There is an old Polish tradition. After Christmas Mass people approach the parish nativity scene, say a prayer to the poor Christ-child, and then take a piece of straw home with them. Some place the straw in a prayer book or in a prominent place in their home (somewhat like the palm branches from Palm Sunday, I suppose).
I read of one family that proudly claims to have in their nativity scene at home pieces of straw they have gathered from dozens of different parishes they have visited in Christmas seasons past – with some of that straw coming from different parts of the country and world.
Maybe you could take a piece of straw from our Nativity of Mary manger to send to family members who could not be with you at Christmas – to foster a spiritual togetherness at Christmas. Let me know if you have heard of any other good Christmas straw devotional ideas.
There is another old legend that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals, such as cows in the barn and deer in the forest, go to their knees to welcome the baby Jesus. Another old story tells that animals can speak like humans on Christmas Eve – but that it's spiritually hazardous to try to listen in.
Maybe it’s like the seal of the confessional – what a priest hears in the confessional he has an absolute duty never to disclose. In the same way, if you hear an animal speaking on Christmas Eve, you have a sacred duty not betray the animal’s private utterance or secret.
Then there is another old proverb that teaches, "If Christmas Day on a Sunday fall, a troublesome winter we shall have all." Christmas does fall on Sunday this year, so we can test that one out.
The fourth Sunday of Advent is upon us. Slow down. Be mindful. Open your heart to an old tradition or begin a new one. Tell a story. Do something in your home and heart to feel the air of Christmas thicken around you. This moment is too mystical and spiritually rich to neglect.
The holy night comes.
"My soul is poor and bare of virtues, the straws of so many imperfections will prick You and make You weep; but O, my Lord, what can You expect? This little is all I have. I am touched by Your poverty... Jesus, honor my soul with Your presence, adorn it with Your graces. Burn this straw and change it into a soft couch for Your most holy body." -- St. Pope John XXIII