The weeks leading up to Christmas are more than just a time for kids to lobby their parents for the season’s must-have toys and make long lists of gifts they’d like to receive from Santa. These weeks make up the liturgical season of Advent, which is a time rife with opportunities to help young Catholics learn about their faith and experience its many traditions, according to Colleen Spellecy, a member of St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Waterloo and Seneca Falls.
"Advent is so filled with feasts and holy days that celebrating is continuous right up to Christmas," said Spellecy, who taught for many years in diocesan Catholic schools.
Advent and Christmas seasons aren’t recognized, celebrated and supported in mainstream culture the way they once were, so parents need to make sure they’re passing their Catholic faith on to their children and helping them understand it, she said.
"It becomes even more necessary to provide the richness of our liturgical treasury and why we should celebrate our heritage. The transmission of our faith is so important for many reasons," Spellecy said.
As both a teacher and a mother, Spellecy found a number of ways to use the Advent season as a catechetical tool and to help her students and her daughter learn more about their faith. During the month of December she taught the children about the saints whose feast days are that month, including St. Juan Diego, who in 1531 witnessed a Marian apparition, and St. Lucy, a martyr and patron saint of the blind and visually impaired. Around the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, she taught them about St. Joachim and St. Anne, who were Mary’s parents and Jesus’ grandparents.
"The holy day of the feast of the Immaculate Conception opened up great opportunities to speak to the value (of) and respect for life in the womb," Spellecy said.
Spellecy kept her family focused on Jesus’ birth by keeping creches or Nativity scenes in every room. Her family never placed the baby Jesus in any of the cribs until Christmas Eve, when they did so only after singing "Silent Night" and blessing the displays, and they waited until the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday or Joyful Sunday, to bless and decorate their Christmas tree. Spellecy’s family also gathered around their Advent wreath each day as they patiently waited for Christ’s birth.
"Our Advent wreath was always in the center of the dining area so that we could light the day’s candle either at breakfast or dinner, depending on when the family was all here," Spellecy said. "This visual extends the excitement and countdown for little children as each candle is lit."
Connecting with family is an important part of the Advent and Christmas seasons, noted Jonathan Schott, diocesan coordinator of catechetical services and formation. The diocesan Households of Faith: HomeLinks Family Education Program will offer several online seminars during Advent, and the first will focus on family issues, he said.
"That will touch upon the virtue of charity not only for others during the season, but also for our own families, and how family connectedness is a great place to experience the birth of our Lord," Schott said. "The second session is called "A Child Is Born" and will focus on the nativity of Jesus, but also on how the Holy Family models for us what it really means to be open to the gift of life and why Christmas is so central to what we believe."
Many parishes host special Advent activities for families, he added. Owego’s Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes offer an annual workshop where families can gather and make Advent wreaths out of fresh donated greenery, said Cathy Wunder, faith-formation director for the parishes. These wreaths are blessed during Masses at the parishes’ four churches before families take them home to use during the Advent time of waiting.
Waiting is a key Advent theme, and it’s something kids and teens easily identify with, noted Sharon Herring, youth minister for the Cathedral Community in Rochester. Many young people impatiently wait for the gifts they hope to see under their Christmas trees, like iPods and cashmere sweaters. More than 2,000 years ago, Mary and Joseph were waiting for the birth of their child, and now during Advent all Catholics wait for Jesus’ birth. Such periods of waiting are exciting and necessary, said Herring, who is working with youth ministers from Rochester’s Peace of Christ, Blessed Sacrament, St. Boniface and St. Mary parishes to plan an Advent gathering for the parishes’ teens.
"Waiting is good. It might mean you get the cashmere sweater, or it might mean the Messiah. Some things in life are worth waiting for," she said.Tags: Catholic Beliefs