The holidays can be a difficult time of year for single people. It’s easy to feel more painfully aware of the fact we’re alone as we listen to songs about roasting chestnuts and walking through winter wonderlands. However, instead of allowing this to be a depressing or gloomy time of year, the holidays can in fact be a time of great fellowship and spiritual growth for you and your other single friends. With a little planning and a lot of the right attitude, you can make this a holiday season you’ll fondly remember for years to come.
In Part One of my series on celebrating Catholic traditions with your single friends, I talked about reviving the age-old practices and celebrations of the domestic church, many of which have been lost or forgotten in the modern world. In this “Part Two” I’ll focus on some of the great Catholic feasts of the Advent and Christmas season.
Throughout ages past, the heartbeat of the Catholic family was the liturgy of the Church, celebrated most fully through the sacraments and complemented by abundant traditions and customs practiced in the home. As single Catholics, we have a wonderful opportunity to revive some of these beautiful traditions, and begin new ones of our own – traditions that we can then take with us into our future families some day.
Instead of waiting until you are “married with children” to begin celebrating the life of the domestic church, gather your friends together for these incredibly rich opportunities for feasting and celebration. This is a fantastic way to learn more about your Faith while enjoying fun and fellowship with your single friends.
Feast of St. Nicholas – December 6th
Saint Nicholas was a fourth century bishop of the Catholic Church. Known for his kindness and generosity, particularly to children and to the poor and needy, he is an example to all Christians of the spirit of giving and selflessness during the Christmas season.
Instead of paying tribute to his secular counterpart, “Santa Claus”, it is traditional in Catholic homes to celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day with acts of kindness and mercy, gift giving, and special treats. In several European countries, and still practiced in some Western homes, December 6th is the day when Christmas gifts are exchanged, instead of on December 25th.
Following the example of St. Nicholas’ works of mercy, organize a group of friends to visit the sick and elderly in a local hospital or nursing home. It’s a wonderful time of year to sing carols or bring treats to the elderly – their faces will light up when they see that younger people have not forgotten them during the holidays.
Since St. Nicholas is also known for his gift-giving, his feast is a great day to gather friends together to make homemade Christmas gifts to give people during the holidays. This year I’m hosting a get-together with my single girlfriends to teach them how to make homemade candy wreaths, one of my favorite homemade gifts to give people for Christmas.
Another outrageously fun event for St. Nicholas Day is to host a gag-gift party. Each guest is asked to bring a $5 gag gift, wrapped and unmarked, to place under the tree. Numbers are pulled out of a hat to decide who chooses a gift in what order, and I promise you – you and your friends will laugh until tears are rolling down your cheeks at some of the outlandish, tacky, and crazy gifts your friends will come up with. This is a great party to use as an “ice breaker” to introduce new single people into your circle of friends or your local singles group.
For my siblings and I when we were growing up, the very best part about St. Nicholas Day was waking up to find what St. Nicholas had left in our shoes. This Catholic tradition is still practiced by many Catholic families around the world, and is probably familiar to many of you. On the eve of St. Nicholas’ feast day, each person places one of their shoes outside their door. The precursor to the “naughty or nice” lore of Santa Claus began with this tradition for St. Nicholas Day. If you were a good child throughout the year, you would find little sweets and treats in your shoe on the morning of December 6th. If you had been a naughty child, St. Nicholas would leave coal in your shoe as punishment for your misbehavior. My parents must not have tattled on us very often to St. Nicholas, because my siblings and I always found nice things in our shoes on December 6th.
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12th
On December 12th we celebrate an important Marian feast, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary is “Patroness of the Americas” under the title Lady of Guadalupe. It is on this day that we commemorate Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego in Mexico, the miracles she performed for the Aztec people (which led to the saving of the innocents and massive conversions to Christianity), and the stunning image she left Juan Diego on his mantle – an image of Our Lady that the entire Church now venerates and honors. In the culture of death in which we live, there is nothing so powerful as prayer and petitions to the Woman who single-handedly ended the slaughter of the innocents for the Aztec people in the sixteenth century.
December 12th is still today one of the most important dates on the Mexican calendar. Sadly for the rest of the Americas, many Catholics do not celebrate this feast day with the same grandeur given to it in Mexico. Hopefully you and I can help to change that as we begin to incorporate Catholic feasts into our holiday traditions.
Host a Mexican fiesta dinner, and invite your single friends over to celebrate the Feast of Guadalupe together. Everyone loves a party with guacamole and margaritas – why not throw one that honors our Blessed Mother and the miracles she performed for the Americas?
Decorate your table with a spray of red roses and/or red rose petals, as a reminder of the roses Our Lady gave to Juan Diego to carry in his mantle. If you have a picture or image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, make that the center of your decorations as well.
Invite your single friends to bring their favorite Mexican dish to share, and you’ll have a smorgasbord of everyone’s fiesta favorites.
