When to set up Christmas decorations

From the Vatican, an authoritative answer to a Really. Important. Question.

Actually, I rather like the answer, especially when Fr. McNamara urges circumspection when decorating churches and says that, “It is unnecessary … to fall under the spell of commercial enterprises which tend to anticipate the Christmas season.”

From Zenit – Code: ZE05112920; 29 November 2005.

When to Set Up Christmas Decorations, answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: What would you consider an appropriate time during Advent to put up Christmas trees, ornaments, lights and other decorations in churches and Christian homes?

poinsettiaThis question is simple only in appearance because customs surrounding the celebration of Christmas vary widely among different cultures.

From a strictly liturgical standpoint the preparations for receiving the Christ Child intensify from Dec. 17 onward and this is probably a good time to set up the parish crib, except for the image of the child, which is often added just before Midnight Mass in more or less solemn fashion. Other parishes prefer to set up the crib on Christmas Eve. There are no official rites regarding this widespread custom. In those places that use the Advent wreath, it is placed on the first Sunday of Advent. …e

Dec. 17 or the nearest Sunday might also be a good date to set up Christmas trees and other decorations in Christian homes, but it really depends on local custom and tradition. It is unnecessary, however, to fall under the spell of commercial enterprises which tend to anticipate the Christmas season, sometimes even before Advent begins.

Because some Christmas decorations have often lost their original religious meaning, churches should be rather circumspect about employing them and should do so with great discretion. If used at all, these decorations are best set up on Christmas Eve so as to respect the integrity of the Advent season.

Christmas trees are preferably located outside the sanctuary and church proper, and are best left in vestibules or church grounds. This has been the practice in St. Peter’s Square from the time of Pope John Paul II.

As far as possible, decorations should be religiously themed, leaving plastic reindeer, sugar canes and Santa Clauses in the local shopping mall or at least within the confines of the parish hall for children’s events.

Within the church proper, apart from the crib, Christmas may be evoked by using, for example, traditional poinsettias, holly and other traditional elements according to the culture. As I mentioned, different cultures celebrate Christmas in various ways.

Advent resolution

A Young Man at Prayer (mid 1470s), by Hans Memling (Oil on oak 39 x 25.4 cm.). National Gallery, London)

I’ll let this picture stand for my Advent resolution this year (the beginning of the church year). This portrait of an unidentified young man at prayer is likely to have formed the left-hand side of a small devotional picture. The open book, probably a Book of Hours or other devotional book, suggests that after a period of prayer and meditation the young man has looked up to see a vision of the object of his devotions.

John McKinlay (1923 – 2014)


My Dad, Alexander John McKinlay (John), died peacefully in his sleep early yesterday morning 28 February 2014 (my birthday) in Hobart. He was 91 and had been well up to the last two months or so of his life. He was a master teacher and had a deep and abiding confidence in the goodness and graciousness of God. Dad decided not to have any funeral: his ashes will be next to those of my mother, June, in Albury NSW. Thank you so much to friends who have supported my family and me with love and prayers.

James Kim OblSB

Yesterday (10 Nov 13) James became an oblate of the Jamberoo Abbey (the Benedictine Community of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple at Jamberoo NSW). Now James and I are oblates together; what a delight!

(An oblate is a lay associate who lives away from a monastery but offers her or himself to, as much as possible, live a Benedictine way of prayer, learning and work in affiliation with the monastery and its community.)