A Giving Party and other Ideas for Teaching Kids to Give at Christmas

The Christmas spirit is still going strong around my house. I didn’t have time to share these ideas before Christmas but I’m hoping they will make it to your Pinterest boards and be there ready and waiting when next advent rolls around.

So much of a child’s experience of Christmas in America is around receiving gifts. There is no denying that it is truly delightful to watch a child’s eyes light up with the arrival of a long desired special toy.  But we tend to underestimate the joy that our kids can experience by giving gifts as well. We adults know far better the anticipation of watching a loved one open a gift that we have worked hard to bring them.  Our kids can participate in the satisfaction of giving too and the more we practice the more pleasure they will find in it. Below is a list of some ideas that we did in my family or that our friends did this year.

 

A Giving Party:

It has become popular among adults to gather together for fundraisers or to even use one’s birthday as a chance to raise money for a good cause.  But these sorts of events usually require that the kids stay home with a babysitter. This year we decided to get our kids together and have them make a simple gift they could give away themselves. They all brought ingredients for a trail mix.  We read A Baker’s Dozen,

which is a story about generosity  and St. Nicholas. Then they mixed their ingredients and assembled gift bags. Each child made three bags. They also had a chance to make a card or label and choose who they were going to give their bag to. It was a simple idea and both kids and parents enjoyed it. There are so many different types of giving parties the possibilities are endless.

A Giving Party and other Ideas for Teaching Kids to Give at Christmas

A Giving Party and other Ideas for Teaching Kids to Give at Christmas

Buy a Gift for a Stranger:

Around the holidays there are always opportunities to buy gifts for a stranger. Talk to your local foster home, family shelter or other social service agency and they often have lists of children and adults who won’t have anyone buying for them. Take your child along, encourage them even to spend some of their own money towards picking out something really special for someone they don’t know.

A Nursing Home Visit:

My daughter and I took candy canes to a nursing home this year on St. Nicholas day (growing up this was always a day that we did a church service project so I wanted to maintain the tradition).  It took essentially zero preparation we just showed up with a smile and had a wonderful time visiting with the residents.  It was a good reminder that even little kids who can’t do much in the way of work can offer a lot just through their presence.  This is something we are hoping to start doing with our moms group a few times throughout the year.

 

A Secret Secret Santa:

One of my daughter’s friends brought over an unexpected gift. His mom had written the names of their friends on slips of paper and had them each draw one. The kids then got to pick out a gift for their person.  There was no gift for them in return just the fun of delivering a surprise package to a friend.

 

Include Kids in Shopping:

It  may be as simple as bringing a child along to shop for a sibling or parent. Or encourage them to save a few dollars and purchase a thoughtful gift on their own.

 

Random Gifts for Neighbors:

Another friend had her kids assemble small gift bags mostly of candy and cookies that had begun accumulating around the house. Once they had 15 or so bags they went door to door knocking and introducing themselves to neighbors, many of whom they had never met before and passing out the gifts.  It was a simple way to connect with new people and spread some Christmas cheer.

 

Making Gifts at Home:

Including kids in the creation of gifts is one of the best ways to get them excited about giving. If they are small they can make a card or drawing. As they get older they can create ornaments and all sorts of handicrafts. Getting started on these early in the year is key so that a child actually has time to finish a gift themselves.

 

What else have you done to encourage your kids to give around the holidays or any other time of year?

 

 

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An Introduction to the Nativity Tradition of Las Posadas

I’ll be the first to admit I have no business writing this post. I have only attended two Posadas in my life. A Posada is traditionally done in Catholic and Hispanic communities and I am significantly involved in neither.  So if you already know anything about this tradition I encourage you to seek out a wiser source. But for those of you that have never heard of this beautiful tradition I hope I can offer a decent introduction and motivate you to learn more and to consider participating in one next year.

La Posada means “the inn”.  La Posada or Las Posadas (the inns) is an activity typically done in the week or so before Christmas. Churches do them but so do neighborhoods or family groups.  The one we attended this year was at La Posada Providencia an immigrant shelter, so yes it was a Posada at an actual Posada.  La Posada is a sort of theatrical procession where a group follows Mary and Joseph as they go door to door in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay.  They are met by several rejections before finally being welcomed into the last house. Mary and Joseph take the seat of honor and everyone has a party.  There is an official song which everyone has a copy of that is sung back and forth between those in the procession and those waiting inside of each building.

An Introduction to the Nativity Tradition of Las Posadas

 

An Introduction to the Nativity Tradition of Las Posadas

Depending on how far you are walking you may sing a few traditional Christmas carols intermixed with the traditional song. We ended ours with a party and a special time of prayer for immigrants and refugees around the world who are living out the quest for Posada everyday.  It was especially moving to go through this production with our group of immigrants several who are well known to us by now and with a Mary and Joseph who have come from opposite corners of Africa seeking the hospitality of strangers in the US. There was the shedding of tears of grief and of joy especially by those from central America for whom the tradition of La Posada was a familiar homecoming.

An Introduction to the Nativity Tradition of Las Posadas

 

An Introduction to the Nativity Tradition of Las Posadas

La Posada is a beautiful way to focus the celebrations of Christmas on the incarnation of Christ, to learn hospitality and to become mindful of those in our midst who are seeking shelter. I highly recommend you make this part of your Christmas traditions.  For a simple kid’s book about La Posada check out Tomie de Paula’s The Night of Las Posadas.

