Each year around this time my husband and I take the time to consider how we’re going to approach Christmas so that the season is meaningful. We do this in partnership in spite of our faith differences; I’m a trying to be faithful Catholic. He’s at best an agnostic. Yet we both recognize that Christmas can leave one with a sense of an opportunity missed.
Of course as a Catholic I know that when I miss these opportunities it’s because the Divine has escaped me. It can be as if I am a colleague of the Wise Men. I’ve spent my time staring at and studying the stars, but when the most significant astrol event in history occurs I’m distracted.
My husband senses the importance of the time differently. He recognizes that the promise of Christmas now leaves him dissatisfied. The lustre of a commercial, secular Christmas simply can’t fill a heart. It’s pouring water into leaky cisterns.
So focusing on the Christ Child, even when you’re faith is weak to none existent, it reorders your soul towards accepting the peace that the season heralds and the justice to our fellow man that it demands.
1. Advent wreath
As the shops fill with decorations and gifts it can be so tempting to give in and start Christmas itself now, to bow to the culture. The advent wreath is a way to introduce some of the beauty of the Christmas season without getting all the decorating boxes out.
The purple candles represent the penitential season, as Advent is a little Easter. The rose candle, rose representing joy, is used for Gaudete Sunday when the priest also wears rose vestments.
If your children are old enough they can help light the candles, of course. If they’re too young there is now the option of battery powered tealights.
2. Rosary Mysteries
I’ll uplead some printouts soon that you can download here of the joyful mysteries, with scriptural verses that can be read out by any child who can. The scriptural passages are taken from the Message Bible, so they are easily understood by little ones. As you prepare breakfast ask one of the children to get that days mystery and prepare to read it out before you all start to eat. You can talk about that day’s mystery over breakfast or in the car journey to school, so then throughout the day, in quiet moments, your children’s mind may wander, then wonder about the mystery that is the birth of our Lord.
3. Celebrate His Feast And Pray To St Nicholas For His Intercession
Celebrating the feast of St Nicholas is a really good way to focus on the saint, not the myth of Coca Cola. As we live in France but are English we want to maintain the stocking tradition, however here they put their shoes out Christmas morning. So I’ve decided to capitalise on the difference by having St Nicholas’ bag of chocolate coins in their shoes on his feast. We also have a book to read that evening, one from a selection recommended by this site that is devoted to aligning the saint back to Christ Himself.
A forthcoming post will provide you with a printout of a child friendly prayer to this wonderful Saint to say on the eve and his feast day. You may want to take the tips in another forthcoming post on how to write a letter from him to your children (subscribe to ensure you also get the upcoming post on how you can deal with the big, fat man in the red suit when challenging conversations arise too).
4. Have A Special Place For Mary
Mary, Jesus’ mother and our mother in law, has been maligned over the years. Yet, imitating her Son as He stood before Pilate, she has retained a quiet dignity; satisfied only in doing the Father’s will.
Think about it; pregnant outside of marriage she was gossiped about, an outcast and risked death. As her Son grew I have no doubt that, like the disciples, he continually warned her that His mission would end in the cross. On the day of His presentation at the Temple she was told a sword would pierce her heart – and it did after hours of agony and fear when the soldier’s sword pierced His side.
Since then “theologians” have tainted His birth with stories of her supposed rape by a centurion. She is compared to the ‘whore of Babylon’ – Jesus’ sweet mother. Jesus is said to chastise her publicly – an act which according to the Commandments would be a sin as that would hardly honour her – rather than accepting that He was simply extending the Kingdom to those who would believe. This seems to me such an injustice in comparison to all she went through.
Honouring her Immaculate Conception honors Jesus too, which I will go into later. If you can devote a little spot in the home to celebrating this day with a display dedicated to Mary, symbolising what her Immaculate Conception means, then keep it there throughout the season. Did I say we were resisting the urge to decorate for Christmas too early? Well perhaps we’re just decorating in its allotted time, when the meaning is significant.
5. Make A Christmas Cake On One Of The Feast Days
In England we make a rich fruit cake at Christmas (I have my not so traditional chocolate and port version which I’ll share with you) and its often made by Anglicans on ‘stir up Sunday’, the Sunday prior to the start of Advent, when the Common Book of Prayer recites ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord’.
Making yours on a significant day such as the Immaculate Conception or the Feast of Saint Lucy is a wonderful way to enter the festivities whilst focusing on its Source.
6. Make A Folder Of Christmas Stories For The Kids To Colour And Tell Each Other At Bedtime.
I’ve researched Christmas stories on the internet from the perspectives of the different characters and I hope you’ll join me in creating a family story book with illustrations coloured in by our children. They can do one each week and we can read them in the evening before bedtime.
Alternatively, if your little ones are super creative they may want to visualise the stories of the nativity and write their own; if you have older children in the family they could present and read them to the younger ones.
If you do this in a scrap book format year by year you can add to your Christmas reflections. Hit subscribe for the forthcoming post.
7. Stamp Your Cards With A Nativity Stamp And Chose A Bible Verse For Each Card
When I thought of this I was obviously thinking of small fingers and Christmas excitement.
A few years ago I bought a beautiful nativity stamp and some gold ink, but I haven’t really done anything with it. However as we live in France I’ve found the tradition of Christmas cards isn’t that big, it’s actually quite difficult to get hold of them inexpensively so you can buy the hundreds we send each year (exaggerate, me? never!). As a result there isn’t always the option of Christ centred cards.
