Ways to celebrate the spirit of Advent and Christmas around the archdiocese

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Ways to celebrate the spirit of Advent and Christmas around the archdiocese

Catholics can take part in various traditions occurring in the Advent season that can enhance their celebration of Christmas.
Every year over 300 horses carrying members of various cowboy clubs from the Chicago area make their way to place a rose at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines as part of a pre-celebration for the feast day on Dec. 12. This year the event takes place on Dec. 7 at 1 p.m. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A procession of semi-trucks makes their way to Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines as part of a pre-celebration for the feast day on Dec 12. This year the event takes place on Dec. 7 in the evening. (Julie Jaidenger/Chicago Catholic)
A mountain of flowers brought by thousands of pilgrims through the night are placed by statues at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, on Dec. 12. The shrine is the most visited U.S. shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second most-visited in the world after Mexico’s Basilica in her honor. (Karen Callaway Chicago Catholic)
A woman prays in front of a creche in 2012 in Chicago's Daley Plaza. (Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)
Children carry parols (star-shaped lanterns fashioned out of bamboo and colored paper to form a three-dimensional star) in the entrance procession during a Simbang Gabi Mass on Dec. 20, 2018, at Old St. Mary’s Church in Chicago. Simbang Gabi, one of the oldest and most popular Filipino Christmas traditions, is a nine-day novena to the Blessed Mother that culminates on Christmas Eve to welcome the birth of Jesus Christ. (Karen Callaway/ Chicago Catholic)
The exchange of oplatki Christmas wafers is a Polish tradition that dates back hundreds of years when bread was scarce and exchanging it with neighbors was a gesture of goodwill. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich was the main celebrant for Midnight Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State St, in Chicago on Christmas Eve. WGN-TV/Channel 9 has broadcasted this Christmas Midnight Mass live for over 30 years. (Karen Callaway/ Chicago Catholic)
Men dressed as the Three Kings ride on horses leading a procession of Chicago Catholics of Polish decent from St. Ferdinand Parish to St. Ladislaus Parish in Chicago in celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar were the three kings (also known as the Three Wise Men) who brought the baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh when they saw the star over Bethlehem. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

As the hours of sunlight dwindle and the calendar draws closer to Christmas, Catholics have plenty of options when it comes to ways to celebrate this season of joyful anticipation.

Daley Center Nativity scene

For the 35th year, a large Nativity scene will be on display on Daley Plaza, giving tourists, visitors to the Christkindlmarket and Loop workers a glimpse of what the Christmas holiday is about. The display is installed on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and remains in place until just after Christmas.

Installing, taking down and caring for the display is the work of a volunteer group known as the God Squad. For more information, visit

More Nativity scenes

Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan Ave., is hosting its annual “Stories of the Crèche: The Collection of James and Emilia Govan” exhibit through Jan. 5, 2020.

The exhibit, featuring Nativity scenes from more than 40 countries and a Chicago Nativity complete with the skyline and Holy Name Cathedral, is open Wednesday-Friday 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Closed Dec. 25 through Jan. 1.

Lessons and Carols

Several archdiocesan parishes host Lessons and Carols, a devotion that dates to the late 19th century and includes Scripture reading, music and prayer. This year, Loyola University Chicago will hold a service in Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. in Madonna della Strada Chapel on the Lakeshore Campus (tickets $10, visit for details).St. John Cantius, 825 N. Carpenter St., will hold its service at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 (ticket prices range from $5 to $15, visit for details). St. Edward Parish, 4350 W. Sunnyside Ave., will host Marian Lessons and Carols on Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, at 4 p.m., free-will donation).

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Many, if not most, parishes will offer special Masses for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, on Dec. 12, and dozens will celebrate with “mañanitas,” songs to the Virgin Mary, in the pre-dawn hours.

For a special observance, head to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines. Each year, more than 200,000 pilgrims from around the world visit the shrine for the feast day.

The Des Plaines shrine has an exact replica of the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe donated  by the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. That image is believed to have been given to San Juan Diego by the apparition of Mary in 1531.

Events start the weekend before the Dec. 12 feast day with a pilgrimage on horseback, which was to take place this year on Dec. 7. Then there are novena Masses at 7 p.m. each night that started  Dec. 3.

For the feast itself, there are a dozen Masses — indoor and outdoor; English, Spanish and bilingual — from 6 p.m. Dec. 11 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12.

Simbang Gabi

Filipino Catholics will host Simbang Gabi Masses at dozens of parishes throughout the archdiocese. The traditional pre-Christmas novena to the Blessed Mother starts Dec. 15 and runs through Dec. 23. While the Masses were originally celebrated before dawn in the Philippines, now Simbang Gabi Masses are usually held in the evening. Most parishes also host fellowship afterward. For information and a schedule of Masses, visit


Latino Catholics often celebrate a novena of pilgrimages starting Dec. 16, reenacting Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter. At the end of the pilgrimage, after being refused several times, Joseph and Mary are allowed in and there is a celebration with sweets and hot drinks. Many archdiocesan parishes host their own posadas.

This year, the archdiocese’s Immigration Ministry will host its 14th annual posada for immigration reform Dec. 13 from 7 to 9 a.m., starting at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service office at 101 W. Congress/Ida B. Wells Parkway, proceeding through several stops in the Loop and ending at St. Peter’s in the Loop, 110 W. Madison St. For information, visit


Many Polish, Lithuanian and Slovak Catholic families celebrate Christmas Eve by sharing an “oplatki,” or special Christmas wafer, before the family meal. The large wafers are similar to a Communion host, prefiguring the eucharistic meal that is to come at Christmas Mass.

Several parishes sell oplatki; they also can be purchased online.

Midnight Mass

Check with your parish to find out what time Midnight Mass starts. While most start at midnight, some parishes have shifted to an earlier, though still late-night, start to the first Mass of Christmas to make attendance easier. Many parishes have carols before Mass starts.


In many communities, Epiphany is celebrated as “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings Day” with cake, sweets or neighborhood processions. Check with your parish or neighboring parishes to find out what’s going on for this feast day.


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