Why Do Catholics Have So Many Holiday Customs?

The month of December is an exciting time in the liturgical calendar. It’s not just Christmas that we celebrate this month, but also a number of feast days and solemnities. St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Immaculate Conception are all celebrated in the first few weeks of December. And in addition to the customs and traditions surrounding Advent, many of these feast days have their own customs and traditions associated with them.

But why do Catholics put candy in shoes on St. Nicholas’ feast day, give gifts on Epiphany, or travel from door to door for Las Posadas? Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show Patrick explained some of these holiday traditions, and why they are not just fun traditions, but can help us enter more deeply into Scripture and our Catholic faith.

The first tradition he explained was Las Posadas, saying, “Las Posadas is a beautiful, ancient custom that commemorates the Holy Family going from inn to inn and not finding room at the inn. Mary was ready to give birth to baby Jesus and they had gone to Bethlehem for the census. They didn’t have family there, they didn’t know anybody there, so they were turned away from all these different inns.”

For Las Posadas, two people dress up as Mary and Joseph and are joined by a crowd of attendants as they process from house to house seeking shelter. Traditionally they are refused entrance to the houses that have been designated as “inns.”

“I find that to be a very beautiful custom,” Patrick said. “I participated in it when I was a kid, going from door to door with the different homes representing the different inns saying there is no room for baby Jesus. It’s a way of living out, or dramatizing, that Gospel passage.”

Another popular custom Patrick explained was the tradition of leaving chocolate coins or gifts in people’s shoes on the feast of St. Nicholas (which we celebrated yesterday!)

“St. Nicholas was one of the bishops at the First Nicean Council in 325,” he explained. “He fought against the Arians, and he himself was known to give gifts to people.”

“In maybe the most famous case there were two or three daughters whose family was poor, and there was great concern that they would have to resort to prostitution in order to stay alive. And so he came in the middle of the night and put money in their shoes. Kinda like Santa Claus, he put money in their shoes so that they would find the next morning that they had the money to live a virtuous life and not resort to vice. At least that’s a story that’s told about him.”

The story of St. Nicholas and the tradition of leaving gifts in people’s shoes is a reminder and an opportunity to be as generous to the poor as St. Nicholas was during his life. While for some these may just be fun holiday traditions, they are really opportunities for us to dive more deeply into Scripture, the lives of the saints, and the mystery of God’s love for humanity.

Patrick said, “These are very good customs, and they’re a way for Catholics, and others, to think about and enter into these Biblical teachings by re-enacting them. Kind of like how we have a manger scene with the manger, the angel, the ox, the cow, Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. It’s a way of thinking about these Biblical themes by visualizing them. I would say those are good customs.”

Listen to the full conversations below:

The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 8:00 – 11:00 a.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.