We are rapidly approaching the season of the year when we joyfully prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Christ. Here in America, Christmas reminders are everywhere. In stores and some homes, decorations are already going up. Christmas music will soon surround us. Invitations to festive celebrations are coming our way. And, of course stores are offering all kinds of “holiday sales.” But do any of these things (decorations, music, celebrations, or sales) truly prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth?
Thanks be to God for the Nativity Fast, which offers us as Orthodox Christians the opportunity to focus on what this time of year is truly about: the coming of Christ in a human body. The fast offers us time to pray, to ponder, to attend more services, to not over-consume (food or stuff). It is counter-cultural; or perhaps better said, super-cultural; and that is refreshing to our souls. So how can we, as Orthodox Christians parents heading into a fast, help our children embrace this time which is so different from what much of the world around us is choosing?
There are many wonderful ideas to embrace the fast. As far as decorations are concerned, we can decorate our homes with decorations that point our hearts in the right direction. For example: we can make a Nativity Fast wreath, which focuses each week on a different theme for the week, and at evening prayers each night, light the candle for that week and remember the theme for the week, perhaps discussing how it was evidenced in your lives that day. (See http://www.stjohnaz.org/stjohnaz/index.cfm/resources/feasts-of-the-church/orthodox-advent-wreath/ for more) Another decoration possibility would be to decorate a Jesse Tree (see http://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/jesse-tree-project-2008/ for ideas), which will daily walk our family through the story of mankind from creation to Christ’s birth. Or, we can create and use an Orthodox “Advent” calendar such as this one (http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/xmas/advcal.htm), which can add to the daily remembrance of what the season is truly about. Or we can choose to wait until Christmas Eve to decorate/set up their Christmas tree, to heighten the focus on Christ and His birth. We as parents need to decide what is best for our family: what will best point our children towards Christ.
As for the other seasonal opportunities listed above, let us also use them as learning moments with our children. As for Christmas music, as a family, we can enjoy Christmas music, but let us also sing together Orthodox songs such as the Nativity Troparion and Kotakion, helping our children learn these important hymns of the church. We can celebrate with others. But let us also invite family and friends to a festive celebration during the 12 days of Christmas, perhaps introducing some of our family/friends to the original “12 Days of Christmas” celebration. (See http://www.antiochian.org/content/let%E2%80%99s-celebrate-12-days-christmas for more ideas on this.) We will probably take advantage of sales in order to purchase needed items or gifts. But let us also teach our children that “holiday” means “holy day” and doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have anything to do with sales.
The Nativity Fast is a great opportunity to focus on Christ’s birth in the midst of a selfish season in our culture. Let us fully take advantage of this opportunity by actually doing fewer outside activities during this season. Instead, let us try to pray more. Let us read more from the scriptures and the lives of the saints. Let us look for those in need around us and try to help them as we can. Let us eat less, and pray for the hungry when our stomachs growl. Let us daily offer thanks to God for at least one thing we haven’t recently thanked Him for. In the face of a consumer, “me centered” culture, let us fly to Him about whom this season was (no, IS) meant to be: Our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.
May God bless us as we enter the Nativity Fast, and grant us the ability to point our children to the true meaning of this season.