Monday, November 30, 2009

Using themes to take the commercialism off the holiday season

In our home, we like to have a series of mini celebrations throughout the month of December, recognizing various saints and festivals celebrated around the world.  I try to do something special to recognize and celebrate on these days:

December 6 - St. Nicholas' Day

December 8 - Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

December 9 - St. Juan Diego (or we celebrate on December 12, feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

December 13 - St. Lucia's Day

Then, of course, we like to have a big celebration on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!

But in our home the celebrating doesn't end on Christmas Day.  We try to do something special on:

December 26 - St. Stephen's Day

January 6 - Epiphany

Most of these are simple rituals rather than elaborate, full-blown celebrations.  On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I sometimes replace our purple Advent tablecloth with a blue one. On St. Juan Diego's day, we sometimes watch a cartoon video about that saint or make tilmas out of brown paper bags. On December 13, we might have a special breakfast served by my daughter, who is dressed in white to symbolize St. Lucia.  On December 6, St. Nicholas secretly comes to our home and fills the kids' shoes with simple little treats like clementines, a candy cane, and perhaps a book or video on St. Nicholas, which we will watch together that day.

Sometimes we like to build our holiday around a special theme like "Christmas in the Netherlands" (which we did last year, when we went to Holland, Michigan for St. Nicholas Day), or a "Nutcracker Christmas," when we decorated our tree in candy pastel colors, saw the Nutcracker ballet and made sugar plum cookies.

One year my son was fascinated with Hanukkah, so we experienced that holiday by playing dreidel,  learning a few Hebrew songs, and lighting a menorah during the nine day celebration.

The point is that Advent and the Christmas season can be filled with many different little surprises for friends and family.  It doesn't take away from the holiness and specialness of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact, it seems to enhance it. My kids look forward to the little celebrations and don't spend as much time dwelling on making lists of gifts they want to receive.

So if your December has become all about gift buying and giving, consider changing your focus just a bit. Learn about these saints or other ones in simple ways, like serving a dessert that symbolizes something about the saint.  (My favorite resource for saint-inspired meals and snacks is the CatholicCuisine blog).

If celebrating saint days isn't your thing, there are alot of other themes you can use throughout the season. You could focus on learning about the various symbols of the holiday season (e.g., Christmas tree, poinsettia, candy cane, bells, etc.) through games, activities, food and crafts.  Or you could try to recreate a holiday  like it might be in Germany, France or another European country.

Several months ago I was surfing on Amazon and came across a book/CD set called "Buon Natale: Learning Songs and Traditions in Italian."  It inspired me to use an Italian theme for our holiday celebrations this year. (Not much of a stretch, since my husband is of Italian descent.  But we have never really focused on his heritage.) I am still planning the details but so far I've decided that:

- On Christmas Eve we will have an Italian gorgonzola soup and sandwich supper. (We're not seafood or fish lovers in this house, so the traditional seafood dinner of my husband's childhood won't work!)

- On Christmas Day we will have a traditional meal served in Italy on this day, complete with pasta, of course!

- I will bake a variety of Italian cookies this year, including some that my husband has been craving since his mom quit baking 10 years ago.

- The kids will get a special visit (and tree ornament) from La Befana on Epiphany.

- We will learn to sing at least two Christmas songs in Italian!

- I am trying to figure out how to make a ceppo, which is an Italian Christmas display (that sometimes replaces the Christmas tree).

I will share more of our "Italian adventures" in future blog entries.

What will you be doing this year?  Will you build your holiday around any special themes?  Please share your ideas in the comments section!  I would love to hear about them.

P.S. If you would like to learn more about the book Buon Natale, click on the Amazon link below:

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