5 ways to lead your RCIA participants from the North Pole to Jesus Christ this Christmas

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAHave you ever heard anyone tell you that you weren’t supposed to do these things in Advent? I have heard all of them. I’ve even said a few of them in the past:

  • Don’t sing Christmas carols before Dec. 24
  • Don’t get too busy; Advent is a time of reflection
  • Don’t go to the mall (or Amazon.com) too often; don’t commercialize the season
  • Don’t put up a Christmas tree or Christmas lights before Dec. 24
  • Don’t pay too much attention to Santa Claus; focus instead on the “real” St. Nicholas

Here’s the thing, though. No matter how much we try to keep Advent pure, everyone around us will be celebrating “the Christmas season” beginning about the time the last trick-or-treater goes to bed. This is especially true of catechumens and uncatechized candidates who have no tradition of celebrating Advent and Christmas liturgically. For those who come to us with a strongly secular background, things like Christmas shopping, house decorating, and gift wrapping might be the most spiritual activities of the year. I remember a fallen-away-Buddhist neighbor I had once who had the best Christmas tree on the block. It went up every year on the day after Thanksgiving and came down on December 26. She couldn’t tell me much about Buddhism, but she had a story for every single ornament she placed on her tree.

So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped trying to fight the secularization of the Advent-Christmas season. Now I try to find the kernel of spiritual truth in what people find meaningful about all the frenzied activity that goes on during the holidays.

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “How to find more RCIA inquirers” Click here for more information.

Joy to the World

As a result, I’m okay with the catechumens singing a few Christmas carols before Christmas day. And I also expect them to know when Advent begins and ends and that it is a season of preparation.

Silent Night

I don’t even try to tell catechumens to slow down during Advent—especially if they have children. But I do ask them to plan some extra time for prayer during the season.

Jingle Bells

It strikes me as completely futile to tell catechumens not to commercialize the season. So I don’t rail too much against all the ads and the time we spend in the mall. But I do ask the catechumens to spend some of their gift budget on the poor.

O Christmas Tree

If you come to my house in Advent, you’ll see a tree and Christmas lights. But you’ll also see an Advent wreath, and I encourage the catechumens to also have a wreath in their homes.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

Dealing with Santa Claus is harder for me. I bear the name of one of the greatest, most-loved saints in church history. Whenever I see the fun-house distortion of St. Nicholas that was cemented into our secular holiday traditions by Coca-Cola in the 1930s, I get a twinge in my stomach. But I can’t even get too upset about Santa. (Just please, please, please don’t bring him into the liturgy.) For those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, Santa Claus may be the most stable image of hope and joy they have ever had. It’s not too difficult to draw a line from the North Pole back to St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, and from there to Christ.

How about you? How do you and your RCIA team handle secular vs. sacred traditions when forming the catechumens?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “How to find more RCIA inquirers” Click here for more information.

See also these related articles:
  1. Is your RCIA team ready for seekers this Christmas?
  2. Sing these 6 carols in RCIA for strong holiday catechesis
  3. 5 ways to lead your RCIA participants from the North Pole to Jesus Christ this Christmas
  4. Simbang Gabi: How to put stars in the eyes of your RCIA participants this Advent
  5. Be a dreamer this Advent

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  1. I agree with most of your statement about keeping our focus on Christ instead of St. Nick except for keeping him out of the liturgy. My husband played Santa for many families over the years (and never accepted any payment). At one point he worried about taking away from the focus on Christ at Christmas and decided to ask our pastor if he could make a visit to church as Santa before the Children’s Mass at 5 pm. He wanted the children and parents to understand that even Santa comes to give praise to Jesus in the Nativity scene before he goes out to deliver gifts to all the children. He knelt before the creche for a few minutes then stood and invited everyone to sing Silent Night with him before he left shaking his bells as the priest began the procession to start Mass. He did this for 11 years before he died and it meant a lot to the families of our parish.

  2. We spend time teaching them a little about the religious symbolism behind many of the Christmas decorations and traditions. Christmas lights represent the light of Christ coming into our homes. The Christmas tree may have begun as a pagan symbol, but was “Christianized” by the Germans. The star or angel on top of the tree can be traced back to scripture and the birth of Christ. So when they are out shopping, etc., if they have the true meaning in their minds and hearts, it makes the season a little less stressful, a little more patient and generous, and more joyful.

  3. I work with the young children and make up a Christmas/Birthday card for Jesus which they can take to church on Christmas. Inside they list their ‘gift’ to Jesus – something special they did during advent for Him.

  4. Several year ago one of our “CCD” students invited a friend to attend our parish Advent event for kids. (3rd Graders at the time.) They made crafts etc. As we wove the stories, Scriptures and traditions into the day this child’s eyes got as big as donuts. She couldn’t wait to go home to tell her parents about these new stories she had never heard. Mom started to return as a Catholic. The Dad and kids were brought into the Church about 11/2 years later in RCIA. We can sometimes underestimate the power of our stories to evangelize. The Advent and Xmas seasons are time of creating sacred remembrance. Isn’t that what we do every Eucharist?

  5. At each catechetical session during Advent we light the Advent wreathe on our sacred table. To know when Advent starts and ends I show them an Advent calendar where a window opens each day to tell the Christmas story. I encourage the setting up of a Nativity scene (without the infant Jesus) and pray there during Advent. I ask them to participate with the parish in the “Giving Tree”, providing a gift for a needy child. I give each of them a little stocking with the legend of the candy cane and the poinsettia, telling the story of St. Nicholas around December 6. If the group is large enough we choose names and be Advent Angels, doing little kindnesses and bring little gifts for the other during the season. Advent is a bountiful time to practice those virtues of a Catholic disciple.

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