Meetings may be seeking to create meaningful Christmas programs that keep Friends connected while also being safe about Covid-19. Two online Conversation Circles were hosted by the Youth Religious Life Coordinator to share ideas and support each other with how to plan for celebrations in this challenging time.
Conversation Circles are an opportunity to bring together the wisdom of Friends who carry a concern for children and youth religious education programs in local meetings. The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative hosts them most months for a wider community of Friends; PYM events nurture this community of practice in our Yearly Meeting. Earlier conversation topics focused on how to resume First Day programs during the challenges of the pandemic this fall, and resources for teaching about Indigenous People and Native Justice.
In the two conversations about the holidays, Friends shared a wide-range of ideas and lifted up thoughtful questions that led to group brainstorming. Melinda Wenner Bradley opened the discussions by encouraging Friends to ask two questions when thinking about Christmas plans: why and how. Why do our traditions exist in meetings and what makes them special times for us? How might we find new ways to continue in that same spirit this year? What follows are ideas from our two conversations!
A theme we continue to lift up for our RE community is to focus on how meetings can stay tethered to families and children during this challenging time. Many young people and their parents are “Zoomed out” and need to know that even if they do not attend online programs, they continue to be included in our plans and our care.
- Mail or door-step drop offs of “spiritual care packages.” Packages might include materials for an art or service project, and nothing needs to be expensive. Include a note to the children explaining what’s included and offering encouragement and hope that we’ll be together again in person.
- West Chester meeting included in their holiday care packages blank cards and stamped envelopes with colored pencils and winter/holiday stencils along with the addresses of elderly members of the meeting who are isolated at this time. The children were encouraged to make and send simple cards.
- This could also take the form of penpals — young people can reach out with mail to an elderly Friend, and include a self-addressed envelope for a reply.
- One of the hard things in this time has been the longing between separated children and grandparents, and generations of Friends in a meeting. Perhaps adults in the meeting could record reading a storybook, and share the video with families.
- The website “MyAdvent” helps you create a personalized calendar for December where you can upload photos, videos, and messages to share with families one day at a time.
- Friends also commented on the importance of personal outreach — sending a postcard or making a phone call to a child directly to invite their participation or attendance. Sending out emails to families is helpful and usually reaches as far as the parent. Children love to receive mail, and a personal invitation goes a long way to feeling included and belonging.
Holiday Traditions in New Ways
The big question of “what to do for Christmas” has a bigger question behind it: how to do this during the continued pandemic, when gathering indoors is not happening. While each family has their own traditions around the holidays, this year meetings might plan new ways to share the things that would usually happen at meeting. Friends thought outside the box, and outside the meetinghouse!
- Service projects can still happen; be aware of Covid-19 safety measures that food cupboards and shelters may have in place for donations. “Reverse Advent: A Spiritual Practice of Giving” links gathering donations to give with the Nativity story.
- Birmingham Meeting is continuing their tradition of a Youth Committee holiday service project, creatively finding new ways to share cookies and collect donations for a local organization.
- Appoint a specific time and invite Friends to light a candle or go outside and hold one another in the Light.
- “Drive-by” celebrations have become popular during the pandemic as a way to share greetings and celebrations. Organize this idea with a cookie drop-off or physically-distanced singing at each house.
- Do you usually have a Nativity pageant? This year, families could organize simple costumes for their children and come outside to say hello as Friends “drive by.” Or ask families to take pictures of their children in costumes related to the story, and create a slideshow “pageant in pictures” with those images.
- Perhaps there are new stories to tell or new ways to share them? One meeting is using the story, Candles in the Window: A Quaker Christmas Story to create a “radio play” on Zoom.
- Singing carols or hymns may be an important tradition. If you’re using Zoom to gather, Friends suggested asking someone to lead songs (perhaps with instrumental accompaniment in their home) while others listened and joined in (on mute) from their homes. If your meeting is also gathering outdoors, a safely distanced carol sing outside, perhaps around a fire circle or bonfire, could be wonderful!
- Central Philadelphia Meeting is shifting their 12th Month Celebration online, where they will forego the potluck meal but share in fellowship: listening to carols played on the piano, playing games, gathering in breakout rooms to share conversation, and a slide show of pictures from the meetinghouse.
Missing the Meetinghouse
One of the themes that emerged in the Conversation Circles was missing the place where we gather. Haverford Meeting has decorated four of their windows (see photo with this article!) so that meeting children and other visitors can come to the meetinghouse and enjoy the stories told in the windows of their familiar place. This lovely idea generated more:
- Creating a story walk around the meetinghouse and grounds (related to the Nativity story or the meeting’s history). Families (and other meeting community members) might come and go at different times, but have the shared experience of return and connection to the place.
- Decorating Kindness Rocks to leave and pick up at the meeting — all ages can participate!
- “Asynchronous building” together at the meetinghouse—leaving rocks to make a cairn, hanging simple ornaments or pinecone bird feeders on a tree or shrub, or tying small notes together to create a paper chain. Images of togetherness created and seen by all!
- Note: If your meeting is in a care relationship with a Friends school, consider extending the invitation to those families, too.
Time for More Inclusive Stories
This holiday season is an opportunity to broaden the images in traditional stories we tell and pass along to children. Here are titles of Christmas books that show people of diverse backgrounds in this familiar story.
- Refuge by Anne Booth & Sam Usher (see also: “Nativity for the Modern Age” by Kennett Meeting)
- That Baby in the Manger by Anne E. Neuberger
- The Night of Los Posadas by Tomie DePaola
- The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas
- The Light of the World by Katherine Paterson
- Also: 40 Multicultural Children’s Books about Christmas from Colours of Us
Thanks to the 18 Friends who attended the Conversation Circles that generated many of these ideas! Watch for new topics and conversations in the new year.