Teaching Children about the Nativity

Happy Birthday Jesus?  Christmas isn’t just another birthday – it’s the Incarnation of our Savior, God made Man, the Word become flesh – the ultimate mystery of our Faith! From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God transcends all creatures.  We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God – ‘the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable’ – with our human representations.  Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.”  (CCC 42).

We must be careful not to inadvertently reduce the Christmas Miracle to something very common and routine, something which every single person on the planet experiences once a year, every year of their life.  While this is unintentional we must be cautious when trying to explain this Mystery to our children.

My mom wanted my nieces to know the Christmas songs “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night,” etc.,  but the girls only knew secular carols, so we went back to the basics of the Christmas story. Now, every year, I create a new way of telling the story.  Sometimes I write a script and each person has a part; or we tell the story with Christmas hymns scattered throughout. Last year each person got a matchbox with a number on it. In each matchbox was a part of the nativity story. As each person opened their matchbox in order, the story was told with the final box holding a baby Jesus. This has now become one of our family traditions.

Consider trying out one or more of these ideas to celebrate the birth of Jesus:

1.  Use age appropriate language. Pick out the simple details from the birth of Jesus that children can understand and relate to. These might include Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, staying at the inn with the animals and the wise men who visited Jesus.

2.  Tell the story first so the children know the basics.  Keep this brief using pictures and other visuals to help them learn. Picture books are helpful.

3.  Ask the children to draw what they believe the nativity looked like. This helps them remember where Jesus was born, the setting and who visited.

4.  Let the children/family members act out the nativity scene.  There are plenty of parts – Mary, Joseph, shepherds, innkeeper and wise men and, if your family is really big, include the animals!

5.  Play a game where the children each provide a sentence in order about what happened during the nativity.

6.  Reinforce the reason for the season. Many children already know the secular way to celebrate the holidays.

Challenge yourself and your family to develop a tradition that is special to Advent and Christmas – something that will honor the Incarnation while attempting to explain the sacredness of the season.

by Shelly Bole, Director of Catechesis

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