A mother, stepfather and baby. Silent animals in witness to a miracle. Three wealthy gift-givers en route to meet the babe.
The Nativity is a simple tableau, but a profound one, and it can be the center of our holiday décor instead of an afterthought.
“The Nativity is a meaningful narrative and gives children the knowledge that they are loved by an omnipotent being,” says Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange.
“God created us out of love, for love,” Dawson continues. “When we understand that, we give our children a gift of great comfort and a guiding story for their lives. That is, assuming that we ourselves have tested that truth and found it true for us – not an abstract idea but a truth.”
Young children believe everything Mom and Dad tell them, she notes, even though once they grow up they will eventually test things and prove them for themselves. “We are responsible for explaining to our children the meaning of life,” Dawson adds, “including why we are here and the purpose for our lives.”
Little ones often can process bits and pieces easier than a big story all at once. “Over time they will absorb the narrative or meaning we are proposing – this explanation of who God is, how He saves us and how it’s all connected to a baby in a manger.”
Incorporating the Nativity scene into the red-and-green extravaganza of the holidays can be as simple as stationing the empty crèche in a central spot and moving the Madonna and St. Joseph closer as December counts down to Jesus’s birth.
For some families, the baby Jesus is invisible until Christmas morning.
“The characters are all in a different part of the house,” she explains, recalling earlier Christmases with her family. “Sometimes we forgot, and we ran around saying ‘where did we hide Jesus?’ As the kids got older they were part of it and would produce Him on Christmas morning.”
If possible, families can try to extend the Christmas celebration to Epiphany, when the three wise men arrived at the manger.
Dawson also recalls crafting with friends who also were raising small children and producing a felt Jesse Tree complete with felt ornaments showing the genealogy of Jesus. One was Joseph’s coat of many colors. All were stuffed into a pocket at the bottom and each child took one out every day and heard a Bible story.
“The kids loved the storytelling aspect as they learned the story of God’s redeeming actions throughout history,” she remembers. “The story began with Eve and ended with the Star of Bethlehem. In between were the serpent in the garden, the lion of Judah, Moses and Noah – iconic Old Testament stories that led up to the birth of Jesus.”
Activities that involve the whole family give children the feeling of warmth and coziness that is a distinctive part of the Christmas holidays, she adds. “Cuddling up in front of a fire and hearing a story is a profound experience that costs nothing and can leave beautiful, lasting memories.”