Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions.jpg

Three years ago, my husband and I celebrated our first Christmas together as a married couple. We shared each other’s Christmas traditions; going to a carol concert, going on “Crib Crawl” visiting the cribs in the 7 Churches in town, making Christmas cards, praying the Hail and Blesseds and making mulled wine.

This Christmas, our daughter is much more aware and excited about what is happening. We open the Advent calendar every morning, she looks at the crib figures, and reads Christmas board books. She is especially interested in the animals!

Recently, at play group, she had her first encounter with Santa Claus. She looked very unsure initially, and carried on playing for the rest of the morning, ensuring she kept at least 10 meters away from the man-in-red. As I observed the goings on, I chatted to another mother.

“Have you taken her to see Santa yet?”, the mother asked.

“Erm, no”, I replied. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about a visit to Santa.

“Well, now’s a great opportunity for her to have her photo taken with Santa”, the mother assured me. I must have looked unsure about it because she continued, “she has to have her photo taken with Santa”.

Really? Does she?

Maybe in a few years, we’ll see, but right now, I think she would rather push the toy pram around the play group and nibble on a rice cake. Right now, sitting on the lap of the man in the red suit would be her idea of toddler hell, and you could forget the photo!

But it made me think- it would be nice to have a Christmas photo tradition to look back on as the years go by. So, this year, we’ll begin a new tradition- a photo at the Crib. Santa can wait!





7 ways to prepare for Christmas simply

A simple Advent7 ideas

Christmas glitter and sparkle has been in our shops now for months. In the last few weeks, the Christmas songs have been turned up and people began wishing each other “Happy Christmas” on 1st December!

But wait!

Advent is a time for waiting, during which we prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ, our Saviour. I find it easy to be swept away by not only the consumer culture, and the idea of a Pinterest-perfect Christmas, but also by preparations; I want to have an Advent wreath, make Advent and Christmas decorations, celebrate the feast days, make my own Jesse tree… I am just realising that these things, celebrations and traditions are built over years rather than in a single Advent.

So, this year, I am living Advent simply. Here are 7 simple ideas (that don’t include glitter, baking or glue!) to help make the most of Advent;

  1. Prayer and reflection
    • Do you have a regular prayer time? Maybe now is the time to start
    • Do you do an advent reflection? This year, I signed up for Matthew Kelly’s Best Advent Ever. Its been very good so far- I recommend it!
    • Read a book. My reading list includes
      • Joy to the World by Scott Hahn
      • A Feast for Advent by Delia Smith
      • Advent and Christmas with the Saints compiled by Anthony F. Chiffolo
  2. Give up something
    • Simple as that. And offer it up! This year I am giving up coffee
  3. Prepare your home
    • Resist the temptation to put the decorations up straight away. See how long you can hold out- I am aiming for Gaudaute Sunday (aka pink candle Sunday or the Third Sunday of Advent!)
    • In the meantime, how about a “Advent clean”? Make a list and tick one thing off every day. Tidy the spare room, wash the skirting boards, and do those jobs that you put on the long finger!
  4. Donate to charity
    • While doing your “Advent clean”, its a great opportunity to declutter and donate to charity. Set yourself a target of things to throw out or give away, like one bag or 10 things a day.
    • Be ruthless- are there things you can give out that would make nice gifts? Do you have a cosy wooly jumper you no longer wear and could keep someone else warm?
  5. Get Christmas shopping done early
    • I did most of my Christmas shopping by 1st December. That way, I have more time for Advent reading and reflection
  6. Hold off on the Christmas music
    • I love Christmas carols and music. In Ireland, we have a station called Christmas FM, which my car radio is permanently tuned to during December. This year, however, I am making a concerted, although not grinch-ish, effort to avoid Christmas music until Christmas.
    • I recently listened to Haley and Christy of the Fountains of Carrots podcast discuss Advent music and the Advent playlists- a great idea
  7. Be Christ to others
    • It’s what we are called to do as Christians! With a to-do list as long as your arm, and the increasing hustle and bustle in town, take time to help someone in need, visit someone who is sick, in a home, or housebound, or simply give the gift of a smile to a passing stranger.

What are you doing this Advent? Do you feel overwhelmed by Christmas preparations? I would love to hear your ideas and comments 🙂

This post is part of the 7 quick takes link up at This Aint The Lyceum. Thank you to Kelly for hosting!




















