Brightly shone the moon that night
though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.
~from Good King Wenceslas
On the second day of Christmas, basking in the joy of the Christchild's birth, we think of turtle doves and celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr of the Church. He died "by rocks" (one of our children quipped one All Saints Day) and represents for us a happy mixture of undaunted virtue and the bliss of true Charity. Our boys are part of a guild of altar servers under his patronage, and we begin this day with Mass; we also make sure to play and sing "Good King Wenceslas"in honor of the saint. The old song retells a story of the good king (a saint himself) who ventures out "on the Feast of Stephen"and finds occasion to gift a poor man on the wintry-est of days with the fruits of his royal bounty. It is a charming tale, and the song is a true favorite of the family at Christmastime.
A few years ago, we took a family trip to attend an Immaculate Conception banquet at Gregory the Great Academy. This visit was fruitful in many ways, and we enjoyed our time more than we can tell and brought away many cherished memories. Indeed we have borrowed many of the Academy's traditions and instilled them in our own home as best we can, knowing we can only echo the music, sacred reverence, and festive atmosphere of the place. But we have been joined by friends when we gather and celebrate the saints and holy ones, and this past year especially we have received remarkable support from souls of good will who seem to share our vision of a good way to live - of a good way to raise children in a fallen world - with hope for the future. For this Christmas, our daughter thought to sift through a few of our memories, and compiled some video snippets of our Immaculate Conception adventure those years ago to share with friends. That evening at Gregory the Great we enjoyed a play and juggling show based on the story of Good King Wenceslas, and then were further regaled by joyous songs and performances at the banquet. We were entertained and served by boarding school boys the whole evening, who played their parts with a heartiness, piety, and cheer unrivaled in a sometimes weary world. For us the spirit was catching and we revel in the experience still. HERE, we'd like to share that compilation with you, to give you a small view of what has inspired us and in gratitude to the ones who especially wish us well. May the Holy Babe grant us joy and peace, and may we all be inspired by Good King Wenceslas and St. Stephen, who model after their Master!
A couple of weeks ago we got our boy home from "far far school" just in time to celebrate one of our favorite saints, St. Cecilia, with an overnight pig roast and Sunday afternoon of praying, feasting, and edifying performances and displays of art. Our friend raised up a pig for us just for the occasion, and we actually held a slaughter on site the Saturday morning before the roast. A handful of good-willed comrades and budding homesteaders joined in, and though that pig - Hamlet was his name, over 150lbs did he weigh - did not go gentle into that good night, it was an experience to witness feats of manly virtue and prowess to get a hard job done - and in the end we all agreed that it was fruitful on too many levels to count, and we were glad. The pig was scalded, denuded of every last hair and gutted (with the beautiful organs and loins set aside for future use), then splayed upon the recently erected pit to be smoked all night. Three trusty lads pitched tents and tended the raging barrel-fire, carefully fed embers into the base of the pit, and kept the cooking temperature even enough to accomplish a perfect bounty of pork to share the next day. There was more than enough; indeed the food seemed to multiply the more people came. And despite the frigid temperatures that festival day, many came, and stayed late into the evening, enjoying bold Shakespearean recitations and beautiful snippets of poetry; taking in songs from The Sound of Music, sacred music, and traditional folk classics; eyeing a display of various artwork: saints, sketches, bucolic scenes. The beautiful event was followed up a few days later by a lovely Thanksgiving day, begun with Mass, including a family feast, wrapped up with gratitude.
And now, our boy is back to school for a few weeks, and Advent has begun. Our daily life is immediately altered by the hopeful anticipation that accompanies our preparation for Christmas. Here, on the First Sunday of Advent, we pick a good tree for the living room corner, trim it only with white lights, and look forward to carefully placing all the ornaments upon it in a family ritual on Christmas Eve. Like last year, we gathered evergreen branches from around the property to construct a home-made Advent wreath, affixed with candles, for hanging. Each evening at dinner time we light the weekly candle(s), sing Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, and take the family meal by that candlelight. Sitting together in the flame's gentle glow is a reminder of the Light of the World to come, Our Lord who brings the light of truth into the darkness upon Christmas day. Also, the four porch columns are wrapped with garland and purple, purple, pink, and purple lights, each lit in succession as the weeks go by, a humble witness to the season in a world fully decked out for Christmas proper already. Nativity sets - where possible with the Infant Jesus hidden til the big day - are set up around the house, as well as Dad's nutcrackers and Mom's snow globes (given over the years from the children) set upon mantles and lining the tops of the bookshelves along the walls of the living room, and lovely little decorative knick-knacks and Advent calendars here and there, though all the St. Nicholas decor is saved until his feast day December 6th. We hope to get a life-size nativity going in the old barn, at least this year with Joseph, Mary, and the Divine Child to start. And though we plan to prepare carols, we put off Christmas music til the time has come! It is a hopeful time, but it is also a penitent time - we try to embrace old traditions of family and warmth and sober, faithful piety. We were reminded last Sunday not to spend Advent celebrating Christmas. What a simple and profound notion! Let us look forward to the feast, preparing, as we are taught, "for the double coming (adventus) of mercy and justice" - hopeful in our redemption but ready for His judgment.
Another note about our Advent traditions - it is the time that we pray the beautiful St. Andrew novena prayer, which paves the way perfectly for the momentous occasion of Christ's Nativity. The brief prayer is repeated 15 times per day between the Feast of St. Andrew, November 30th, and Christmas Eve, December 24th. We pray it each evening after singing the Veni and before praying the table blessing. It has never proved a burden but rather a great blessing. May we be blessed with the grace and desire to pray fervently and the will to make ready for the birth of Our Savior!
Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of his Blessed Mother. Amen.
On this little homestead our family aspires to work the land and hand on the Catholic Tradition, walking in wonder and learning to live by the fruits of our labor, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, who guides us to Him.