My late father never got into too much of a fuss about Christmas. While the rest of us were dashing around like headless chickens, he always seemed to be his usual serene self. Whether his Christmas presents cost the earth or the offering was just a humble pair of socks or a scarf, his reaction was fairly similar.
In fact, it was often the small quirky gifts that captured his imagination; he was very pleased one year with a brimmed hat that served him well for many years. Another year he was delighted with a little breakfast set that one of the grandchildren gave him. When we were small children, he loved our handmade cards and would gather them up and put them away safely as as if they were precious jewels.
As we head into the last few weeks before Christmas, the temptation is to make it all about the outward trappings of the season while it’s often the simple things that matter the most. Ever year, I make a firm resolution not to feel pressured into doing more and spending more and to give my children a great example of how Christ should be at the centre of Christmas. It can be a bit of a battle. While browsing on the internet for Christmas resources, I was highly impressed with the Ossory Diocese Resources for Advent 2017 put in place by their Adult Faith Development Group.
In this era of instant entertainment and easy internet access, parishes need to be competitive and offer a variety of resources that appeal to all age groups. Families, who want Christmas to involve a bit more than investing in the Christmas jumpers and decking the halls with boughs of holly, can get great ideas on this website.
I particularly liked the idea of the Advent Tweet Daily Thought where each day a short film will be tweeted with a simple reflection, prayer or thought for that day. The Advent Text of the Day is equally appealing with messages being delivered that aim to encourage the receiver to reflect for a few minutes or to pause to say a short prayer.
I could really see teenagers and young adults signing up for this. I think that, as parents and educators, we have to hold on to the old traditions, but not be afraid to embrace new ways of preparing for the birth of Jesus.
I have two children for Communion and Confirmation next year and Advent is an excellent time to supplement their preparation for the celebration of these sacraments. I loved the Ossory site’s mention of Communion and Confirmation parent retreats. Many parents can feel a bit out of touch with what’s going on in the school or may have drifted away from the faith. The plan to hold short mini-retreats for parents is something that really interests me and what better time than during Advent. Parents need support as much as children and the chat, advice and interaction with other parents is invaluable.
Other exciting aspects of ossory.ie were the free resources for parishes which include a step-by-step guide to building an Advent wreath and explaining its significance and symbolism, and a simple blessing for the family crib. There’s also a reprinting of the Christmas story and Christmas Grace prayer cards which encourage families to take a moment to say a grace before meals on Christmas Day. This is a great custom for every day of the year and one that the younger children love, often composing their own versions and woe betide any adult who even sniffs at a roast potato before the prayer is over.
Most families have their own Christmas customs and traditions like going to see the Christmas lights being turned on or a trip to bring the younger children to see Santa. With Christmas radio and television stations and a huge focus on Christmas parties and events, we can lose sight of the fact that Advent is actually a season of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the arrival of Jesus.
Taking on some of the suggestions widely available on the various Catholic websites and Facebook pages draws one back to the true meaning of Christmas and helps families to prepare spiritually. For several years I’ve loved using the online Advent Calendar on the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference website. I find that young and old enjoy opening the virtual doors and the content is excellent. This year the focus is on family as we prepare for next year’s World Meeting of Families.
One old favourite that has charmed generations of children is the Moving Crib in St. Martin’s Apostolate, Parnell Square in Dublin. It’s a few years since I’ve been there but it has a lovely old world atmosphere with over a hundred figures in fourteen different tableaux.
It conveys the true meaning of Christmas in a unique and child friendly way. I’d really recommend it. Every parish has annual Christmas fairs and carol services, many supporting various charities. Children are very eager to get involved if they’re given the chance.
Whatever our commitments and no matter how busy and stressed out we are, our families need those few minutes every day of Advent to stop, be silent and prepare our hearts for the miracle of Christmas, to make room in the inn for the Saviour who is Christ the Lord.