By Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M.
Baby Jesus has always had a unique place in my family, particularly as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. It was my grandmother who gave my parents their first figure of the infant Jesus. With great dedication my mother dressed the image, which remained covered until Christmas Eve.
Following the tradition, my mother gave my brother’s family their first Baby Jesus figure. Now, my nephews and niece praise the Holy Child with carols and kisses – as I used to do when I was a child.
The Holy Child is known with various names around the world: Child of Praga, the spanine Child, the Child of the Spine, Bambino de Araceoli and Holy Child of Cebu, among others. Recently, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with the celebration of the “Traveling Child,” a tradition in Ecuador.
The communities start preparing for Christmas with novenas and blessings during the first Sunday of Advent. The commemorations remember the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. The highpoint of the celebration is Dec. 24, when there is a parade with floats reflecting religious scenes of the Holy Family, the three kings, angels and shepherds and the image of the Holy Child preceding the entire procession. There are two more processions on Jan. 1 and on the vigil of Epiphany in which all the children are celebrated with gifts and treats.
These and other family and cultural traditions during Advent and Christmas help us to keep the focus of this liturgical season, the incarnation of God as a baby. The message of the angels for the shepherds was, “Do not be afraid, I bring to you Good News that will cause great joy … they found a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2, 10,12). The joy of Christmas comes from the awe and gratitude to God for having taken the fragility and humility of our flesh and for having preferred the poverty of the world.
We live the spirit of Christmas when we look for Emmanuel, God-with-us, among those around us, especially the most vulnerable. We live the spirit of Christmas when we gather with family and friends; when we look to be reconciled with one another; and when we renew our fraternal responsibility with the world.
The mystery of Bethlehem is an opportunity for all of us to hand over to the new generations the essence of our faith. If we were to leave aside gifts, meals and cards, and someone would ask us, “How do we celebrate Christmas?” What our answer would be? May our active waiting for the Lord “direct us toward Him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously in the events of daily life” (Pope John Paul II).
Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M., is the director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization in Philadelphia.