Christmas & Epiphany: Bethlehem Village Event

Nothing brings greater understanding to a child (or any person) than participating and living out something they did not fully grasp.  Having a Bethlehem Village, where life is recreated in Bethlehem arond the time Jesus was born, brings the time to life and creates an understanding of what life was like and how very different life was from today’s times.

To create Bethlehem Village, three parts are required.  The first part is the decorations to turn the area into Bethlehem.  The second part is “shops” or stations with educational, interactive and fun activities and crafts. The third is volunteers who take the part of the villagers.

All enter Bethlehem through the Tour Guides Shop.  They sign in at a Guest book and recieve their passport with a listing of all the shops and activities

For decorations, I use bales of hay, lots of fabric for table covers, scenic background, and props.  Each shop is a table covered in a bright fabric with educational materials, props, pictures, and a work area.

The shops and workers are the leather-maker, the metal worker, the carpenter, the baker, Hebrew School, the Synagogue, the shepherd, the potter and the inn-keeper. Each shop has lots of information of what would have been in the shop during Jesus’ time and how things were used by the people.  For activities, here is a listing of what I have done:      Leather- Maker’s Shop- fake leather bookmarks, bracelets, making leather bags (to carry small items).   Metal Worker-gold picture using gold foil and a wood  “pencil” to draw on back. Flip over and have an embossed picture.    Carptenter- wood ornaments, wood objects or blocks of wood to paint, and sandpaper.    Baker- barley to grind, bakery treats (cookies) to eat.  Hebrew School-Hebrew Alphabet, primer, guide, pencils, paper,dreidal with instructions and coloring pages for the children.  Synagogue-Menorah, meditations with objects, list of sins and suggested sacrifieces from the Bible, coins for coin changing.  Sheperds-toy sheep, mazes, puzzles, coloring pages.  Potter-clay for them to shape and take home.  Inn-keeper- small cot with various cleaning items, drinks, and activity to make a “Welcome” door sign.

At each shop, their passport is stamped.

After an hour of Bethlehem Village, the Magi (kings), come searching for Jesus.  We follow them into the Nave where a retelling of the Nativity story is done and the Magi speak about why they search for Jesus.  We sing some songs and say some prayers.   We have an area for parents to take pictures of their child and the Magi.

The volunteers are gathered in advance, given their parts with information about what their shop was like.  They read up on the work and the life, so that when, they come to do Bethlehem Village, they are prepared for any questions the visitors might have.

There are lots of different ways to do a Behtlehem Village.  If you do it before Christmas, the Shepherds could come looking for Jesus (instead of the Magi.)  Petting zoos, large animal cut-outs, or more characters can be added.  For smaller, just choose four shops to have and have it before the usual Christmas Pageant.

Getting the word out to surrounding neighbors and schools, makes the event an ideal “on-ramp” for people who have not regularly attended a church.  This event is fun, educational, and promotes fellowship, as well as, hospitality.

For information on items used in the shops or decorations, please click on the link.  By purchasing items through the links, helps to fund this site.  Thank you.

 

Advent/Christmas Family Movie Event

Watching a Christmas movie, may not feel like an event a church should host, but it can be a gift of slowing down, spending time in community, and giving a faith perspective on a season rushing towards a Christmas overload.

Choose a family movie that is appropriate for all ages.  I have done Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf, and other classics.  Some movies are wonderful for adults (It’s a Wonderful Life), but are too slow for the younger crowd.  I try to pick movies that are less than one and a half hours.  Preview the movie and come up with five to seven discussion questions that as a community of faith, what are the ethics, faith, and love-based questions that come up?

Publicize the event!

Have popcorn, snacks, lemonade, water and tea.  Make it an intergenerational event, to encourage fellowship and community.  Have a table of activities for the very young to do if they become bored. One option, that is a lot of fun, is choose an activity or word to call out every time a certain thing happens on screen (it makes it like a movie scavenger hunt.)

After the movie, have the discussion, encouraging all (and all ages) to answer.  It makes for great community building and encourages those who normally would not interact, to get to know each other.

This activity is a great activity for the Sunday before Christmas (as an intergenerational Christian Formation event.)

Clicking on a link and purchasing the product helps to fund this site.  Thank you!

Advent: St. Nicholas Festival

Hosting a St. Nicholas Festival brings smiles, excitement, and joy from children, families, volunteers, and newcomers hoping to find something that takes the materialism out of the holiday. It is a wonderful on-ramp for new children and families looking for a church. It is a gift to give the surrounding community looking for a faith-based celebration of the Christmas spirit.

St. Nicholas feast day is December 6. In some parts of the world, such as The Netherlands, this is the day children receive Christmas gifts.  There are many ways for churches to bring this feast day to life and help replace the “give me a list” Santa Claus with “how can we love others and love God” St. Nicholas.

