reduced the impact of Santa Clause by limiting him to giving the children one book each. The bigger presents then came from Mom and Dad. But we finally decided that he had to go because he was distracting the children from the real meaning of Christmas. We needed to restore the Christ Child to the centre of our Christmas and so we decided to develop a new Christmas tradition in our family. After midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, when all is dark, we process the infant Jesus through the house and lay him in a manger. The youngest child carries the babe and we all have lighted candles and sing ‘Away in a manger’, as we make our way to the crib. When we arrive at the crib, I, as the father and spiritual head of the family, read the Nativity narrative from chapter 2 of St Luke’s Gospel. Once the Baby Jesus is in His crib, we begin the festivities – hot chocolate with baby marshmallows – and the ceremonial cutting of the Christmas cake.

In the early years, in order not to cause a fight, we had more than one crib in the house so other young children could carry Baby Jesus to a crib as well in a separate procession. 

This year, will see year 17 of our Christmas tradition. As part of the recent website upgrade, I am looking at being able to embed videos directly onto the website without having to use Youtube, as Youtube often censor what they consider to be sensitive material. I have uploaded a video which shows our original family Christmas procession from 2005, and the one from last year. It is interesting to see the changes in the family after sixteen years. Please God, this year’s procession of the baby Jesus will be just as enjoyable. I am already looking forward to it.

I was reminded of this by a post from Michael Matt, on the Remnant Newspaper website called, ‘Make Advent Catholic Again’. Michael believes that the reason that his seven children all still practice their Catholic faith, is partly because of Catholic traditions.

“I’m absolutely convinced that one of the main reasons my own seven children have by the grace of God kept the old faith is that, long ago, they fell in love with something much better than what the world has to offer. They grew up with the old Catholic customs associated with the Holy Days of Christendom.”

He also offers advice on what to do instead of having Santa Clause as the focus of Christmas morning.

“Well, here’s where it gets fun, as there’s a long Catholic Tradition to be reclaimed. Long before Martin Luther had banished saints such as Nicholas, or Macy’s had invented Rudolph or Clement Clarke Moore had penned his “Visit from Saint Nick”, the heart of the family Christmas tradition was the Christ Child Himself. 

In my father’s German-immigrant Catholic community here in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was known as Christkind (pronounced kris-kint) or Christkindl. But in some parts of Italy, He was Gesu Bambino.  In Portugal, He was Menino Jesus  (Boy Jesus), in Hungary Jézuska (Little Jesus), in Slovakia Ježiško (Little Jesus), in Czech Ježíšek (Little Jesus), in Latin America Niño Dios (God Child) or Niño Jesús (Jesus Child) and in Croatia Isusić  or Isusek (Little Jesus), in Upper Silesia in Poland Dzieciątko (little baby), etc. 

From wherever you happen to hail, he is the Baby Jesus — the traditional Christmas gift-bringer from Austria to Switzerland, southern and western Germany to the Czech Republic, from Croatia to Liechtenstein, Luxembourg to the eastern part of Belgium, Portugal, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of northeastern France, parts of Poland, southern Brazil, and in the Acadiana region of Louisiana.  

My father handed this Christmas tradition down to us just as it had been handed down to him from his father and his before him. I have been writing about Christkind in the pages of The Remnant for a quarter century, and I know many Remnant readers have since adopted the custom.”

I recommend that you go and read the full article over at The Remnant – Make Advent Catholic Again.

The point is, that we need to reclaim our ancient Catholic heritage and pass it on to our children. As Catholics, we know how to live the seasonal penitential seasons, once, so clearly marked out for us by the Traditional Liturgical Calendar. But as Catholics, we also know how to celebrate our feast days well. There is nothing that deserves celebrating more than the entry of the Christ Child into our world. Our Saviour comes to us as a baby, as one of us, to save us from our sins through His crucifixion, and, if we but heed His message and live according to His Divine plan, we are guaranteed a place in Heaven for all eternity.

Now there is a real cause for joy, something to prepare well for, and something to celebrate well! ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’.

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