To most, St. Francis of Assisi is remembered as the patron saint of animals and founder of the Franciscan order. But he is also credited with originating the tradition of the Nativity scene. Register file photo

Some Christmas saints you may not know

By 
  • December 20, 2015

The lives of the saints are a huge part of Christian tradition and there are many who we associate with the Christmas season. You probably know the story of St. Nicholas. There’s also, of course, the Nativity story and the birth of Christ, with Mother Mary, St. Joseph and St. Gabriel the Archangel.

But do you recall the least known Christmas saints of them all? Here are just a few.

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi is among the most well-known saints, but not many people associate him with the Christmas season. Most know him as the patron saint of animals and the founder of the Franciscan order, but he is also credited with having begun the tradition of Nativity scenes.

Before 1223, most people celebrated Christmas by going to Mass in Latin, a language few people spoke. Some churches would feature beautiful artwork of the Child Jesus, but St. Francis wanted to think bigger. He wanted to make the story of the Holy Family more accessible to ordinary people and so after a Christmas Eve Mass in December 1223, he found a small cave outside of Greccio, Italy, where he had people playing the roles of Mary and Joseph and holding a wax figure of the baby Jesus. He invited local shepherds and their sheep. He also loaned a live donkey and a live ox from a local farmer for the scene.

St. Bonaventure later wrote about this night in St. Francis’ biography, The Life of St. Francis: “The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise.”

This night was also credited with starting the tradition of carolling.

St. Lucia

The Scandinavians have a delicious Advent tradition that takes place on the feast day of St. Lucia of Syracuse, Dec. 13, which is also the winter solstice in the old Julian calendar.

The winter solstice used to celebrate a pagan festival of lights, which seems appropriate as the name Lucia also means “light.”

The story goes that around 304, St. Lucia, a young Christian girl, was martyred for donating her dowry to the poor and secretly bringing food to the persecuted Christians living in catacombs under the city of Rome. She wore candles on her head to light her way with both her hands free to carry things.

It is tradition that on Dec. 13, the oldest girl of the family dresses in a white robe, a red sash and a crown of candles on her head. After waking up early, she brings her family sweet rolls, or Lussekatts, to their beds.

St. Martin’s Lent

In the advent of Advent, people celebrated the weeks before Christmas as though they were a second Lent. St. Gregory of Tours’ second book of the History of the Franks is the oldest record found of the early practices of Advent.

In the book, St. Gregory cites St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, as the one who had decreed in 480 a fast three times per week beginning from the feast of St. Martin of Tours on Nov. 11. It is unclear whether it was a tradition that St. Perpetuus had implemented himself or if he merely enforced an already existing practice.

The fasting period took place over the course of about 40 days, just as we practice a fasting period during Lent.

The Greek Church continues a similar practice called St. Philip’s Lent which begins on the feast of St. Philip the Apostle on Nov. 14.

St. Andrew

Little is known about the origins of this practice, but there is a novena that begins on the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. The novena is typically known to be a nine-day prayer, however, this novena is meant to be repeated 15 times a day from Nov. 30 until Christmas Day.

The novena isn’t directed to St. Andrew himself, but to God. This prayer is especially recommended for families because it is typically said five times before each meal. However, it can be said throughout the day. For those who are curious, the prayer is as follows:

“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 (mention your intentions here), through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.”

St. Teresa of Avila

Many people have turned to St. Teresa of Avila for guidance in prayer. Her books, letters and poems have been a great source of inspiration to generations of faithful. It is no surprise she would also pen a beautiful prayer of preparation for Advent. The prayer comes from her book, The Way or Perfection. It calls to mind the prophets of the Old Testament waiting for the Lord’s first coming.

“O my God, Word of the Father, Word made flesh for love of us, You assumed a mortal body in order to suffer and be immolated for us. I wish to prepare for Your coming with the burning desires of the prophets and the just who in the Old Testament sighed after You, the one Saviour and Redeemer. ‘O Lord, send Him whom You are going to send… As you have promised, come and deliver us!’

“I want to keep Advent in my soul, that is, a continual longing and waiting for this great Mystery wherein You, O Word became flesh to show me the abyss of your redeeming sanctifying mercy… Come, O Lord, come! I, too wish to run to You with love, but alas! My love is so limited, weak and imperfect! Make it strong and generous; enable me to overcome myself, so that I can give myself entirely to You… What a consolation it will be, O Lord, at the moment of death to think that we shall be judged by Him whom we have loved above all things! Then we can enter Your presence with confidence, despite the weight of our offences!”

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