Published September 6, 2007
Imagine this: It is Christmas Day, and instead of dwelling on the stuff awaiting them beneath the tree, kids are lighting candles on a birthday cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
What a concept, huh?
Although the celebration of Jesus’ birthday has given rise to excessive commercialism, especially in wealthier nations like our own, it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are, after all, two other birthdays celebrated in the liturgical year—that of John the Baptist on June 24 and the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8.
Fortunately, neither has given rise to a frenzy of consumerism.
We don’t know much about the Virgin Mary’s beginnings, since there is no mention of her birth in the Gospels, but tradition tells us she was born to Joachim and Anne.
And we know from her own prayer in St. Luke’s Gospel, “The Magnificat,” that she glorified God for providing for the poor: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away” (1:52-53).
Her simple words are a cue for celebrating her birthday. We needn’t rush to the store to buy things. Instead, we can create the party from the humble ingredients found in our cupboards, our prayer books and our own backyards.
Women for Faith and Family, an international Catholic group that embraces the church’s traditional teachings on life, family and faith, suggests down-home ways to honor Mary on her special day.
Here are some ideas from the group’s Web site (www.wf-f.org):
Families with children can bake an angel food cake, so named because the texture is so white and fluffy that the cake was considered an appropriate treat to feed celestial beings.
And here’s a thought: Even if you have formerly been hesitant to bake a cake “from scratch,” why not say a “Hail Mary” and give it a try?
This simple cake has egg whites, flour, vanilla and sugar, and there are many basic recipes in cookbooks and on Web sites.
For Mary’s celebration, use white icing made from mixing confectioner’s sugar with milk and a few drops of vanilla. You might also tint some icing pale blue, a color that symbolizes Our Lady’s fidelity.
Now add 10 candles to represent the 10 Hail Marys in a decade of the rosary. Mom or Dad can light each candle, one at a time, with the family saying a “Hail Mary” for each one—and then letting the children blow out all the candles.
There are other ways to honor Our Lady that have nothing to do with buying stuff in stores. If you have a statue—or icon—of the Blessed Mother in your home, you might invite the children to collect flowers from the yard and make a humble bouquet for her or light a votive candle.
There is no need to rush out and get fancy flowers. As any child knows, a single wildflower plucked from the front yard can convey more love than a cluster of the finest, most costly roses.
Prayers are another simple and heartfelt way to honor Our Lady. Families might pray the rosary together and say the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This litany is filled with gorgeous, poetic descriptions of the Mother of God, calling her “cause of our joy, spiritual vessel, mystical rose, tower of ivory, house of gold and ark of the covenant.” She is also praised as “gate of heaven, morning star, health of the sick and refuge of sinners.”
You’ll find the litany in Catholic prayer books, as well as on the Women for Faith and Family Web site. Also on the Web site, for those who enjoy singing, there is a truly lovely hymn called “Mary the Dawn,” taken from the Adoremus Hymnal.
The chanted hymn links Mary and Jesus with vivid images drawn from nature: “Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day; Mary the Gate, Christ the Heavenly Way; Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine; Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine.”
In addition, little children might enjoy drawing their ideas of Mary as a baby—and as a little girl.
On Mary’s birthday, you needn’t try every single one of these suggestions. Instead, you might follow the path of St. Therese of Lisieux, who truly loved the Blessed Mother.
St. Therese suggested that we become like children and learn to do simple things with great love. Of course, love is the key on this special birthday. May your tender actions today draw you closer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary! And may you find joy in celebrating her birth with simplicity and humility!
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of “Grace Notes: Embracing the Joy of Christ in a Broken World,” “How Shall We Celebrate?” and “Why Me? Why Now?” Her readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artwork featured in the print edition by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com).