Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn’t need to be one more “to-do” on your already packed December calendar. Jesus was born to bring peace, not to stress you out. Try inviting him to be a part of some of your existing holiday traditions; doing so can help parents and kids remember the deeper meaning of the season.
Christmas cards: Turn this chore into a time of Advent reflection for parents. Wait until the kids are tucked in, then put on some quiet Christmas music, pour yourselves some eggnog (or hot buttered rum), and light a candle. Approach your stack of cards with a spirit of thankfulness for the family and friends God has given you. Talk about who has stood out this year – maybe a family struggling with a difficulty or one who has become closer to your own family. Even if you’re normally not one to write personal notes, pick a handful of people for whom you are especially thankful and tell them why you appreciate them. Don’t worry that you’re not being “fair” by not writing such notes to everyone – maybe someone else will receive a note from you another year.
Watch the calendar: “My kids and I make a point of never walking down a Christmas aisle before December,” said Carol, mother of four school-aged kids. “Doing this makes the kids feel ‘in the know’ about the timing of our church seasons. It also gives us the chance to talk about Advent and separate ourselves from what’s being done commercially for Christmas.”
Decorating the tree: Before you start untangling the lights, gather around your bare tree and read a story from Scripture – the John the Baptist story; the annunciation; an infancy narrative. Have each family member pick out one ornament and pray for something that ornament brings to mind.
Light the Advent wreath: Even if you can’t commit to lighting the candles every night of Advent, do so whenever you can. Keep a Bible on the kitchen counter with a bookmark in one of your favorite passages. As you light the candle, have one of your kids read just a couple verses of the passage.
Pay attention to your nativity set: If your Christmas decorations include a crèche, use it as a change of pace for your before-bed prayers. Rather than praying with kids in their rooms, take them down to the crèche to pray. Whether you say the Hail Mary or Our Father, read Scripture, or have the kids pray spontaneously, you will be reminding your children that there is something different and holy about the time before Christmas.
“During Advent, I put out our unbreakable crèche and let the kids play with it,” said Denise, mother of three kids under age 9. “They have the angels babysit the animals and Jesus while Mary and Joseph go out. I have resisted bringing more structure or meaning to their play in fear it would kill the joy of their imagination. But it secretly focuses me on the preparation of all those people who were brought to the manger.”
And on Christmas morning: “We put a small, empty bassinet under our Christmas tree, next to the presents,” said Regina, a mother of five. “On Christmas, before we open the presents, we place a baby doll in it. The empty bassinet reminds the kids who we are waiting for.”
(Scobey-Polacheck, her husband Bill and their children belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee and St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay. Her book, “Discovering Motherhood,” a compilation of her columns, is available at local bookstores or at www.discoveringmotherhood.com.)