So this year when I’ve written out the Christmas cards I’m going to have the children stamp the envelope on the back – spreading the message of Christ through the mail system.
You can go a step further with older children and have them write Bible verses in the cards themselves (a post is scheduled for that too).
8. Teach Them Advent Songs
It wasn’t until I bought our children a cd in French and English with Christmas songs on (back in the days when I was preparing them for our move here and trying to teach them French) that I heard an advent song for the first time.
Sung to the tune of twinkle, twinkle little star it goes
Advent is a time to wait, not quite time to celebrate.
Light the candles one by one, ’til this Advent time is done.
Christmas Day will soon be here, time for joy and time for cheer.
You can find similar songs for little ones here. Or theres the more grown up ‘Oh come, Oh Come Emmanuel”.
9. Treat Sunday As The Sabbath
All too often when we think of this commandment we think of it as a burden, but actually it is so we rejoice in this day. Did you know that during Lent we are not actually meant to not continue with our fasting, but celebrate the day the Lord made?
As I said at the opening of the post – the difficulty living in a secular world that has focused on feasting and consumerism, starting Christmas in mid-November (or earlier), is maintaining what the season is meant to be without come off as a scrooge. On the feast days of advent as well as Sundays we get to celebrate, but with the focus on God.
So have a special desert on Sundays, a beautifully laid Sunday table with your advent wreath at its centre, play board games, stay away from the shops and go to the park together after mass….do all of these things with the joy and anticipation of Christ coming anew.
11. Enjoy A Faith Filled Movie On Sunday
When you relax after your days activities chose a movie that reflects the meaning of Christmas, not one that encourages us to think only of the presents and the God of Coca-Cola. Yep, you guessed it, some ideas coming for this too.
12. Give To Charity
As well as feasting remind the children that this is a time to share God’s gifts. I’ve already started encouraging my children to do age-appropriate chores which they get little bits of pocket money for. At the moment they’re saving one third of what they earn to get Christmas presents for others, and one third of the money they earn will go to charity. They get to keep one third to spend on comics on a Sunday – its a feast day after all!
When we’ve done that in previous years they were so excited to buy and wrap things that they’d bought with their own money!
13. Decorate On Gaudette Sunday
Yes, thats the pink Advent wreath one. By now you’ll have a few meaningful decorations in the house, but if you can’t wait until Christmas then Gaudette Sunday is a good time to start the rejoicing. It’s a balance between the consumerism of today and our restrained past where people didn’t put their tree up until Christmas Eve. You might want to consider not officially lighting the lights until Christmas Eve; that way you still have it to look forward to.
14. Use Christ Centred Decorations On Your Tree
Somebody put a Christmas ornament they’d actually seen – a male mermaid with beard – on twitter last year! I have no problems with ornaments of ballet dancers (evoking the Christ filled nutcracker), or ice skates, butterflies – but have we moved this far from Christ?
A few years ago I started to make sure we had ornaments on our tree that held the meaning; the holy family, angels (of course), stars….the obvious choices, but all of a sudden they’re not so obvious are they?
15. Christmas Tree Blessing
When you’ve finish decorating the Christmas tree, you can bless it with this Christmas tree blessing from the USCCB.
16. Have A Nativity With Roaming Wise Men, Shepherds In Hills And Mary And Joseph.
Place your nativity scene in a prominent position and as each day goes by move the travelling characters around the room on their journey towards it. You could even move them from one point of the house to the other.
Bringing the nativity scene out on the 16th can mean you can mimic the tradition of Pasada; it’s one I’ve recently learnt and want to share with you during this season of preparation.
If yours is one of not too much emotional or monetary value one of your children can place them somewhere with the others trying to find them.
17. As You Wrap Your Presents Remember To Keep One Back From The Kings
You may not join the clamour to start Christmas itself early, revelling in Advent, but bear in mind that this season has a feast on 6th January too; the visitation of the wise men when Jesus received his gifts.
Do you remember that feeling after Christmas had passed? All that excitement and preparation seems to result in a anticlimax that’s over in one or two days doesn’t it? Or worse, the feasting may have gone on too long and the eating of food and drinking of wine becomes a burden rather than a joy.
By marking the feast of the visitation with a gift it’s a sign that the reality of Christmas isn’t over, that God’s gift is still present and that after you’ve waited as a family you’re now being rewarded; good spiritual messages huh?
Sign the gift tag Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar.
18. Go To Confession
Or at least a penitential service – but better confession. You want to receive Him on Christmas morning with due reverance no? Also it doesn’t hurt to receive extra grace when you may be about to deal with difficult family members (remember, as Mother Theresa would say “There goes Jesus in that disguise he wears”).
19. Have Your Little Ones Make a Gift For Jesus (And Possibly Mary And Joseph Too)
Christmas Eve keep the little ones focused on something besides presents and make some cookies for Jesus. When Christmas morning comes I’m sure your priest will gladly accept them on behalf of the Christ child and, after all, like the Little Drummer Boy, Jesus smiles on all the children who have hearts full of love for Him.
Bring some Roses too and if your parish has a statue of the Holy Family lay them there, or if not then at Mary’s feet.
20. Dress The Children In Nativity Outfits And Go to Mass
The majority of my family are unbelievers so I sometimes take the step of going to mass on Christmas Eve. I won’t get any of them in the church Christmas morning, but if the children are dressed as Mary, Angels or shepherds for the Christmas Eve mass they show up. Hey, you never know what may happen!
I’d love your feedback and comments, in the meantime….