What parents don’t want to give their children the best gifts possible? But beyond traipsing through malls or scrolling online for the perfect present, time might be well spent this Advent season giving kids the Greatest Gift by helping them develop a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The Church asks us to prepare for the birth of Christ through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Families who embrace these customs may find that they have a more profound understanding of and appreciation for Jesus.
My book The Christmas Light (Sophia Institute Press) explores these practices in an understated way through a fictional picture book for children. In my story, Seraphina, the daughter of the Bethlehem innkeeper is cold, cranky, and crowded in her home. When she brings fire for warmth to the Holy Family, Mary invites her into a relationship with Jesus, a turning point in the young girl’s life.
3 Ways Children Can Encounter Jesus This Christmas
By emulating Seraphina, children can encounter Jesus by engaging in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving:
1) Prayer The infancy narrative as told in the Gospel of Luke is included in The Christmas Light and is an excellent starting point.
Read Luke 2:1-20 together as a family. In the best imitation of Ignatian Contemplation, have the children envision themselves as characters in the story. What do they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste?
With their vast stores of creativity, kids can use their imagination to enter more fully into the Christmas narrative by acting out the story and taking on the roles of the characters presented in the Gospel.
In the silence of their hearts, ask the children to give glory to God the Father for sending his Son. Have them express sorrow for their sins and resolve to not sin again. Give thanks to God for all the blessings in their lives. Make a prayer of petition to God for needs to be filled.
Because intercessory prayer is powerful, children can do as Seraphina did in my story: allow Mary to pave the way to her Son. A marvelous method of doing that is for the family to pray a decade of the rosary together, ideally the third Joyful mystery, the Nativity of Jesus.
2) Fasting A good practice on Fridays in Advent (and yearlong, actually) is to fast from eating meat on that day or avoid snacks between meals. Another way of “fasting” is to do without some other comfort or pleasure, such as watching television or playing video games.
Because Seraphina did not have sufficient heat, she was able to empathize with the Holy Family, and this spurred her to do something to relieve their condition. Children can follow her lead.
3) Almsgiving One good way to tie in the penance of fasting with the charitable dimension of almsgiving is to set aside money not spent on extravagant meals or special outings.
Grocery shop with the kids, inviting them to choose (nutritious) items to be bought and donated to the local food pantry. This hands-on approach connects children more intimately with understanding the poverty experienced by the Christ Child and the needs of others in their community, needs which they can help meet.
And “to give alms” doesn’t have to be solely about money, as discovered by my book’s main character. Good deeds are offerings, too.
One excellent activity that ties sacrifice to the celebration of Christmas is to set up a Nativity scene in your home. Cut up strips of paper on which the children can write their good deeds such as “made my bed without being asked” or “shoveled snow from the neighbor’s sidewalk” or “helped a classmate with their homework.” These strips of paper can be used to pad the manger or cushion the stable floor as offerings to the Christ Child.
Christmas is the ideal time for kids to get to know Jesus better. After all, they see Him enter this world in the same manner they did—as a newborn Baby. If they can put themselves in the sandals of a child who may have witnessed that first Christmas in Bethlehem, they move closer to embracing a personal relationship with the Lord, and that is a gift that they can embrace into eternity.
Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, your little domestic church can become a holy family, too.
The Christmas Light
Cold, cranky, and restless one winter’s night, the young daughter of a Bethlehem innkeeper is bothered to wakefulness by the crowded, comfortless condition of her family’s sleeping loft. Recalling the young couple staying in the stable out back, she arises to bring them some fire for warmth. There she approaches the newborn Babe asleep in the manger and has an encounter that changes her mood and alters her life forever.
Claudia Cangilla McAdam’s marvelous retelling of the Christmas story demonstrates to children how an encounter with Christ can change their lives … eternally.
Claudia Cangilla McAdam is an award-winning Catholic author of two dozen books for children and teens. She has a bachelor’s degree in English, is a graduate of the Denver Catholic Biblical School, and obtained her master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute in Denver. Her faith-based titles invite children to learn, love, and live their Catholic faith. She offers free resource material for her books, including extensive Discussion and Activities Guides, available by request at her website. Each year she shares her work with students via in-person and online school visits. You can find out more about her and her books at www.ClaudiaMcAdam.com.