It’s a struggle to keep holidays Catholic, but it doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war between “weird” and “normal.”
by Kate Daneluk
One of my favorite parts of working in a Catholic School was the freedom to truly celebrate holidays. While teachers in other schools celebrate snowman Christmas, we are allowed to keep it real. As holidays become more and more secularized in our culture, focusing on sentiment over substance, we have a unique opportunity and deep responsibility to ensure that our cultural traditions maintain their important Christian roots and teach our Children in ways that help them carry on the faith for generations to come.
But we do live in this modern American culture and our children are surrounded by cupid and Valentine sweets in February. They are looking at wreaths and Santa décor from late summer until December 26! These traditions are fun and filled with childish wonder.
Some schools respond by pushing the secular culture away and opting for heavier religious themes. But if the holidays aren’t fun for children, are we encouraging them to keep the faith, or turning them off altogether? Will they look back at their experience as rich, or “weird”?
Holidays and celebrations are meant to be fun. We are meant to feast.
Why else would Our Lord so often refer to Heaven as a feast or a banquet? When Jesus performed the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, it was after the religious ceremony bonding the man and woman and was part of the party!
How do we maintain a healthy balance of living in the world and keeping our Catholic traditions? I suggest the BBB approach: Both – Baptize – Banish
Why not both? The biggest problems come when we look at the secular and religious as either/or. Our faith should penetrate our lives so that nothing is truly independent of it.
Learning about St. Valentine, early Church bishop and martyr, does not mean we cannot exchange pink and red friendship cards and dine on boxes of candy hearts. Santa doesn’t have to steal Baby Jesus’s thunder any more than St. Lucia or St. Nicholas does in Sweden or Germany.
So go ahead and put that elf on the shelf if it brings you and your students joy, but ensure that there is at least an equally strong presence of Advent preparations like an Advent wreath, Jesse tree, Nativity scenes, etc. Yes, some parents will be plotting your demise as they make back-to-back Halloween and All Saints Day costumes, but in the end they will relish the memories made.
Keep in mind that our Church really likes to party. We have feast days and celebrations galore that we often ignore.
Of course, we can’t break for a class party every day, but be sure you aren’t forgetting some of the wonderful feasts and holidays that Catholics have traditionally celebrated for years.
Honor the Blessed Mother’s feast days with crafts, coloring pages and maybe a special snack. If children bring in something special to share on their birthday, why not a special treat on their saint name day along with a short presentation about their patron saint?
There are wonderful traditions for honoring St. Joseph, the Three Kings, the Ascension, and other holy days. Make sure you keep the Christmas and Easter décor and traditions going throughout the liturgical seasons, even though the stores and media have all moved on.
If you are wondering when you are actually going to get the school work done, remember that each of these days does not need to eat up an afternoon. A simple worksheet, craft, prayer, or special snack is all that is needed. Consider that these holidays could serve as topics for writing or student reports.
Keep in mind that secular traditions do not come out of thin air. There is almost always a connection to religious symbolism that began the tradition. Even Mother’s Day was initiated as a day to pray for our deceased mothers!
Santa, which means “holy” or “saint” as evolved from St. Nicholas, as presented in Clement Clark Moore’s Twas the Night before Christmas. Other traditions have some roots in pagan holiday traditions and the early saints who evangelized through Europe, Africa, and Asia baptized the traditions, imbuing them with Christian meaning.
Our Christmas Tree represents the lingering life through the winter. We celebrate Christmas at winter solstice, because it is the day God gave us the Light in the darkness.
The jelly bean and Easter egg both represent the new life of spring, so appropriate to the Resurrection.
Ensure our children know, understand and own the meaning behind the secular traditions.
Baptize the secular as the saints did before us. Celebrate all things through the eyes of faith.
Secular Holidays from a Catholic Perspective
- Labor Day – Pray for all workers, Coloring sheet or worksheet on St. Joseph, the Worker, talk or writing assignment on vocations
- Halloween/All Saint’s Day – Project on the roots of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day costumes and party, All Saints Day printables and games
- Veteran’s Day – Send gifts and spiritual bouquets to a veteran’s hospital, Learn the prayer to St. Michael, patron saint of soldiers
- Thanksgiving – Create a “count my blessings” journal to remember to pray prayers of Thanksgiving all year, find “thanksgiving” Scriptures and psalms to decorate the classroom
- Black History Month – Study saints of color, Learn the history of the role of faith in African American culture, learn to sing historical spirituals, learn about the American saints who particularly served the African American community
- Mother’s Day (Father’s Day) – Say a class novena for mothers leading up to Mother’s Day, Assign a report on each student’s mother’s patron saint
- Memorial Day – An ideal time to learn about the Communion of Saints and Church teaching on Heaven and Purgatory, Pray for the souls of our veterans
Of course, with all things we must use judgement. There will be some elements of secular culture that should just not be allowed in school or in our children’s lives, at all.
At Halloween, things can get spooky, silly, or scary, but anything glorifying the devil or the occult should be absolutely forbidden. The Church has made it clear that there is no “fun” way to participate in these things. Doing so is a sin and requires confession. Halloween also brings up the issue of sexually suggestive or otherwise inappropriate costumes.
April Fools Day can be fun, but we should remember that any prank that hurts or humiliates is absolutely contrary to Christian life. Media for any holiday can be a serious concern and holiday themed books and movies should be screened.
Of course, these things don’t disappear from the world even if banished from your classroom, so it is vital that children, especially older children, understand why these policies have been implemented. It is worthwhile to take some time for this in class and to let them voice their objections and opinions.
Be prepared to explain why the Church forbids these things. Bring excerpts from Church documents, the Catechism and Scripture. We want to ensure that students don’t just follow the rules in school, but “get it” so that they can use right judgement on these issues in the world outside of school, as well.
Try this approach at your next class holiday celebration. BBB can help you have fun, memorable, and meaningful holidays that keep our Catholic identity strong as a school.
Further, this method can connect children to the world around them through the eyes of faith. What more could we want?
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic School Teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.