Advent: The right stuff

Christmas gifts cohdra_100_2412 Morgue fileWhen Norma and John’s six children were small, the family received a letter from Santa sometime during Advent each year. “In the note, Santa would write that there wasn’t room in our home for more stuff,” says Norma. “He asked the kids to share their blessings with children who had little.”

Upon receiving the note, each child picked out several things to give to someone less fortunate and left them in a basket on Christmas Eve next to the cookies for Santa. When Santa came, he took the toys and left the family’s Christmas gifts. “The kids really got into it and didn’t just give their old broken stuff,” Norma remembers. “They gave things that they thought others would really enjoy.”

Helping children understand the meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons amid the glitter and glitz of commercialism can be challenging. Add to that challenge parents who are pressed for time with office Christmas parties, cookie baking, Christmas card writing, shopping for gifts, and hosting holiday celebrations, and it’s no wonder some parents have decidedly mixed feelings about the coming of December.

While Advent and Christmas present fantastic opportunities to help children grow in their faith, children can also more easily be drawn into materialism and overconsumption during December than any other month. Parents who successfully help their kids avoid the “gimmes” during this season do it with intentional choices and planning.

Lean on church traditions. The nightly lighting of the candles on an Advent wreath is a good starting point to prevent Christmas hype from taking over in early and mid December. Many churches offer parishioners an Advent booklet so families can read a reflection each night as they light the candles.

“Our Advent wreath reminds us to pray and keeps us in touch with the true meaning of Christmas,” says Kevin, father of three.

For Joyce and Matt’s family December offers opportunities to highlight feast days: Whether it’s St. Nicholas Day (December 6) or the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Joyce and Matt make sure their children understand the significance of the day.

“The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, is also our son’s birthday, so we have a real Mexican fiesta,” Joyce says.

Take quiet time. Parents report that part of finding peace during the holiday season means actively carving out time for quiet reflection.

Sally and Tom, parents of two, set aside one night to spend time with each child individually to talk about the coming of Christ. “We began focusing during Advent on the parallels between how we waited for each child’s arrival and awaiting Christmas,” Sally says. “We spend time talking about and remembering the wait, the anticipation—and even the fear and the glimpse of God’s face that is a new baby, a new member of your family. Our children have not yet gotten too old to love the parallels between themselves as babies and the baby Jesus—hopefully never will.”

Pare down your to-do list. Sometimes parents need to actively defend their family’s time during Advent. If it feels like others are defining what you’re doing during Advent and Christmas, it’s time to grab the reins.

Maureen, a mother of five, enjoys many aspects of the season but keeps an eye on the toll that too much activity can take on her family: “In the spirit of helping my family find the real meaning of the Christmas season, I try to keep my to-do list to a minimum by stripping off any activities which induce stress,” she says.

“Most of these activities are good ones on the surface—parties with friends and family, sending Christmas cards, and baking for neighbors, but if the activity loses its joy, then it gets axed. We focus mainly on Christ-centered activities such as Breakfast with Baby Jesus, an Advent event at our parish.”

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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