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Liturgical Living for Beginners


Liturgical living. Its something I have been thinking about starting for a while, but I have never quite known where to start. As I pause to ponder liturgical living in our small family, I realise its something we have already begun; the Advent wreath on the kitchen table, lit every night, shoes outside the bedroom door on the 6th December for the feast of St Nicholas, pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, celebrating name days… These are things that we learned from our parents. They may not have called it liturgical living- these things were simply family traditions.

Today, Christianity is counter-cultural. Against the backdrop of today’s post-Christian culture, liturgical living is an important witness to our children, families and community.

This weekend, a new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. I plan to begin anew, being intentional about liturgical living. While websites, blog posts and Pinterest boards are full of inspiring ideas, they can be a little overwhelming to a newbie like me. Here are 7 simple ideas for liturgical living for beginners, to get the liturgical living ball rolling!

  1. Mark your feast days on your calendar
    • Here in Ireland, the Dominicans produce a fantastic free calandar, with all feast days etc. printed on. Pick a calander up from your parish, and hang it where you will look at it every day!
    • Use the Universalis app, or add Universalis to you Google Calander (that’s what I did, its easy! Click the link at the bottom of the page)
  2. Choose a few feast days to celebrate each month
    • We began with our own name days, and pick a few of our favourite saints too. I also wish a happy name day to friends and family members, and use the occasion to send them a text, email or card.
    • Do you have a family patron saint? What about your parish patron saint? Celebrate them too!
    • Choose a novena to pray every month or so. Pray More Novenas offer a great, free, service, delivering the novena prayer to your inbox every day.
  3. Create an altar, or prayer focus
    • Don’t put it off, waiting to create the perfect space. Rather than wait, I put a statue of Mary, a few candles. a picture of St Therese and the bible on our mantelpiece- its a perfect prayer focus, and focal point for the room.
  4. Keep holy the Sabbath Day
    • Growing up, shops were closed on Sunday, there was no vigil Mass in my parish and Sunday was a day for worship, Sunday lunch, family outings and activities together. After I left home, things began to slip and, until recently, Sunday was a day for chores, shopping and finishing off work. We recently re-evaluated how we spend out Sundays, and have decided to be more intentional; to make Mass the focal point of the day, to cook something special, to avoid chores and shopping and to spend time together as a family.
  5. Pinterest
    • I already mentioned how Pinterest can be overwhelming! Don’t be put off! Start your own Pinterest boards for each month (I find searching by month narrows the search, making it less overwhelming and more relevant!)
    • Pick a few recipes, craft activities or colouring pages to do each month
  6. Don’t just go to Mass on Sunday…
    • How about making a regular weekday Mass, on your own or as a family? First Friday, Saturday morning, or a weekday Mass? Perhaps your parish has a weekday evening Mass you could attend together.
    • Pick a Saturday of the month e.g. 1st Saturday, to go to confession together. Mark it on your calendar- create an event if you have to! Celebrate your absolution by going for hot chocolate together afterwards!
    • Make sure you observe Holy Days of Obligation. There are slight variations depending which country you live in. In Ireland, there are 6 Holy Days of Obligation:
      • Immaculate Conception (8th December)
      • Christmas Day (25th December)
      • Epiphany (6th January )
      • St Patrick (17th March)
      • Assumption of Our Lady (15th August)
      • All Saints (1st November)
  7. Books
    • Read a book related to the liturgical season. As I write, we are coming to the end of November, and I have been reading Holy Women by Pope Benedict XVI, and learning about some amazing female saints. Hopefully I will be able to share some of this stories with my daughter when she is older
    • Read the autobiography or biography of a saint who has an upcoming feast day
    • Buy a book for Advent or Lent. Magnificat Magazine publish excellent Advent and Lent companions
    • Don’t keep your bible tucked away! Leave it somewhere you see it, so you will pick it up more often

What tips do you have for liturgical living? I would love to hear your ideas and inspiration!

