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IDEA NUMBER 1: At the beginning of Advent have a family gathering in which the children take part. Discuss what everyone is going to do - or give up - for Advent. For small children this will probably mean sweets. Be sure to mention, however, that the Church is a gentle mother and that Sundays are never days of fasting, so the children can look forward to one or two treats on Sundays even in Advent. Conclude the gathering by singing a favourite carol.
IDEA NUMBER 2: At meal-times place an advent wreath in the centre of the table with the correct number of candles lit. The children can be involved in lighting and blowing out the candles (under supervision of course) and perhaps one of the youngest can be responsible for dimming the lights while the candles are lit.
IDEA NUMBER 3: Add a suitable prayer to your grace before meals. This prayer could be taken from the Sunday missal – for example, the Opening Prayer for each appropriate week during Advent.
IDEA NUMBER 4: Find a box about the size of a shoe box and decorate it as a crib with perhaps a picture of the baby Jesus stuck on the outside. Then obtain some straw (purchased for a few pence from the local pet shop). The idea is that the children, when they do something especially good, can place a little straw in the box to prepare a snug and comfortable place for the baby Jesus. Little bundles of straw could be hidden around the house (and garden) for the children to find. Hopefully, by the time you get to Christmas the crib will be quite full. Once this tradition is established in the family don’t ever change the box or the procedure – children are natural traditionalists and they know, better than most, that traditions should not be changed.
IDEA NUMBER 5: Involve the children in leaving out a plate of nibbles for father Christmas asking him to give anything he doesn’t need to poorer children. All sorts of Catholic practices and ideals can be worked into something like this – such as concern for the poor, almsgiving, hospitality to visitors and strangers, and the obligation to make small sacrifices for others – and all for the glory of God.
IDEA NUMBER 6: On Christmas Eve, place the crib in the Christmas area (for example where the tree and the wrapped presents are) and screen it somehow, perhaps with an old curtain. This area is then strictly out-of-bounds until Christmas morning. After midnight Mass, when the children are all tucked-up in bed, place the figure of the baby Jesus in the crib on a pretty piece of cloth. On Christmas morning assemble the children at the part of the house furthest from the crib and have a procession to the crib with candles. Kneel with them beside the crib and remember the souls of the deceased members of the family. Say one decade of the Rosary and sing a favourite carol. Then all join in singing Happy Birthday to the Christ child before opening presents.
(note: Don’t forget that the legend of Father Christmas is built upon the story of St Nicholas, a Catholic bishop who crept out at night to throw a bag of gold through the window of a poor man so that he could ransom his daughter from prostitution. Today, Father Christmas comes down the chimney presumably because in our northern climate windows are kept tight shut in mid-winter!)