Preparing your students’ hearts for the newborn King doesn’t have to be commercial or complicated.
By Sheri Wohlfert
Sometimes “doing” Advent well is tricky because our culture starts screaming “Christmas” in October. I can’t change the world and I have no influence over retail America, but I can make sure Advent gets the honor and prayerfulness this beautiful liturgical season deserves at St. Mary School in Westphalia, Michigan. If you struggle with finding ways to balance Advent with the forty-five other things that need to happen before Christmas break, these five simple ideas for you!
Wreath on a cart
We have a school-sized Advent Wreath that is wheeled into the gym for morning prayer each morning. The wreath features four quart-sized Mason jars filled with purple- and pink-tinted sugar. The jars each have a tea light nestled in the top, and the jars are flanked by evergreen branches cut by the students. My middle lovelies (fifth- & sixth-graders) take turns reading a short reflection and leading the school in a simple prayer. After the first few days, the middle lovelies invite their “little lovely” buddy (K & 1) to join them and help lead prayer.
The teachers and staff gather each morning in the school chapel for prayer. We use a simple daily Advent reflection book and add some music and sometimes a short Advent video clip from a site like Redeemed Online. Those fifteen minutes of prayer give us focus, and when we offer intentions, we get a peek into the lives of the people we work with every day and that helps us prepare for all the ways we need the hope and the joy of the Newborn King. Not every staff member can make it every day, but the power of this simple gathering bears great fruit.
Match students from different classrooms by drawing names. Their task is to pray for that person each day of Advent. Right before Christmas break, we get the pairs together to make cards or ornaments or simple gifts that can be given to the sick, poor or shut-ins of our parish. The best ending of all is when we have the chance to take some of the Prayer Angel pairs to deliver the things to nursing homes or care centers. When we add in a few minutes of caroling and a Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, it truly becomes a powerful event.
The Main Event
Movie producers invest lots of resources in preparing the world for the upcoming production; we can do the same thing. The birth of Jesus certainly trumps any box-office success by a landslide, so it deserves promotion as well. In order to promote the big event, each hallway bulletin board features one of the “main characters” of the Nativity Story. One grade is assigned the shepherds, one the Angels, and so on; the littles usually do the animals. The bigger kids take on the bigger pieces of the story. Mary’s board usually focus on everything from the Immaculate Conception to the Annunciation and all the December feast days that add to the honor, beauty and wonder of the Mother of God.
All School Advent Calendar
The main bulletin board in the school becomes a giant Advent calendar. Each day a tag is added with an Advent symbol on one side and a daily task on the other. The task is designed to help us grow in holiness and prepare our hearts for Jesus. They are things like, smile kindly to three people today or eat lunch with one new person today or play one game with your sibling or friend and let them choose what it will be. We read these at morning prayer and the teachers use them as teaching opportunities all day.
I hope you can adopt an idea or two from the list for your school. May the peace of Christ be with you, and may the beauty and stillness of this season truly prepare your heart for the Newborn King.
Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic wife, mom, speaker, and teacher who writes from Michigan. She uses her sense of humor and her deep faith to help others discover the joy of being a child of God. Sheri also writes at JoyfulWords.org.
Image credit: iStockphoto.com
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