Simple and profound, done with paper, yarn, glue and lots of prayer, these little efforts reap wonderful spiritual rewards for young and old alike.
Far beyond the decorations I’ve been pulling out of boxes all week, my most favorite Christmas things are the traditions we unpack and dust off during this joyful season.
This week I was providentially gifted with a brand new Advent/Christmas tradition for my family, one I’d never heard of before but instantly loved when I read about it. (Catholic Family Vignettes, thank you!) Perhaps some of you will be familiar with it, but it’s more likely you’ve not heard of it before either, since I now know that it’s not practiced much anymore outside of monasteries in Europe.
I don’t even know what to call the tradition. But it goes like this: Every character in the Nativity scene has something valuable to teach us as we prepare for the Savior’s birth. Each one has a unique role, and virtues they embody and model for us. The names of all the characters are printed on slips of paper, along with the virtues they best demonstrate. The slips of paper go in the proverbial hat, and each family member draws one.
You must trust that you will draw the one you’re “supposed” to get. God knows! Then you spend your Advent trying to learn the lessons and virtues of the character you drew. You do your best to “be” who you drew, asking the Lord in prayer to help you each day.
Virtues: provide a steady light to guide weary pilgrims. A source of guidance and illumination.
Virtues: Proclaims the “tidings of great joy.” A source of inspiration. Obedient to the will of God.
Blessed Virgin Mary
Virtues: Meek, humble, modest and pure. Full and complete obedience to God. Holiness.
Virtues: Humility, leadership and trust in God. Chastity and patience.
Virtues: Leadership. Listens to God. Kindness to the lambs. Goodness, tenderness, watchful care.
Virtues: Humility, docility. Patiently bears all burdens.
Virtues: Hard work, diligence, patience and sacrifice.
Virtues: Docility, innocence, obedience and trust.
After dinner the other night, we all drew our “parts” and talked about what it meant to have humility or docility or to be a source of illumination. It took a minute, but I was able to convince my 9 year-old that she really could “be” St. Joseph this Advent! (She never expected to draw that one!) Then she asked me, “Hey, Mom – what about the Wise Men?” I think she’s absolutely right. They should be in on this as well. So this is my own addition:
Virtues: Humility, perseverance, faith, piety, trust in God’s promises.
A beloved Austrian priest friend explained to me that this tradition was once very popular in Central Europe, especially the Alps and in Italy, but today it’s known only in a few monasteries and parishes. He said that his order has been practicing this tradition for decades and their version includes things like the crib, the fire, the stone, etc. There is a beautiful meditation for each character. In his monastery, they do the drawing during the O-antiphon days before Christmas.
It is surely a beautiful new tradition in our family, one that I pray we will cherish for generations to come. (If you’re wondering, there were some characters that didn’t get drawn at all. Again, God knows what He wants to teach us and who we need!)
Other Favorite Advent/Christmas traditions:
Let’s call this one “Making a Comfortable Bed for Jesus.” It’s wonderful when you have young children in the house. I type up a long list of helpful deeds and sacrifices that can be offered up to Jesus, and cut them into slips of paper. The slips go into a jar or bowl and we draw one or more out each day and do the suggested task. When we’ve done our selfless deed, we put a small piece of yarn into a small “bed” we’re making for Baby Jesus. The idea is we want Him to have a very soft, warm bed when He’s born, so we must do lots and lots of sacrificial deeds before Christmas!
I cut up pieces of yarn and leave the yarn and the deed slips somewhere the kids can all reach, and then we watch our little bed of yarn grow as the days go on. This can be a great “course corrector” when a child is having a bad day, or frankly, when Mom is having a grouchy day!
We also love putting shoes on the front porch for St. Nicholas Day! Visit The St. Nicholas Center website for all the details about this tradition, as well as great craft ideas you can do with your children. St. Nicholas’s feast day is December 6, so hurry!!
Finally, we are so grateful to the hard-working family behind Holy Heroes. They’ve put together a wonderful Advent experience that includes activities each day for the kids to do, including the Jesse Tree, fun word searches, coloring pages, and how to use St. Therese’s sacrifice beads to teach your kids about making a sacrifice, and learn the Rosary as well! You can sign up to participate free of charge, and you’ll be glad you did.
All these traditions, these little efforts pay big rewards in bringing the Advent/Christmas seasons alive for children and passing on the truths of our rich inheritance, our Catholic faith. It does a grown-up heart much good as well.
Do you have any great traditions to share?