Editor’s note: We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of Catechist’s Journey this week by sharing catechetical top-10 lists each day and giving away Loyola Press prize packages. Enter for your chance to win the Dear Pope Francis Family Kit today; details below.
With stores decorating for Christmas as early as Halloween, movie channels already showing holiday flicks, and restaurants playing Christmas music in November, it’s easy for the young people we serve to want to jump to the festivities of Christmas in faith formation too. But the liturgical calendar wisely places the four weeks of Advent first to give us a season of waiting and joyful preparation. Emphasize that waiting and joy by using some of the following ways to celebrate Advent with your class—without rushing to Christmas.
1. Honor saints with feast days in December.
St. Nicholas, the origin for Santa Claus, is a good example for generosity and can be celebrated with small gifts on December 6. St. Lucy is traditionally celebrated by eating special bread or rolls (Dec. 13), and the traditions surrounding the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12) involve the Mass of the Roses, music, and its own special foods. James Martin, SJ, gives some other ideas in “Don’t Forget the Advent Saints!”
2. Adapt the idea of gift exchanges with an Advent prayer grab bag.
I’ve used this idea with my junior high school groups for many years, and it’s a great way to introduce intercessory prayer to young people in a way that takes its cue from the excitement of gift-giving.
3. Host a non-material gifts workshop.
Another way to incorporate the gift-giving generosity of the season is to give the young people time to think about what gifts they can give without spending any money. I provide Christmas cards for my kids and invite them to write promise notes for non-material gifts they can give to loved ones in the spirit of Christian love.
4. Play Advent Bingo or other seasonal games.
Children love taking class time to play a game, and options that reinforce the ideas of Advent are great to work into a festive atmosphere without skipping a class for a Christmas party.
5. Decorate for the season.
Pull out a purple cloth for the prayer table and display an Advent wreath, Jesse tree, or Advent chains. Let children see through the classroom décor that this season is different from what Christmas displays show, and make connections with how the church is decorated during much of the month.
6. Do an Advent craft project.
Make a Jesse tree for the classroom or as individuals, and talk about the Old Testament figures leading to Jesus. Another option is a craft based on the O Antiphons. I’ve made O Antiphons wreaths with my students and played “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” to make the connection between the craft and the popular Advent hymn. Younger children often like making handprint Advent wreaths.
7. Talk about Mary.
With both the holy day of Immaculate Conception and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December, and the readings in the second half of Advent telling Mary’s story in the days before Jesus’ birth, we’d be wise to spend time teaching our children about Mary. We can use the appropriate readings for lectio divina or imaginative prayer, or explore the stories in other great ways that our textbooks outline.
8. Incorporate technology into the Advent observance.
Use an online Advent calendar, a PowerPoint presentation on the Jesse tree or other aspects of the season, or tag other classrooms with a fun Twitter #AdventAngelChallenge, such as Barb Gilman describes. While Advent is meant for quiet preparation, no one said we had to unplug to be quiet!
9. Participate in a Posada.
My program director hosts a Posada during the last session before Christmas break. This Mexican tradition incorporates prayer and movement to reenact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter the night Jesus was born. Afterwards we share some refreshments.
10. Be Advent angels to each other.
Julianne Stanz explains this idea of secretly choosing the name of a family member to pray for and do special acts of kindness for before the secret is revealed at Christmas.
By incorporating meaningful Advent traditions and activities in our religious education classrooms, we can invite young people to appreciate this season in a celebratory way that prepares them for Christmas without skipping four weeks ahead. How do you celebrate Advent with your group?
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