Friday, January 7, 2011

Christmas is Officially Over--Welcome to 2011!

Well,  yesterday OFFICIALLY marked the end of Christmas--going by the tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I think the Twelve Days of Christmas is often thought to be before Christmas, but are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th).

So here it is, January 7, 2011.  In my home the Nativity, Nutcrackers, 
 Santas, snowmen, sleighs and angels have been stowed for another year.  Lighted garland and outside lights have been put away.
The yuletide trees have been strategically positioned by the curb for recycling--however, the never-ending task of picking up the remnants of pine needles seem to be a constant housekeeping chore.   My house feels a little like Cindy Lou's felt when the Grinch stole Christmas from Who-ville!  Pretty bare.  The holiday carols have ceased, the bake goods consumed, shopping or should I say cash for shopping has been depleted.  The family and friends gathering for holiday cheer had its finale New Years Eve. But I feel like that the joy of Christmas is still
ever-present in my heart.

I think many of us can remember the first Christmas we learned the truth about the magic of Christmas involving a jolly old elf and his team of flying deer.  As I grew older into my teens I really struggled with embracing the true meaning of Christmas.  I really wanted the joy of Christ birth to be the focus of Christmas for me, rather than a laundry list of "would love to have" gift list.  But it just wasn't there for me...
BUT then it happened...  

When I was in high school, I had the privilege of teaching 4th grade Sunday School at St. James Catholic Church, in Sewickley, PA.  Mind you, I didn't know it was a privilege at the time!  There was a request or should I say a desperate appeal for volunteers to teach religious education to the youth in the parish.  I thought it was something I could do for my church--I probably need community service at 16 years of age, I accepted the challenge and the responsibility to teach 9 year olds of our parish about our faith.  Once I got in the routine of classroom procedures and got to know the children of the class, not to mention familiar with the curriculum, I discovered week-by-week I was putting in more and more effort in enriching the kids experience on Sunday.

When Thanksgiving came, I was informed by the religious ed office of the church that the 4th graders were to "perform" in front of their parents.  It was suggested that it be something related to The Christmas Story.  Well, we could do a "reading", or reenactment of the Birth of Christ for our "performance"...but instead I got into a discussion with these youngsters about what they thought it must have been like to be in Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  Then we started a brainstorming session on who, and what was there the night of Christ's birth.  We made a list ranging from the stable, the shepherds, the Wise Men and of course the holy family.  I then asked the kids to take any of the items we listed or if they had one of their own they could use it.  But they were to personify an item found in the nativity.

 The students took two Sundays to work on their papers in class.  Then when all of the papers were completed, we shared them as a class.  One-by-one I heard 20 young children from my class describe how they were the manger who held Baby Jesus and tried very hard to keep him safe.  One student was the star, who was so proud to beam brightly announcing the birth of our Savior.  One little girl wrote about being the hay and how she tried very hard to be soft and warm.  All of the papers were touching--it was truly amazing how each expression of the embodiment in human form an aspect of the nativity was written with their hearts.  The paper that stood out to me the most was the little boy who decided to personify the stable.  He spoke about how sad he was that his shabby little structure was the only place this family could go at night.  He continued to talk about how as he witnessed the baby being born he knew this was special and important and that he had an important job to do.  So he stood strong and firm to protect the precious family that stayed inside him.  Hearing these children highlight a special part of the birth of Christ was a pivotal moment for me.  While these 9 year olds were anticipating Santa Claus they were also preparing for why the season is really special.

So the big day came when each 4th grade class presented in front of each other and in front of their families.  I selected five volunteers to read their special papers.  But the audience was so intrigued by each story, they asked if each child would share his/her paper.  At first I was giddy with excitement that my students' work really stood out.  Then I saw the tears in the eyes of the parents.  And I felt the tears stream down my face.  I realized then that the tears were not just tears of pride for my students' work, but tears that for the first time Christmas WAS about Christ being inside me.  It was about the greatest gift I have ever received, the love, mercy and grace from Our Father, who sent His son for me to have eternal life.

Yes, Christmas season has officially ended, but the true blessing is that Christmas is every day-- if you give love and kindness generously, reach out to make someone feel special or appreciated or feel needed...then we can all feel a lot like the little boy in my class who choked up when he talked about how lucky he was to be chosen as the stable--because he got to have Christ in him on that special Christmas night.

I Lasso savoring the last moments of the Christmas season!