by Judith Dunlap
A Parish Children’s Party
At the large suburban parish where I first started working
as a director of religious education, an after-Christmas day children’s party
is still an ongoing tradition. The idea began as a way to bring the children
who attended Catholic schools together with those in the parish religious
education program. As Advent approached, we decided to plan a Christmas party
the children would not only enjoy but remember. We planned an old-fashioned
birthday party with games and prizes, presents and balloons.
Invitations were sent to parish children in kindergarten
through third grade. Children in all the grades actually participated, however,
sitting at tables according to grade. The twist to this particular celebration
is that the youngsters themselves put on the party.
Everyone plays a part in its success. Throughout Advent, the
children make plans and work on their specific contribution to the party: First
graders make decorations for the walls, second graders make placemats and third
graders make centerpieces for the table. Fourth graders color the invitations
and fifth graders address all the envelopes. Sixth graders have the biggest
job, planning the games and prizes. Seventh and eighth graders arrange the
prayer service and work on the entertainment.
Thanks to the enthusiasm of
creative teachers and volunteers, Advent has truly become a season of planning,
preparing, waiting and hoping. During the Christmas break, the day for the
party finally arrives. All the children are ready to celebrate. Each year we
celebrate Christmas with the children this same way, with a few variations.
Always, at the end of the party there is a talk, ostensibly
addressed to the little ones. But everyone listens. After a few years we became
fairly sure that the older children, who had heard the talk several times by
then, could give it themselves.
It goes something like this: We point out that while some
people might be putting their trees out to the curb, we know that Christmas is
not over yet. We ask the children if they know what we are celebrating. They
all seem to know that it is Jesus’ birthday. After talking about Jesus for a
while, we remind them that one of the things that makes Jesus so special is
that, even though he died on the cross many, many years ago, he is still alive
today. We ask them if they know where Jesus is today. After the obvious answers
of “in heaven” and “everywhere,” some little child comes up with the answer we
are looking for, “Jesus lives in us.”
We explain how you can tell that
Jesus is present when people love each other. Then we talk about the party and
tell them what each class has given and shared. With that much love around, we
say, we are sure that Jesus must be inside everyone at the party.
Finally, we tell them that Jesus’ birthday is certainly something
to celebrate, but that today we aren’t just celebrating the special
day that happened almost two thousand years ago. We are celebrating
how that day has changed each one of us. Everything is different
because Jesus was born and died and rose. His birthday is our birthday,
too. We celebrate Jesus today, we say, but we also celebrate us.
At this point we turn the lights out and bring in cupcakes, complete
with candles to blow out. Everyone sings our special Happy Birthday
song: “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday
to Jesus. Happy Birthday to us.”