27 December: Feast of the Holy Family. Little is known about the life of Jesus’s earthly family. The gospels tell of the early years, including the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. Pope Leo XIII promoted this feast day as a way to counter the breakdown of the family unit. The purpose was to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the “domestic church” or the “church in miniature.” St. John Chrysostom urged Christians to make each home a “family church,” thus sanctifying the family unit. A good way to do this is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. For example: read scripture regularly, pray together as a family, attend Mass, go to confession, teach children about virtues, learn about and imitate the lives of the saints, live liturgically (follow the church calendar at home), and so forth. It is important to note that we don’t become holy despite the busyness of family life, but in and through it. On this feast, may the virtuous example of the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire us to develop homes full of prayer, love, and holiness.
28 December: Feast of the Holy Innocents (‘Childermas’). On the fourth day in the octave of Christmas, the Church remembers the massacre of innocent children in Bethlehem as told in Matthew 2:16-18. King Herod had ordered the death of all male children aged two and under, in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” These children are considered martyrs, Saints of God, by the Church. This feast day is often seen as a day of merrymaking for children. It is custom to give the youngest child in the household the power to rule the day. From what to eat, where to go and what to do, the youngest is in charge. In Mexico, it is a day for children to play practical jokes and pranks on their elders. The Holy Innocents are special patrons of babies and small children, who can please the Christ Child by being obedient and helpful to parents, by sharing toys and loving siblings. This feast is an excellent time for parents to inaugurate the custom of blessing children. Sign a cross on your child’s forehead with the right thumb and say: “May God bless you, and may He be the Guardian of your heart and mind, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Ideas for celebrating at home:
- Plan a family dinner, having all members involved. Each person can cook or choose a favorite dish (depending on age). Make a table centerpiece by surrounding a Christ-Candle with smaller white candles representing the Holy Innocents. The number of small candles might be as many as there are children in the family. Each child is allowed to light one small candle from the flame of the Christ-Candle, signifying that just as he received life from Christ, he will live and (if need be) die for Christ just as the Holy Innocents did.
- Before or after dinner, do a whole family activity such as a game, movie or outing (hike, walk, bike ride, etc.) If you prefer to stay indoors try making popcorn balls, an activity that can get all hands involved from young to old.
- Pray together: the rosary, especially the Joyful mysteries, is an excellent family prayer.
- Prayer of Consecration of the Family to the Holy Family, Prayer of Parents for Their Children and Prayer to the Holy Family can be said on this feast day as a family.
- Purchase a holy family statue or icon for your home, if you don’t own one already.
- Read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical On Christian Marriage. You can also check out the Vatican’s page of Papal documents on the Family.
“The first witnesses of Christ’s birth, the shepherds, found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also a small family: mother, father and newborn son. God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God! …Indeed, the family is the best school at which to learn to live out those values which give dignity to the person and greatness to peoples. …The Holy Family of Nazareth is truly the “prototype” of every Christian family which, united in the Sacrament of Marriage and nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, is called to carry out the wonderful vocation and mission of being the living cell not only of society but also of the Church, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race. …May [the holy family] help Christian families to be, in every part of the world, living images of God’s love.” – Pope Benedict XVI