Practical Catechesis
by Judith Dunlap

(pp. 111-113)

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.

Happy Birthday

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.”

Catalog link:Practical Catechesis

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