Thank you Kelly for hosting 7 Quick Takes! Head on over to This Aint the Lyceum for more quick takes


World Meeting of Families: Day 4

World Meeting of Families 2015 DiaryToday was the final day of the World Meeting of Families.  The congress seemed to get busier as the week went on, perhaps as people came to do just a day or two of the meeting, and be in Philadelphia for the papal weekend. At the beginning of the week, congress attendees were invited to participate in a record-breaking mural project, The Sacred Now: Faith and Family in the 21st Century, in which over 2700 people helped paint. By today, the mural was nearing completion, ready for Pope Francis to paint the final brush stroke.

There was a real buzz about the convention centre as people did last minute shopping at the official store and in the exhibitors hall, people gathered around big screens to follow Pope Francis’ visit, and headed to the main hall for the final keynote talk, “The Joy of Gospel Life”, which was delivered by Pastor Rick Warren and Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

As we made our way to the final breakout session, I caught a glimpse of Archbishop Chaput officially closing the conference. I had a heavy heart, as the week had been so inspiring and a time of spiritual renewal. The final breakout session I attended was perfect one to end the congress on- Family Ties: How Meals, Rituals, Traditions, Worship and Prayer Create Strong, Healthy and Joy-Filled Catholic Homes. The session was led by Lacy Rabideau of Catholic Icing. She spoke about living the liturgical year, and creating Catholic traditions and experiences that would weave into family life, so that Church was not something ‘separate’. For some people, the only Catholic part of their week is attending Mass on Sunday, therefore they only have to stop attending Mass to stop being Catholic, Lacy observed. She suggested that if the Catholic faith, with its prayers, songs, traditions, with baking and crafting and pilgrimages, was woven into their lives like a tapestry, once children became older, it would be harder to stop being Catholic as it would be such a large part of their lives. It was an interesting session which gave me lots of ideas to being living more liturgically and weaving the faith into our own lives.

There were many “off-shoot” events running throughout the week, such as the World Meeting of Families film festival, the Museum of the Bible exhibit from Rome, a plethora of talks, a pro-life evening organised by Priests for Life and the 40 Days for Life kick off, as well as the opportunity to venerate the major relics of Saint Maria Goretti, daily confession and  round-the-clock adoration. We didn’t make it to any of these events. Nor did we do any sightseeing! Most days, we left the house at 9am and didn’t get back until at least 6pm, so our days were packed enough!

As I wandered around the Conference Centre for the last time, I found myself wondering where then next World Meeting of Families would be. Before coming on this trip, I had thought of the World Meeting as something we might do a few times, but after experiencing one, I would like to make the effort, God willing and circumstances permittig, to attend the Meeting as often as possible.

Although sad the congress is now over, it has been a week of rich catechesis, of encounters with other families, of ideas and inspiration. I return home with a new energy to share and experience the faith in our small family, our community and with the world. And, although the talks and catechesis are over, the World Meeting is not yet quite finished. Tomorrow, Pope Francis will arrive in Philedelphia and will be present at the Festival of Families, and will celebrate the closing Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday.

World Meeting of Families Diary: Day 3

World Meeting of Families Diary

Today has been another busy day at the World Meeting of Families. The second, and last, full day, the schedule was packed. We began by browsing in the exhibitors hall. It is encouraging to see such a vast, vibrant array of organisations, resources, toys, art, clothing etc. I managed to be reasonably restrained and only bought a couple of things; Not Just Good, But Beautiful, a book containing 16 of the presentations given at last year’s inter religious Humanum conference, and A Sinner’s Guide to NFP by blogger Simcha Fischer. There were also lots of freebies too including a Catholic Answers booklet on Divorce, Remarriage and Communion, Magnificat and Magnifikid, which I was delighted with as I have always wanted to take a peek inside Magnifikid, and many other magazines, DVDs, information leaflets, etc.

We attended a morning breakout session by Dr Janet E Smith. She spoke about the prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae. Dr Smith began the talk by placing Humanae Vitae in context- it was a time of many student protests, the sexual revolution was under way, the Beatles were new on the music scene. Until 1930, all Christian denominations had rejected contraception. It was only at the Lambeth Council was contraception finally permitted for Anglicans. After the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, some prominent Catholic priests rejected the Church teaching and even went as far as encouraging dissent. However, time has revealed the prophetic nature of the document. Smith used statistics and facts to paint a picture of the effects of the Pill in our culture today;

  • Over 42% of children in U.S. are born out of wedlock. In Detroit that figure is over 80%
  • 83% of women who have abortions are unmarried. 51% of women who have an abortion are using contraception
  • The UN withholds assistance from countries that do not have aggressive population control programs

However, despite the bleak outlook that statistics paint, Dr Smith ended her talk by offering hope for the future, saying that there is a new springtime.

