Benedictine Oblate Patricia Ballard is a lifelong Catholic educator who speaks on the topic of nurturing the spiritual life of children. She shared with us some of her top ideas for how you can share Christmas this year with the children and grandchildren in your life.
1. Pray with them.
Patricia consider this an important first step. She suggests morning prayer with an Advent calendar, the Children's Daiy Prayer book, prayer at dinner with an Advent wreath and candles, or nighttime prayer with petitions and a small candle that the child extinguishes before going to bed.
2. Do service projects together.
"Service projects and giving to those in need is meaningful for children," says Patricia. She suggests asking children to contribute to buying live animals for a family, such as through Heifer International, to help them see that their generosity can help a family survive. She also recommends finding ways for a child to share his or her talent, such as playing the piano for nursing home residents to lift the spirit of the elderly as well as the child.
3. Teach them simplicity.
A friend of Patricia's recently told her that each of her children receives "one gift from parents, one from Jesus, and one from Santa." Our culture encourages children to write extensive lists for Santa, but more is not always better.
4. Celebrate the full season.
"Many people think Christmas ends after December 25th, but the church teachers that the season lasts until Epiphany," reminds Patricia. She recommends keeping the family tree up until Epiphany and finding ways to remember the three kings. One activity she has done is to ask children what they would bring Baby Jesus or what they would like that money cannot buy. "Responses to questions like these brings forth precious answers," notes Patricia.
5. Connect them with their spiritual heritage.
"We take [children] to Disneyworld or local amusement parks, but we often do not think of taking them to spiritual destinations," notes Patricia. She suggests that adults take children to churches that has been a part of their relatives' lives. "Teaching reverence and then allowing a child to explore the church her great grandma attended or the church where her cousins go is a special experience for children."
While many of these suggestions are great for parents, Patricia notes that there are other ways that grandparents, aunts, and uncles can share their faith with children, as well. Patricia encourages these adults to pray for the children and families, and, if permission is given, to invite the children to participate in faith-related activities.
She says sometimes the most important activity an adult can share with a child is that of his or her presence. "We have parents who have children so over-scheduled that they will not hear the 'still small voice' of God," reflects Patricia.
In the end, Patricia believes in St. Benedict's instruction to "Listen...with the ear of the heart." She says it is her hope "that giving children opportunities to listen in that quiet space where God speaks will have an impact upon them as they grow and become more accustomed to hearing God speak to them.
Benedictine Oblate Patty Ballard (pictured above, center) with two of her three children.