O come let us get ready

Advent wreathJamie and Carol and their four children, ages 9 to 15, try to avoid looking at any Christmas decorations before Advent begins. It’s a playful practice with a deeper meaning.

“We love to shop, and our favorite store hangs up their Christmas decorations in September,” Carol says. “We actually turn our heads, hold up our hands to shield our eyes, and say, ‘Don’t look! It’s not even Advent yet.’ ”

The yearly ritual leads to giggling, but Carol says it has also provided the opportunity to talk about faith more frequently. “It’s instilled in the kids that the secular celebration of Christmas is really different from what we recognize with the four weeks of Advent.”

Advent is a season of preparation, of getting our minds and souls to a place of readiness to be able to fully enter into our celebration of Emmanuel, God with us.

How do we prepare children and teens for Christmas? To better answer this question, let’s look at what our children need as we prepare them for any event of significance: time to talk and process, a familiar ritual, and a sense that those they love are with them as the event approaches.

Time to talk and process. Brigid and Bob, parents of four, are preparing their children for the death of a family friend who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. They have given their kids the basic facts about the illness, and the couple has been careful to allow time for more discussion.

“We have asked them, ‘What will you need to do so that you have peace in your heart when our friend dies?’ ” Brigid explains.

She has found that this question has led her children to take some actions they might not otherwise have thought of—to make a card, call the friend, or visit.

That simple question can help children prepare for any upcoming event, whether tragic or joyful. What will you need to do so that you have peace in your heart when Jesus comes on Christmas? Listen to your child’s answer, and see where it leads.

A familiar ritual. Professional athletes and kids in soccer leagues understand the importance of ritual before a game. The repetition and familiarity of putting on the uniform, warming up, huddling for the team meeting, and reciting the team chant give comfort in the face of the uncertainty of what the game will bring.

If rituals before a sports event are meaningful to us, consider how much more important they must be for a faith event. The coming of Jesus is life-changing and transformative. Settling down with a ritual in the weeks leading to Christmas can help us to truly welcome the disruption that being a follower of Christ can cause.

Lighting the candles of the Advent wreath and reading a special prayer will help remind the whole family that something important is on its way.

I’m with you! Children’s first understanding of God usually springs from the relationship they have with their parents. Adults who have a view of God as harsh and judgmental often come from homes where one or both parents took this role. Conversely, parents can teach, through their own actions, the concept of Christ as a loving healer, as a forgiver, as one who leads people to act with justice.

Preparing children for Christmas is an opportunity for parents to be more intentional about how they spend time with their kids.

To Maria, mother of two teens, that means letting go of worries about the past and future so as to be truly present to her children. “We need to pull our heads from the useless regret and anxiety of a past we can’t change,” she says. “We need to dislodge our obsession with the future by being present to what God is either asking of us or giving to us now.”

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our FaithClaretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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