Outdoor Nativity scenes, advent wreaths, St. Nicholas Day...which are Christmas traditions in the Catholic church? All of them! Read on to find out a bit more about these common holiday happenings.

Outdoor Nativity scenes have historical roots that go back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis believed the gospel and the birth of Jesus deserved a re-enactment. So he did just that! St. Francis created an outdoor Nativity scene and story. While St. Francis’ version was live - as are many church-sponsored outdoor Nativity scenes, many individual Catholics are able to recreate the idea at home in their yards. Nativity scenes outdoors tend to be larger and more life-like than their indoor counterparts. They are a great addition to your decor because they put Jesus front and center for your visitors and entire neighborhood.

Advent wreaths are very common in churches. Along with advent candles, they help Catholic communities mark the weeks of the Advent season. Wreaths and candles are excellent reminders to continually return to preparing for Jesus’ arrival, especially during the busy holiday season. The faithful are invited to pray and reflect each time church or family gathers to light the candle marking that particular week. Advent calendars, which have more of a daily rather than weekly format, are also a tradition that is dear to many Catholics.

St. Nicholas is the Saint better known as "Santa Claus" (Sinterklaas in Dutch, from which "Santa Claus" comes). St. Nicholas was known for his generosity, even though he gave his gifts to the community and poor in secret. You can see the connection between St. Nicholas and the modern and often secular Santa Claus! His feast day is in early December; many Catholics honor him by using his day as a time to both teach about his saintly endeavors and have “St. Nicholas” visit and leave a few small gifts for children. This type of familial celebration is common in the upper Midwest of the United States as well as throughout Europe.

These are just a few of the most common Catholic traditions during Christmastime - and some form of them may be common in other Christian churches. Whether you honor St. Francis by creating a Nativity scene outdoors or you choose to harken St. Nicholas on his feast day, you are creating a sense of belonging and comfort in your home or community. Traditions have that effect! We hope you enjoy them this year and for years to come.