As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” For Christians, it truly is a wonderful time. Preparing our hearts for Jesus during the season of Advent, and then celebrating this greatest gift of God during the Christmas season make the month of December exceptional. But December can be a challenge for parents and other catechists as we also experience Christmas in a materialistic, secular culture.

What can we do to help young children see beyond their hopes for the latest toy and begin to experience the true meaning of Christmas? Here are some tips for catechists:

Highlight the change in liturgical seasons. Hopefully, there is a “sacred space” designated in the room in which you teach. It may be simple – a small decorator table with a tablecloth in this season’s liturgical color with a few icons and a candle on top. Highlight the change from green to purple in our Church’s liturgical colors and in your sacred space. Have a circle time in which you allow the children to assist you in changing the tablecloth to purple and placing a nativity (absent baby Jesus, of course) on the table. Talk about how the colors are also changing in the Church. (See if any of the children have noticed the change in the priest’s vestments and/or the way the Church is decorated!) Discuss how we always know we are “getting ready” for a special time when the Church’s colors change from green to purple. Ask why this time of getting ready is so special for us.

Emphasize Christmas as a season for giving, rather than “getting.” This is a tough one for young children, who tend to be quite self-focused. In your circle times and at other times, avoid the temptation to ask, “What do you want for Christmas?” and ask instead, “What special things are you giving others for Christmas? What gift would you like to give your mom? your dad?” You might also let the children know that some of the best gifts don’t cost anything. A card that they make, a hug, offering to help with some of the busy preparations of the season are all great gifts for them to give.

Let them know that Jesus is the greatest gift of all! On your last class before Christmas, bring in a wrapped Christmas package with the baby Jesus from the nativity inside. In your circle time, tell the children that inside is a reminder of God’s best gift to us. Ask them to guess what it could be, then unwrap the present together. You might even wish to extend this lesson by purchasing enough of the miniature-sized cardboard gift boxes for everyone in the class and helping the children decorate the outside with bows, etc, and then placing a picture or cut-out of baby Jesus on the inside with “John 3:16” so the children can share with others in their family about what makes Christmas so special.

Be patient. Kids will inevitably get a little caught up in the flashiness of our secular society’s commercialized Christmas, but offering an alternative view helps to plant seeds that will take root over time. Have a blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!