From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Banish sibling bickering for a peaceful Advent

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Dec. 5, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Each Advent I have visions dancing in my head. Not of sugarplums, but of peace and joy filling our home. I yearn for family togetherness, peaceful fun and quiet prayerfulness. But as Christmas nears what I often get is a house full of children bickering.

Dan and Renee Daniels of Medical Lake came up with a tradition that transforms the mood of their family each December. Their three sons have not turned into perfect angels, but for 10 years now Advent is a little slice of heaven at the Daniels’ home. “It’s an incredible experience,” says Renee.

The idea came from a storybook in which a mother became fed up with her children’s fighting in the weeks before Christmas. The Daniels adopted her strategy, which requires only a small manger and a basket of straw.

Once a week family members draw names. In secret they do kind deeds for the person whose name they’ve drawn. For each kind act a person does, he or she takes a single piece of straw from the basket and lays it in the manger. The object is to prepare a soft bed for the baby Jesus by Christmas Eve.

Renee tells of little notes left around the house and in the car, gifts of cookies and candy, the kids setting out towels and toothbrushes for each other in the bathroom, and her husband leaving a message in Q-tips on the counter: “I love you,” it said.

“These little acts of love soften the heart in each of us at Christmastime,” says Renee. “It helps us to really focus on what the season is all about, as opposed to all the commercialism that so easily takes over.”

And sometimes it teaches a hard lesson, says Renee. “Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ and sometimes your own siblings can feel like enemies,” she says.

In the storybook two siblings are not getting along. They struggle because they draw each other’s names and don’t feel like acting kind to each other.

“Every year since we started it, we have dealt with that same thing,” says Renee. “Who doesn’t want who changes year to year, but they tend to always get that person. I don’t think it’s an accident. God knows what we need.

“Last year it happened to be Nicholas and John, who didn’t want each other,” she says. “John got Nick. He put thought and time into it every day of that week. He got him a bible; he gave him his hockey cards. He did it with love and enthusiasm, even though they’re at an age where there’s rivalry between them.”

The tradition requires family members to do some planning and use creativity. Renee says they try to include service as much as gifts. Surprise treats, backrubs or doing another person’s chores spread a warm spirit through the family.

You could start this tradition by having your children build the manger. They can use twigs from outside, Popsicle sticks or cardboard. Place it in a central location in your house, along with a bunch of loose straw. Most kids will like the idea of doing good deeds in secret and watching the straw mysteriously pile up in the manger.

“I’ll never forget the first year,” says Renee. “Our oldest, Steven, was about seven and he was so excited to build the manger. Then after Christmas he said, ‘Mom, I want to do this year-’round. I think we should always do it.’ Of course, we didn’t. We wanted to keep it a Christmas tradition.”

Now Steven is age 17; his brother Nicholas, 15; and John, 11. Knowing teenagers, I ask Renee if they’re still so willing to participate.

“They groan a little, but if we didn’t do it, I know for a fact they would be disappointed,” she says. “They may not say so, but there’s no question it would be a loss, a void. Besides, it’s not an option. It’s a family tradition. They draw names and at Christmas we have a little bed of straw.”

© 2002, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a freelance and children’s writer living in Spokane with her husband and three children.)

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