By Fran Lavelle
It’s Christmastide Y’all!
Most of us in ministry have at one time or another been known to say that the family is first and primary catechists for our children. The church is charged with the secondary responsibility of catechesis through Catholic schools and parish-based religious education programs. The two work in tandem to form and educate our young people in the faith. If your family has not taken up the responsibility for being the primary catechist for your children, the Christmas season is an excellent opportunity to do so.
Some families, especially ones with strong ethnic ties, do an excellent job of keeping traditions alive. Other families, who might be far removed from an ethnic identity, have created their own traditions surrounding religious holidays. My Lavelle and O’Leary family left Ireland in the late 1700s to mid-1800s.
We have lost many Irish traditions over the years, but my parents did offer activities that became family traditions. For example, when I was a child we would have a birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Day. The celebration included newspaper hats that my brother Tom made, a kazoo or two, a horde of Lavelle’s singing “Happy Birthday to Jesus” (loud and off key), and the much anticipated birthday cake.
It’s funny how Baby Jesus and Dad both liked Italian cream cake. After the party, one of the siblings would place baby Jesus in the crib under the tree. In a small way my parents were making the connection back to the place our day had begun, unwrapping gifts under the Christmas tree. And indeed, what a gift the Infant Jesus is!
As we look at and plan for family catechesis, it’s important to know first and foremost what the Christmas season includes. On the liturgical calendar Christmas extends from the first Vespers of Christmas Eve until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. This time includes many important Christian Holy Days. Some of these are celebrated on fixed dates on the calendar, others are always on Sundays, and therefore have moveable dates.
Dec. 26 – The feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr; Dec. 27 – the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist; Dec. 28 – the feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs; Sunday after Dec. 25 – the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; Jan. 1 – the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God; Jan. 6 or the Sunday after Jan. 1 – the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord; Sunday after Jan. 6 – the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
A great activity is the reinforcement of the season through re-reading the nativity story to your children. Place the Wise Men in a far off corner of your home and day by day have the children move them closer to the nativity set until they arrive at the crèche on the Epiphany. “We Three Kings,” can be sung each day as the caravan moves closer to finding Jesus in the manger. Another idea is celebrating the Octave of Christmas with older children. You could compile a personalized family list of eight things your family wants to pray for.
Children may want to re-write the nativity story from the perspective of one of the persons present. For example, the story coming from a shepherd or one of the wise men would be very different than the perspective of Joseph or Mary. One online resource I find helpful is a website called Strong Catholic Family Faith, www.catholicfamilyfaith.org. The Church Year tab will lead you to the link for Christmas.
Keep in mind that whatever activities we do with our children as a family become touch tones as they grow older. They are the very things that our children will pass on to the next generation. Reflecting back, the Lavelle family birthday party for Jesus may have been simple but many (and I mean many) years later I remember that in this simple gesture, Jesus was central to our Christmas celebration as a family.
Christmas calls us contemplate John 1:1-1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” May the Word Incarnate dwell deeply within you during the Christmas Season. May you find your hearts longing to hold on to the promises it holds.
(Fran Lavelle is the head of the Office of Faith Formation)