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New kinds of Christmas traditions

By Louise McNulty
Catholic News Service

Some people decorate their Christmas trees with shiny garlands, bright lights and family heirlooms. In Dover, Del., Carrie Doane, a young mother of three, says she plans to decorate her family’s tree with something better.
To teach her children a special way to celebrate the earthly birthday of Christ, she plans to decorate the tree with pieces of paper that each child will fill out with a good deed he or she has done. Then she’ll punch a hole and hang the “good deed” ornament on the tree.
“I’d give examples of things they can do without being asked. Or I’d describe someone else’s chore that they can offer to do,” she said. Doane also wants adults in her household to participate. They can contribute with a deed, such as not arguing back with someone who’s angry (even if they’re not right), do a chore the other spouse usually does or bring a latte to a friend who’s having a hard day. And on Christmas, “after we’ve emptied the stockings and before we open presents, we can bring the ornaments down and read them,” she said. The hope, she said, is that the process will teach the children (and adults, too) that Christmas is not just about getting but about giving. And that gifts under the tree and on the tree come in all forms, not just in the material gifts that are associated with Christmas.
Flo Ryan, of Brandon, Fla., also wants to do something different with her Christmas tree this year. She plans to place her tree in the kitchen.
“It’s the center of the house, where people tend to gather and where I bake cookies with the kids,” she said. “I’d like it right there on the counter where everyone can see it and be reminded by it.”
She, too, wants to show that Christmas can be participatory, a time that involves helping others, inside the family and outside, as well. Her tree will also involve some variation of writing down the good things done for others during Advent.
Since Ryan’s grandchildren vary widely in age, she’s given them suggestions of good deeds they can perform. For the youngest, she has suggested that they help mommy with chores, pick up their toys or ask their mom and dad to give them jobs to do. “Kids in middle school can do things for the church,” she said. “Perhaps taking a tag from a giving tree, and I’d shop with them for the present.”
She encourages her teenage grandchildren to do volunteer work. They could get together with a group of friends and with permission from a nursing home sing for the residents, she said, or they could work at soup kitchens or help with holiday meals for the poor and homeless.
“My hope would be that, as children, they’d form the habit of helping the poor and being considerate to others, and they’d remember that and act on it as adults,” she said.

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