At the Manger: Family Celebrations for the Eight Days of Christmas

Bishop Peter Brignall invites us to use this short family service for each day of the Octave, beginning on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with a blessing of the crib.

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In its present form the custom of displayed figures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ owes its origin to Saint Francis of Assisi (c.1181-1226) who made the Christmas Crèche or Manger for Christmas Eve of 1223 at Greccio, Italy:

“I wish to recall to memory the little child who was born in Bethlehem, I want to set before our bodily eyes the hardship of his infant needs, how he lay in the manger, how with an ox and ass standing by he lay upon the hay.”

Since then it has been a familiar sight in Christian homes and public places, all over the world. However, as early as the fourth century representations of the nativity of the Lord were printed as wall decorations depicting not only the infancy narrative accounts of Christ’s birth, but also the words of the prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk taken to mean that the Messiah would be born in the midst of animals in a manger. (Book of Blessings N.1541 adapted ©1987 ICEL).

‘During Christmastide, the Church celebrates the mystery of the Lord’s manifestation: his humble birth in Bethlehem which was made known to the shepherds, the first of Israel to welcome the Saviour; the Epiphany to the three wise men who had “come from the East” (Matthew 2:1), the first of the Gentiles who recognised and adored Christ the Messiah in the child of Bethlehem…’. (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. N.106).

Like Easter, the Nativity of the Lord is one of the two solemnities in the Ordinary Form of the Church’s liturgical calendar that has its own Octave. The Church regards each day in an Octave as if it were the solemnity itself. So for example, the prayers for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours during the Christmas Octave refer to each day as if it were still Christmas Day. Despite having days within the Octave that are feasts: St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents and the Holy Family, and the concluding Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, each of these days is as the Roman Missal states, a “day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord.” This means that, liturgically, each of the days from 25th December to the 1st January is ‘Christmas Day’. It is appropriate therefore, that families have the opportunity to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation and give their praise and blessing to God at the Crib.