I plan the festival to have stations, usually 8 to 10.  Families can go to any station they desire as many times as they would like.  After forty-five minutes, we gather all and head to the Nave, where the children leave their shoes in the Loggia.  We have a short worship service (15 minutes), where we hear a knock on the door and St. Nicholas enters.  He shares information with the children, we bring offerings from the stations (will explain when I explain the stations) and we sing lots of songs.  St. Nicholas does do a short homily on giving and loving God.  After we have completed the worship service, the children are invited to come sit in the Bishop’s chair, with St. Nicholas standing beside them, for pictures.  (This takes about 10-15 minutes for all to talk to St. Nicholas and get pictures.) When we return to the Loggia, the children discover one of their shoes is filled with a bag of candy, stickers, bookmarks, pencils, and another small gift.   The children are so excited!  We then move to another room for cookies, hot chocolate or lemonade.  The whole event is about one and a half hour.

For free ideas, visit St.Nicholas Center.

For stations, I have found these the most successful:

  • Making a Bishop’s Miter (hat)- supplies are red paper, glitter crosses, tape, staples, and the pattern found at the St. Nicholas site.
  • Community Service/Outreach-we have collected slippers for a nursing home, diapers for a family homeless shelter, blankets for our police to give it to the homeless, made placemats for a community meal, food for a food pantry, etc.  We bring these in to the worship for an offering.
  • Making Christmas Cards-supplies are cardstock, stamps, stickers, and markers.
  • St. Nicholas Ornament- handprint one or easy face one come in easy kits.
  • Letter to St. Nicholas (Child asks for something for someone else)-supplies are stationary or postcards, pens, pencils, and mailbox.  We bring these in to the worship for St. Nicholas.
  • St. Nicholas Festival Around the World-I researched the festival around the world and laminated each country.  The table is filled with statues, toys, wood-shoes, etc. from around the world.
  • Puzzle and Games-supplies include coloring sheets, word puzzles, hidden object pictures,  match card games, Bingo game using St. Nicholas symbols, pens, pencils, and crayons.
  • St. Nicholas Information-supplies include information sheets, book, statues, other books, prayer cards, icons, and other items that tell about St. Nicholas.  The volunteer working the station is very knowledgeable about St. Nicholas and shares with each person information about the saint.
  • St. Nicholas Craft-Pattern from the St. Nicholas Center.
  • Storytelling-I have the Godly Play story of St. Nicholas going all the time.  There are floor pillows and blankets for people to sit on.

Continue reading “Advent: St. Nicholas Festival”

Advent: Time for the Church to Expand

Advent is the time of year for churches’ to expand people’s hearts, people’s understanding of Christmas, faith, and religion, and expand their programming.  Advent is a great on-ramp for people, who are looking for a faith or a church, to enter into our congregations.  It is a great time for churches’ to bridge the space between the church building and their homes (and their families.)

Advent starts off with a booklet which contains information, worship materials, discussion topics, and activities to do at home.  I have two booklets for this purpose.  One, Devotions for Children and Families with Children, contains a weekly Advent wreath worship service and six activities that can be done through the week.  Families can choose to do one or more each week depending on their time restraints.  Activities listed include a church activity, a craft activity, a charitable/outreach activity, an ornament activity, a creche activity, and a family-centered (history) activity.  The second booklet is part of an Advent Take Home Kit and is called, Journey to Bethlehem: Share the Joy. It contains information on what Advent is, how to make an Advent wreath, how to use an Advent wreath, worship services to practice at home, weekly meditations with readings and discussion, Christmas Eve and Christmas meditations and information about our church services.  Both are available for the cost of a donation.  Please email me at [email protected]

Advent is a great time to get families and individuals involved in non-Sunday activities.  During Advent, I, typically, schedule the following events:

  • First Sunday in Advent: Home kits go home.
  • Holy Pause in Advent: we offer different types of ways to “pause” including classes on how to do a labyrinth, Centering Prayer, Icon use, Communion Classes, and Prayer Stations.
  • St. Nicholas Festival: fun for all ages and way to share a different perspective on Santa Claus.
  • Las Posadas: Introduce a different culture and very group growing.
  • Saint Thomas Service: for those who have lost a loved one.
  • Angel Event: we learn about angels and do crafts.
  • Lessons & Carols: beautiful music.
  • Family Christmas Movie: we watch with popcorn and lemonade and them discuss.
  • Christmas Pageant: we do as a part of our December 24 Service at 3:00 PM.  Any child who shows up is in it.  Generally, we have about 100.

I will discuss each event more in depth in future blogs, but planning is the key and getting the word out.  Once the word spreads, you will see families that have been away, new faces, and lots of smiling regulars.  The important thing for any event is getting a team of helpers, planning what each event will look like and then do it.  Every year, we build on what we did the year before.  This keeps us from having to start by spending lots of money and effort.  Pick three or four stations at each event or activities and then every year add two.