By Anne Marie Amacher
LONG GROVE — During Advent, there can be a sense of rushing to prepare for Christmas and not taking enough time to focus on the religious aspect of the season.
So St. Ann Parish in Long Grove offered an Advent program Nov. 21 that focused on the nativity and preparing for the birth of Jesus.
Msgr. Drake Shafer, pastor, “wants a nativity scene in every home,” said Sharon Helm, a minister of faith formation at the parish. “We plan to emphasize that every week during Mass.”
About a dozen families participated in the first-time event. The half-day program included many activities for children and adults.
After the opening prayer, Helm offered an icebreaker called “Christmas Confusion.” Families moved about the room asking questions of one another from a list of questions and checking off the answers.
Next, they watched a video that told the story of the Christmas crèche, and how St. Francis of Assisi inspired people to reenact the story of the birth of Jesus. In 1223, according to the Franciscan Fathers who produced the video, St. Francis helped put together the reenactment on a mountain outside Greccio, Italy. Over the years, the community continued the tradition and reenactments spread throughout Italy, then across the world. Eventually nativity scenes replaced many of the reenactments.
Pictures of various nativity scenes made in different countries were shown as the video closed out.
Helm described nativity scenes set up throughout St. Ann’s Great Hall: a Native American-looking scene from Arizona, one by artist Thomas Kincaid, another made out of corn husks by an Iowa woman, one that has been passed down through generations of a family, one with Boyds Bears, a handmade nativity from El Salvador and one made of olive wood from Bethlehem.
“This is what Christmas is all about. Not Santa Claus,” Helm said.
The next activity began with a reading from Luke 2:1-20 on the birth of Christ. Afterward, families took five items out of a bag on a table and had to figure out how those items related to the Gospel reading. A pencil and rolled-up piece of paper represented people going to Bethlehem to enroll for the census. A plastic ring symbolized Mary and Joseph’s engagement. A cloth represented the swaddling clothes for the newborn baby. A candle represented Christ as the light of the world and the star of Bethlehem. The final item was a small ornament that represented the choir of angels singing praise to Jesus.
After a break, families had a variety of activities to work on together or separately.
Helm held up a completed nativity scene made from felt and foam. She said it could be made into an Advent calendar. The family activity packet also included coloring sheets for young children and a nativity scene with felt outlines for elementary school students. Adults had a list of multiple-choice questions to test their knowledge on what the Scriptures say about the birth of Jesus. Verses from the Scriptures were included. The program ended with a blessing of the nativity scenes.
Helm hopes to offer a Lenten program next spring and the Advent program again next year.