This year on December 12th, Xenon Pictures is releasing a brand new DVD called Guadalupe. It is the story of the miracle of Guadalupe retold in modern times. The film debuted in Mexican theaters in 2006, and is being released on DVD with English subtitles for the first time in the next month. Visit the official movie website for more information about the film (listed in the Recommended Resources section below). Watching the Guadalupe movie would be a fantastic way to end your Guadalupe celebration.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – January 1st
Many of you have traditions and customs for celebrating New Year’s Day with your family and friends. Yet Catholics often forget or take for granted that this secular holiday is shared with one of the great feasts honoring our Blessed Mother. January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary under one of her most important titles: Mother of God.
This year, try adding a few Marian devotions or elements to your customary celebrations of New Years. Perhaps during your New Year’s Day celebrations, place a statue of Mary in a prominent place in your dining room or living room. Decorate a holiday cake or pie with a big “M” in Mary’s honor. After dinner, perhaps you and your friends could get bundled up and do a “rosary walk” around the neighborhood. Enjoy the crisp air, the neighbors’ Christmas light displays, and you could even sing some Marian hymns during your outing as well.
The possibilities for honoring the Blessed Mother on New Year’s Day are as boundless as your imagination. Be creative and think of at least a few small ways that you can give honor and tribute to Mary on this great holy day in the Church year.
Feast of Epiphany – January 6th
For the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany is the day we commemorate the visit of the Three Kings (Wise Men or Magi) to the King of Kings, the Baby Jesus. Traditionally, this is the Twelfth (and final) day of Christmas. It is a celebration of Christ’s Incarnation, and His manifestation to the kings of nations, and to the entire world. In some cultures, Epiphany is the day when Christmas gifts are exchanged with friends and family, in remembrance of the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Epiphany is the “grande finale” of Christmas, and thus is a wonderful opportunity to gather your single friends for a festive and fun celebration.
Since Epiphany is one of the Church’s major feasts of kingship (along with the Lord’s Day and the Feast of Christ the King), the colors of royalty are traditionally used for Epiphany decorations: gold, white, purple, and anything that sparkles and shines is appropriate. When I was growing up, my family made a cardboard crown that we spray painted gold, and then glued on glitter and fake jewels we found at the local craft store – it made a really cool centerpiece that my mom still uses every year on Epiphany. It’s also traditional to display on your table the three gifts of the wise men. For gold, my family always uses chocolate gold coins (you can purchase these from any candy shop or from the candy aisle at most drug stores). To symbolize myrrh, fill a small glass pitcher or vase with water and add a small amount of yellow food coloring. A small bowl of potpourri or tiny pebbles makes a semi-believable stand-in for frankincense.
For my family, the center of our Epiphany celebration is always our “King Cake.” Bake a regular cake of any variety, and insert three almonds into the batter just before baking. After the cake is served to all the guests, three people should discover an almond in their piece of dessert. Those three fortunate people are the recipients of an Epiphany treat – each will receive a modest gift.
Sadly, our modern culture seems to think the Christmas season ends at midnight on December 25th. Our favorite radio stations begin playing Christmas music the day after Halloween, and yet on December 26th the Christmas music is shelved until next year. Christmas decorations come down and people mentally begin to “switch gears” again into ordinary time. Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas, and ending this important season with an Epiphany celebration, is a wonderful way that we as Catholics can restore a cultural sense of the beauty and majesty of the full liturgical celebration of Christmas.
Making Memories…and Strengthening Faith
I’m out of space in this column and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the many liturgical feasts and traditions of the Advent and Christmas season. December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, another important day to honor our Blessed Mother. December 13th is the Feast of St. Lucia (or Lucy), a very important feast for the Scandinavian countries where Santa Lucia is honored as the patroness of light. During the last week of December we honor St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, and the Holy Family, to name a few – all important feasts and great causes for celebration amongst the Body of Christ.
I hope I have at least peaked your interest in further investigating the rich traditions and customs of our Faith. You certainly don’t need to celebrate all of these beautiful Catholic feasts by throwing parties with your friends, but perhaps you can pick one or two traditions to begin this year. My hope is that you’ll discover that when you bring your Faith more fully into your holiday celebrations, it adds new heights and depths of meaning and purpose to the memories you hold dear.
P.S. As a committed football fanatic, I have to add a “PS” suggestion to throw a Superbowl party with your single friends. What a great opportunity to draw singles together for fellowship and fun! Since the Superbowl falls on the Feast of St. Blaise this year, there must be some way to connect the two into a “Tradition for Single Catholics.” Perhaps it would be appropriate to get together and offer prayers for all of us who will lose our voices yelling at the television that Sunday night….
by Evelyn Birge Vitz (Ignatius Press)
(Family Life Center Publications)
Stephanie Wood is the coordinator of NextWave Faithful, a young adult division of Family Life Center International that seeks to motivate, equip, and encourage young adults during their “transition years” to live faithful lives for Jesus Christ and His Church. She is the host of “NextWave Live” on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, and is a frequent speaker and writer on topics relating to Catholicism and young adult life. Stephanie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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