If you are looking for a Posada to participate in consider checking in with a Catholic Church that has a Spanish service or congregation.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

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A Greek’s Guide to Sesame Seed Candy (Pasteli)

Christmas day is past but we still are still celebrating in our house and will be until Epiphany.  I finally got the popcorn garland finished today and put it on the tree. As usual I was a bit of a mad woman trying to cook and bake and sew and clean, host parties, go to parties and do every other activity that I do in preparation for Christmas. Right now I am enjoying the fruits of my labor by eating left overs, sleeping in and listening to Christmas music non-stop.

For Christmas gifts, our family typically assembles a few homemade goodies for family and friends.  This year I decided to try my hand at one of my all time favorite foods.  It is a Greek candy called Pasteli . I just learned the official name but I grew up eating these out of my Yiayia’s candy dish.  When I moved away she would send me boxes in little care packages and snacking on theses sweet candies sustained me through many an exam and night on call.

As far as candies go they are reasonably healthy. The version I grew up with and attempted to make contained only honey and sesame seeds. Others may contain sugar, nuts like pistachios and spices like cinnamon and ginger. The preparation is relatively simple and requires no baking or special equipment.  The trick, which I haven’t mastered yet is getting the consistency just right. You can enjoy them anyway but I want mine to be crunchy.  For my Christmas baking I made three batches. The first came out perfectly crisp, just like I remembered them. My next two stayed chewy, still good but a little messier to serve and eat. Substituting some of the honey for sugar (something I’m not willing to do yet) may help give a crunchier end product.    Still even my batches that didn’t come out just right were a big hit with guests and this will likely become a new staple for sweet snacking in my house.  Here is the quick and easy recipe.

 

Sesame Seed Candy (Pasteli)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey

 

A Greek's Guide to Sesame Seed Candy (Pasteli)

 

Directions

  1. Lay a piece of parchment paper on the counter, coat it with a thin layer of butter or oil.
  2. Toast sesame seeds over medium heat until the color changes to a slightly golden brown but do not burn. Set them aside.
  3. In a small sauce pan warm honey, bring it to a boil and cook it over medium/high heat for 2 minutes, stir so it doesn’t burn.
  4. Add seeds to honey and cook  for 10 minutes, stirring to prevent scorching, until the mixture takes on an even deeper golden brown color.  Longer cooking should yield a crispier candy where shorter cooking should give a softer candy.
  5. Pour hot seeds and honey onto the parchment paper.  Place another sheet of parchment paper over top. With seed mixture sandwiched between two layers of parchment paper roll with a rolling pin until candy is about a quarter inch thick.
  6. Allow to cool.
  7. While still slightly soft but mostly cool transfer to a cutting board and slice into squares or strips.
  8. Once completely cool store in an air tight container layered with parchment paper in a cool dry place. If you want to store for more than a week consider switching to the fridge or freezer.

Enjoy this tasty and healthy Greek treat.
Opa!

A Greek's Guide to Sesame Seed Candy (Pasteli)

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

 

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God with Us Even in Our Mess

God with Us (even when we are a mess)

 

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us)”.

Mathew 1: 23

 

God with us.

God incarnate. A  God- baby living and growing right here on the dirt of the earth.

All of Christendom stands on this reality. Most of the time I don’t stop to let these words sink into my soul. Mostly I try to put the incarnation into a box that has more appeal.  In a breath I move from God with us, to us with God. It’s a subtle switch but a far more  alluring concept.

I desperately want salvation to mean being whisked up to heaven to float around on clouds playing harps with angels. I want  an escape or at least a world where there is no infertility, no miscarriage, no sudden death, no Aleppo. And I want to be angry with God for not making it the way that I think is best.

But Mathew insists on, God with us. He starts his book out with a painfully tedious genealogy (which I usually skip over if I ever come across it) towards this point.

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, etc. etc. etc.

This year I’ve been reading the Bible stories with my daughter, so some of these names are starting to feel more familiar than ever, some because we read them, others because I carefully edit them out.

Characters like Rahab the prostitute are difficult to explain to a four year old. Then there is Tamar, twice widowed and so desperate for a child that she dresses as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law (who is the kind of guy apparently that frequents prostitutes).  Then the famous King David who takes Bathsheba to bed and when she gets pregnant has her husband  Uriah killed in battle to cover up his offense.

There are good stories too, stories like Ruth, a foreigner brought in and made part of a new people. But none of the stories are simple, few of them are what we would look at today and call “christian”. They are stories of a messy people, of real failures, of genuine pain and this list of names is recorded here so we don’t forget it when we come to this next passage,

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 

An unmarried  pregnant teen who swears she is still a virgin. Her fiance  deciding whether to call it off quietly or have her publicly stoned (which would have been a reasonable option back then).

God with us. God enters into a  mess that has been growing for generations. He does not rescue us out. He  gives us His Spirit. And in the face of our deepest darkness and our ugliest failures He gives us light.  He so transforms the world that in the simple act of loving another person we see His face and hope begins growing out of every broken place.

This year has left me lonely, I long for more children, for the growth of a church, for a deep sense of community. Still compared to many my griefs have been small. I have stood alongside of friends who have watching their children and parents and grandparents cross over to death. I have seen bodies that I love wrecked with illness.  And I have grown ever more aware of the fragility of the world as I’ve heard the stories of immigrants  fleeing violence, traveling by foot through central America to reach our border.  I want it to be “Us with God,” I want to escape this pain.  All I can do is pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”  And He has come, and is to come and will come again, Immanuel, not us with God, but God with us.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

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