On the 17th of December we begin the “O Antiphons,” and the whole tone of Advent changes. We are only eight days (known as an Octave) away from Christmas Day, so there is an increase in activity and a renewed sense of expectation. During these last days, our prayers arise with an ever-increasing crescendo. They are cries from our hearts not only for ourselves but for the whole world, cries for the Messiah to come and reign and to set the world to rights. Christians around the world are so eager for this coming, that we cry out with one voice for Christ to come and to come quickly!
One of the ways that we cry out as the Church is through the “O Antiphons”. The “O Antiphons” are a beautiful tradition going back 1,300 years. They are scripturally based prayers focusing on the titles given to Christ in scripture. Originally, they were chanted in monasteries during the last days before Christmas. The “O Antiphons” were prayed before and after “The Magnificat” during the service of Evening Prayer. One antiphon was prayed each evening from December 17 until December 23. Then on December 24, the Octave was completed by chanting all of the Antiphons.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, one of the Church’s oldest and most beloved hymns is the “O Antiphons” set to music. Each stanza is an Antiphon and was meant to be sung during the Octave with a new verse added each day.
Ways to Celebrate “O Antiphons”
A great way for you to celebrate these last days before Christmas is to add the “O Antiphons” to your daily devotion. They add to our sense of anticipation while also helping us to keep our focus on what Advent is all about, the coming of Jesus Christ. You can either say or sing the Antiphon appointed for each day and then, on Christmas Eve, pray or sing all them all.
Traditionally, in the monasteries, the monks would recite the “O Antiphons” and then they would hand out special small treats. After your family has finished singing the Antiphon of the day, serve a special little treat that corresponds to the Antiphon.
To help you celebrate the last days before Christmas, I’ve included the Antiphon for each day, as well as fun treat ideas.
I’ve also included below the symbols to help spark creativity if you want to come up with your own treats. I hope this tradition is a blessing to your family as you move closer to Christmas!
December 17 – O Wisdom (Isaiah 11:2)
“O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – Oil Lamp, Open Book, Dove (Holy Spirit)
Treat Ideas – Serve a treat that is made with a “brain food” like blueberries or dark chocolate. Since a symbol for Wisdom could be a book, you could make cookies in the shape of a book or serve fig newtons and decorate them with icing so that they look like little books.
December 18 – O Lord (Exodus 6:6)
“O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – The Burning Bush, The Ten Commandments
Treat Ideas – Pulling from the reference to the law or the ten commandments, decorate graham crackers with icing to make them look like the ten commandments. You could add the roman numerals 1-5 on one half of the cracker and 6-10 on the other. You could also serve something spicy like salsa and chips to represent the burning bush.
December 19 – O Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1)
“O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s Tree, free them from Satan’s tyranny; that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – Plant, Root With Flowering Stem
Treat Ideas – Since the Messiah is the “root” of the tree of Jesse, serve root beer. You could also make carrot cake since carrots are a root vegetable.
December 20 – O Key of David (Isaiah 22:22)
“O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – An Elaborate Key
Treat Ideas – The monastic tradition on this night was for the monk in charge of the wine cellar to use his key to open the cellar and bring out a special bottle of wine. Serve a sparkling fruit juice instead. You could also make cookies in the shape of a key.
December 21 – O Dayspring (Isaiah 9:2)
“O come, thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – Sunrise, The Sun
Treat Ideas – Serve oranges since oranges look like the sun or make any dessert made with oranges.
December 22 – O Desire of Nations (Jeremiah 10:7)
“O come, Desire of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – Crown, Crown and Scepter, Cornerstone
Treat Ideas – Make cookies in the shape of a crown. Make something in a loaf pan so that it looks like a cornerstone. You could make something like banana bread or pound cake.
December 23 – O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14)
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Symbols – Manger, Star
Treat Ideas – Serve cookies in the shape of a manger or star. Make homemade chai tea using star anise. Serve chocolates from chocolate nativity set.
December 24 – Sing Every Verse
Symbols – Candle, Poinsettia
Treat Ideas – Make cookies in the shape of a candle or a flower. Eat your special treats by candle light. Since it is Christmas Eve, serve something extra special and celebratory like chocolate covered strawberries and sparkling juice.