Hope for the future is something I really felt today at the World Meeting of Families. There are so many faith-filled, committed young families and big families that have made the pilgrimage to be in Philadelphia. There are many priests and religious too, but I was struck by how young they seem to be.

The afternoon key note was presented by Cardinal Luis Tagle. I have never heard him speak before and I was unsure of what to expect. He spoke on the subject of the wounded Church, and how each and everyone of us is wounded but the family and the Church are places the family finds healing. It is precisely in the power of Christ’s wounds that the grace of healing originates. He used the examples of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the friends who removed the roof off the synagogue to lower the paralysed man down to Jesus. That is what families do- they never give up. They stand by their wounded members. Indeed a wound to a family member wounds the entire family. This is also the cast with the Church. The Church is a Church of the wounded, for the wounded or, as Pope Francis said, a field hospital for the sick. In order to help bind the wounds, we are sometimes called to go to dark places and, like the Good Samaritan, heal wounds, restore relationship and banish alienation. Despite the heavy subject, Cadinal Tagle was engaging and made numerous light-hearted jokes!

Our afternoon ended in the Ballroom with Christopher West. He spoke about living life in 3D- Desires, Design and Destiny. He spoke about The sexual revolution enjoyed great success in large part because it was reacting against an impoverished and distorted vision of human sexuality and Church teaching. Thanks to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body there was a recovery of the authentic appreciation of the beauty, mystery and goodness of human sexuality.

We ended the day back home, watching coverage of Pope Francis’ visit on EWTN.

World Meeting of Families Diary: Day 2

Day two is the first full day of the congress. Before the talks began, we wandered around the exhibitors area to get a taste of what was there. There were big names I recognised such as Ignatius Press, Ave Maria Press, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic Match, Word on Fire, Priests for Life, and Retrouvaille, as well as religious orders and businesses I had not heard of, selling beautiful art, catechesis materials, DVDs, childrens toys, ornaments, t-shirts. The exhibitors hall is a really cornucopia of all things Catholic and I look forward to exploring it some more!

On my way out, I spotted the host of Ave Maria Radio’s Catholic Connection, Teresa Tomeo. I said hello to her but was so star struck I forgot to ask for a photo… Fortunately I bumped into her again later in the day and Teresa had a photo opportunity with her no. 1 Irish listener!

with Teresa Tomeo

Wednesday’s talks began with a key note address by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who spoke on The Light of the Family in a Dark World. He said the Christian family is called to testify that “love to the end is possible.”

“The world today needs saints with heroic witness to defend and nurture the family. By opening ourselves to God’s grace and his Holy Spirit living in us, our homes and families can allow goodness to enter the world.”

Following the key note, there were many break out sessions to choose from. We attended a session entitled Digging into Dignity: Promoting the Dignity of the Human Person by Prof. Teresa Stanton Collett. She described the challenging and inspiring ethic of human dignity and how it informs the entire spectrum of Catholic political engagement from support for measures to alleviate poverty and to provide decent housing, suitable education and health care, and opposition to abortion, euthanasia, torture, prostitution and human trafficking. She encourages Catholics to promote the dignity of the human person by writing letters to the editor and engaging in respectful dialogue to persuade others of the beauty and compelling attractiveness of the vision of man, the anthropology that underpins Catholic social teaching. She urged the audience not to succumb to the all too prevalent cynicism about politics and politicians.

After lunch, we attended the second key note of the day which was given by Prof. Helen Alvaré on the subject Creating the Future: The Fertility of Christian Love. She began by showing a short clip from the Humanum series from the Marriage, Culture and Civil Society film

Alvaré spoke about how movie-makers, song-writers and advertisers tap into our desire to be loved through the stories they tell, the songs they write and the way goods and services are marketed. She noted that one of the greatest punishments for man is that of solitary confinement. Yet, in contrast to this, a culture is being create where man is becoming increasingly isolated, living and working alone. She spoke of her generation as the ‘me’ generation, yet she rebelled against that. She learned from her mother and her grandmother the importance of self-sacrifice, the importance of putting others before herself and the importance of this in her own development as a person. It is in the family that one cultivates the habit of self-sacrifice- while waiting for someone in the bathroom or giving away a special possession. It is only after cultivating this sacrificial love in our families that we can be good samaritans and make a gift of ourselves to strangers.

