By Barb Arland-Fye
This year’s Catholic Messenger Christmas contest features two overall winners: fourth-grader Chloe Ciecko of Notre Dame Elementary School in Burlington, and seventh-grader Rachel Thomas of John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport.
Nine-year-old Chloe’s drawing appears on the front cover of this week’s Christmas edition along with 13-year-old Rachel’s essay. Both girls say they were surprised to win because they thought other individuals were worthy of the honors. The Catholic Messenger staff chose Chloe and Rachel’s entries as overall winners because of their originality and the ability to convey the wonder of Jesus’ birth.
Many of the 659 drawings and 65 essays submitted from throughout the Diocese of Davenport also conveyed a deep appreciation for Christ as the focus of the Christmas season.
“I just drew what Christmas means to me, and I think about Jesus,” said Chloe, 9, the daughter of Robert and Teresa Ciecko and sister of Claudius, 13. Chloe loves to draw, especially animals, and hopes someday to be an animal rescuer or a model.
Her mom, Teresa, was ecstatic about her daughter’s achievement. “She’s a hard worker, very diligent in how she works, especially on her drawings. I knew she worked very hard on this drawing … I am very happy and very proud of her that she won.”
Notre Dame Art teacher Nicole Kamrath said all of her students enjoyed participating in the contest and were anxious to learn who’d won. “It’s always fun to have contests where kids get to see the results of it,” in this case, on the front page of The Catholic Messenger, she said. “It’s really an honor for the school to have one of our students selected,” added Principal Bob Carr.
Essay winner Rachel initially thought she was in trouble when John F. Kennedy Principal Chad Steimle escorted her to his office. “When we were walking down the hallway he asked, ‘Do you remember the Christmas article for The Catholic Messenger?’ I said, ‘Yes, I remember the Christmas article for The Catholic Messenger.’ He said, ‘Congratulations, you won!’ I couldn’t believe it!
“I definitely did not think I would win. This is such good news. I know there are a lot of good writers … and I thought, OK, there will be somebody out there who has a better article than mine. But at least I’ve got a chance.”
Her best writing involves rhyming, and that’s what she did with this piece for The Catholic Messenger contest. More importantly, she expressed a heartfelt belief about Christmas that resonated with the judges.
“I don’t think of only getting presents; I think of what actually happened on Christmas and why we have Christmas,” said Rachel, the daughter of Ellen and Rick Thomas and sister of Vincent, 10. Getting presents happens only because Wise Men gave presents to Jesus.”
A family tradition involves one child placing the angel on the tree and the other child placing baby Jesus in the manger. “Whoever puts the angel on the tree one year puts baby Jesus in the manger the next year,” Rachel said. This year, she places the angel on the tree.
Rachel’s mom, Ellen, said she’s proud of her daughter’s first-place honor in the essay contest. “She wrote it all on her own and she wrote it from her heart. Rachel is a very tender-hearted person and is always very empathetic and caring about other people and putting other people first. What she wrote was very true to her nature.”
Christmas contest winners
Christmas essay winners:
Overall winner was Rachel Thomas, a seventh-grader at John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport.
Honorable mentions were Nathan Vander Bleek, a sophomore at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton and Libby Rolf, a senior at Assumption High School in Davenport.
Christmas card contest winners:
Overall winner was Chloe Ciecko, a fourth-grader at Notre Dame Elementary School in Burlington.
First place winners were Sarah Moeller, a first-grader at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton; Jackson Fuegen, a third-grader at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine; and Veronica Henderson, a sixth-grader at Riverdale Heights School in Bettendorf.
Honorable mentions were Isabella Maerz, a kindergartner at Keokuk Catholic Schools in Keokuk; Kate McAleer, a second-grader at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport; Nicholas Scholz, a third-grader at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine; Evan Horak, a fourth-grader at St. James Catholic School in Washington; Rylee McCrery, a fifth-grader at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport; and Faith Bourgeacq, a fifth-grader at Regina Elementary in Iowa City.
What Christmas means to me
By Rachel Thomas
Christmas means a lot of things to a lot of different folks.
To some, it may mean, “Finally, someone to tell all of my jokes!”
To others, maybe presents under that ole green Christmas tree.
Or, maybe, to the little ones, hoping that a glance of Santa is what they’ll see!
But, this is what Christmas means to me:
“C” is for Christ, who was born on this day.
“H” is for Halleluiah, which is what the angels did say.
“R” is for Royalty, who traveled so far. They traveled the land, following the star.
“I” is for Innkeeper, whose stable was quiet and soft.
“S” is for Savior, who was laid in a trough.
“T” is for Teacher, what this babe came to be.
“M” is for Mary, the Holy Mother of both you and me.
“A” is for Angels, who sang of good news.
“S” is for Shepherds, who then woke from their snooze.
All of these things have a big part to play, in the manger scene on the first Christmas Day!
Christmas is about reflecting on the birth of the Lord
By Libby Rolf
Every year, the radiance from the Advent candles can be seen across the faces at the family dinner table, the Advent calendar marks the countdown until the merry celebration, and the Christmas swag suspends across the mantel and along the staircase. Yet, none of this compares to the true meaning of Christmas. To me, Christmas is a time of veneration, time to reflect upon the birth of our Lord.
As we prepare, we enter the season of Advent. Advent is a time of eagerness; we await the arrival of the King. When we reflect on the birth of Christ, we remember the struggles our Holy Mother went through. A young teen, Mary was carrying a child that would soon open up the Kingdom of God. This child would eventually bring the Holy Spirit upon his followers. How anxious she must have felt, but she looked upon God, the angels and her husband, Joseph, to guide her. Not only do we reflect on these events, but we also need to spread the account to those who question the truth behind God.
Every year, Christmas passes while many do not give reverence to the actual events that led up to the birth of Christ. As Christians, we must go out of our way to teach others the proper meaning of Christmas. Our job is to teach others to understand Christmas just as we do. So, as we prepare for the divine Christmas season, bear in mind those who have not encountered Christ, and let us find ways to grace them with truth.
Christmas is Jesus teaching us to give, love, celebrate
By Nathan Vander Bleek
As Christians, we all celebrate Christmas. We go to church, we listen to the stories, and we set up trees and nativity scenes. We all know that we are celebrating Jesus’ birth, but so quickly we forget, and get wrapped up into the nonstop commercial scam that Christmas has turned into.
My vision of Christmas has drastically changed over the years. It used to be about anticipating what would be under the tree when you woke up in the morning: Santa Claus visiting, the big meal at your grandparents’ house, and the parades all seemed to be part of my own personal trademark Christmas.
We all claim that we don’t get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, but as we know it’s hard. The nonstop signs, the nonstop commercials and the nonstop sales are all fuel for the “fake” Christmas. This is not what God intended for his son’s birth.
Of course God meant Jesus’ coming was to be acknowledged, and of course, celebrated, but we’re celebrating it in the wrong way. I decided a few years ago that I was going to rethink the way that I think of Christmas. I was going to view it as the coming of our Savior, as well as to spend time with family and enjoy each other’s company.
My hope for this holiday is that others realize the same: Jesus wasn’t born so we can receive gifts and overeat; that’s not what Jesus taught us to do. He taught us to give, be generous, love our families, and celebrate his life.