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?

 

 

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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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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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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Why we don’t need to “put Christ back into Christmas”

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It was the night of Christmas Eve night, my family was asleep, I snuggled up on the couch ready to enjoy a few quiet moments with a cup of cocoa and my tree before heading to bed. I gazed at the twinkling lights and the ornaments which we had finally hung that morning.  All was as it should be, and so I sat, waiting to feel the way things looked.

 

Peace was elusive. After a few minutes my stomach lurched as I thought of the kids, some in the colonia right next door, who would face a Christmas of disappointment, poverty and violence.  My mind was racing now and suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  We were safe, with presents under the tree and a stocked pantry.  It was so much more than we deserved. My heart pounded and I began wiping tears as I looked at my daughter’s lone stocking, once again a year has gone by without another pregnancy.  Now I was frustrated with myself, I had one perfect daughter, healthy and growing. I ached for my friends who were still waiting for their first child and those who had lost a child this year.  I went on and on like this, cycling from gratefulness to longing, from joy to misery. Eventually with my head muddled I gave up and went to bed.

 

As I did I realized that my no matter how hard I tried Christmas would always disappoint me. The jolliness would never be jolly enough to dispel all the sorrow that sneaks in with it.   And yet, at the same time, the heartache could not overcome the goodness of it all, the gifts, the friends, the lights, Christmas inevitably brings an undeniable wonder.

 

And then I recognized this tension. I was staring into the face of Christ.

 

For much of America Christmas has lost its religious significance.  For our economy it has become simply about shopping.  Those of us in the church have tried to counteract this with a trend of our own, banishing Santa for being a lie that distracts us and instead telling everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and lately by plastering our cars with stickers that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas”.

 

It’s as if we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is inescapable. He is in the air. We are formed from the dust that He created and of His own breath.  Every delicious morsel we eat at Christmas is fed to us by Him.  With eggnog and spiced cider He quenches our thirst.  Every carol, every bell ringing, every laughing child and glimmering tree, all that is beautiful proclaims Him.  And each hug, every reunion, every gift, it all declares His love.   At the same time our loneliness and heartache, our grief which is amplified at Christmas is not lost on Him, we weep and Christ weeps with us.  Christ gives an abundant life with both beauty and pain. He gives it so we can give it back to Him.

 

Life is sacrament.  We don’t need bumper stickers to remind us to put Christ  back into something He has never left, we don’t need to kick Santa to the curb, we don’t even need perfect moments with our tree. We need Him and that is Christmas, longing hearts waiting for baby to be born and waiting for the savior of the world to come again.