The day ended with a second key note by Cardinal Peter Turkson. He gave a presentation on the holistic approach of Pope Francis in Laudato Si, linking the fundamental importance of protection of human ecology and protection of the earth’s ecology.

World Meeting of Families Diary: Day 1

Today marked the beginning of the 8th World Meeting of Families, held in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference is Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive. Over the next few days, I will share my impressions and experiences of this exciting event which will end with the Festival of Families and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

IMG_1646Standing in line for coffee, my eyes fell upon a couple nearby. They were wearing complementing outfits. She wore a beautifully made dress in a light-coloured fabric with a small pattern, and he wore a matching shirt. As I looked more closely I noticed that the clothes were made especially for the occasion in a fabric which was also printed especially for the occasion. Joking about my love of organization, my husband nudged me and said “now they’re well prepared!”. I got chatting to them. They had travelled all the way from Zimbabwe to attend the congress. Like many of the 20,000 pilgrims in Philadelphia this week, they had travelled many thousands of miles to attend the event. Others had travelled from as far afield as the Philippines, Argentina, Nigeria, Poland and Italy. There are people from over 100 countries present, making it the biggest World Meeting of Families ever!

I have made the pilgrimage with my husband and daughter from Ireland. Arriving at the downtown Philadelphia this afternoon for the beginning of the congress, the brotherly love and sisterly affection of the city was palpably present as delegates from around the world assembled for the opening ceremony. Archbishop Paglia of the Pontifical Council of the Family was one of the speakers at the conference opening. He encouraged the delegates gathered,

“If the family is strong, society is strong”.

Newly appointed bishop, Rev. Robert Barron, gave the first key note address of the congress. In a packed out hall of priests, religious, but mainly families, he observed how religion has become privatised. This is the complete opposite of the Gospel message to go out into the world and spread the Good News and “Edenise” the whole world. He spoke about the relativism that has become second nature to many people in society, especially among young people. The idea that existence precedes essence, that the person defines reality and imposes their own meaning on the world has become one of the unchallenged dogmas of modernity. Can you pick up a golf club and just start playing golf? Can you play football without the rules? Bishop Barron remarked that in the world of sports, the idea of playing without rules is absurd, yet the idea of living life without rules is increasingly acceptable as people reject rules of morality. These rules, however, are not rules to bind us. Rather, they are rules for our freedom. As in language learning, you have to learn the rules of grammar to become fluent.In every area that matters to us, we welcome and revere law, because it is laws and rules that help us to excel. Orthodoxy means right worship. Throughout the bible, orthodoxy brings about peace, so when we worship God correctly, peace and harmony breaks out among men. By the same token, when man worships the wrong things, creating false gods and idols, division, conflict and war are rife.

Walking through the city on the way home, we saw the preparations Philadelphia is making to welcome Pope Francis: The papal coloured rosettes on the City Hall, the banners lining the streets, the posters, the t-shirts… security arrangements are very tight for the Papal visit- cars in a certain area that have not been removed from the street are being towed, while vast areas of the city are on ‘lock down’. Many train stations will be closed at the weekend so as to provide a better service for the papal pilgrims.

Back at base, I reflect on a day which, in between talks, was filled with joyous chance encounters with Catholic individuals and families from far and wide. There was inspiration and encouragement all around; in a smile, an “hola!”, a brief exchange or a conversation about everyday things, and deeper conversations about what brought people to the World Meeting of Families.

As I study the Family Guidebook for the days ahead, I am excited by the speakers who will be presenting key note and break-out sessions, such as Cardinal Robert Sarah, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Dr Janet E. Smith, Prof. Helen Alvaré, Dr Scott Hahn, Msgr Livio Melina, Christopher West and presenters from Ave Maria Radio and EWTN, including Dr Greg and Lisa Popcak. The conference is only a few hours open but already I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here, and excited about the days ahead and the inspiration and graces which I know await!