In December, the liturgical season speaks most deeply to what we need: patience and peace.
By Rachel Gleeson
December is a busy month. Between the end of the semester and the preparation for Christmas, almost everything else seems to get lost in the shuffle. This is probably the month where practicing the liturgical year is the most difficult, especially for teachers and students. It is easy to get caught up in the Christmas music on the radio, the decorations trimming the hallways, and the general anticipation of the 25th and a much-needed break. However, this is also the month where the liturgical season speaks most deeply to what we need: patience and peace.
Advent is a season of preparation and waiting, with joyous expectation yes, but waiting all the same. Like Lent, it is meant to be a season of repentance, though to a lesser degree. While it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of Christmas (especially for young students!) it is important to set aside this time as its own liturgical season.
There are many ways to do this. One central way is by including an Advent wreath and the accompanying traditions in your classroom. Depending on your circumstances, your Advent wreath may take various forms. For many, the traditional fresh evergreen boughs and lit candles are impractical. Even with my older students, I hesitate to have an open flame. Rather, my classroom Advent wreath includes fake branches and LED candles adorned with appropriately colored ribbon. However, a paper wreath or paper “flames” attached to real candles can serve just as well. The important thing is to have the visual reminder of our Advent journey visible to students, lighting another candle each week as we near our celebration of Christ’s birth.
Lighting the candles of the wreath can be an important part of your class’s day. It can be included in the morning routine in an elementary classroom or take just a few minutes at the beginning of each period with older students. A short time of prayer can accompany this, whether it be reading the Gospel for Mass that day or saying an Advent-themed prayer.
Advent calendars are also an important tradition that can be included. Chocolate can be a treat for students; however, you may also want to consider alternatives. Perhaps include a scripture verse for each day that, as you go along, tells the story of Christ’s birth. Last year, with some of my middle school students, I had each make a paper chain. Every day they got to open another link as we drew nearer to Christmas. There are many ways to adapt the Advent calendar to your students’ particular needs.
Feasts and Saints
December is also home to some wonderful feast days that should not be overlooked. Two Marian celebrations figure prominently in this month, particularly here in the United States. The Immaculate Conception, the patronal feast for our country, is December 8. This is a great opportunity to discuss Holy Days of Obligation (of which it is one), Mary’s special role in God’s plan of salvation, and patrons. Students can research their patron saint or a saint that is the patron of a school subject or activity that they enjoy. They can share with their classmates and discuss why we honor certain saints as patrons and what that means in terms of their intercession on our behalf.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe also falls during December. This apparition almost 500 years ago is celebrated on the 12th of the month. Take time with your students to discuss how our Blessed Mother revealed herself to St. Juan Diego. The miraculous image that appeared on his tilma is full of rich symbolism that could be researched at length. Miracles surround the tilma. For example, in 1921, a bomb exploded near the image but it remained undamaged. Share these stories with your students as a reminder that God did not just act in our world 2000 years ago when he became human but continues to act throughout modern times.
Of course, any discussion of December’s feast days would be incomplete without mentioning the man himself, St. Nicholas. This fourth-century bishop, though the inspiration for the man in a jolly red suit, was a legend in his own right. One story discusses three sisters who were desperately poor and how St. Nicholas threw bags of coins in the window of their home. The coins landed in their shoes which were drying by the fire. From there, it is easy to see how the stocking tradition developed. Other stories of his generosity and the various causes for which he is patron can be found online. These paint a different picture than we normally see of jolly, good St. Nicholas. Sharing these accounts can give students a more accurate picture of the true inspiration for Santa Claus and the virtues he displayed.
While December is already a full month, celebrating the liturgical year does not have to be another item to check off the pre-Christmas to-do list. Rather, it can help give the days leading up to Christmas context and rhythm. By taking just a few moments throughout this month, we can prepare our students’ hearts for the coming of Christ.
Rachel Gleeson is a middle school and high school Theology teacher and liturgy coordinator at a PreK-12 Catholic school in Wisconsin.