The idea of raising a family can be daunting to any couple. Children are supposed to be responsible, fit, well behaved, talented, smart and successful. On top of it all—and perhaps the most challenging issue for parents—this question remains: How do I raise my children to be faithful?
They say that you can’t give what you don’t have. David and Mary Fleck of Bismarck are thankful for the faith they’ve been given. In turn, they are giving all they have to help their six children appreciate their Catholic faith as well.
A true Advent journey
As the Fleck family began to grow, David and Mary set a goal to incorporate faith-based traditions into their family life. Little by little, new traditions came into the picture, while others changed with the different stages of life—yet they always sought out ways to make the Catholic faith come alive for their young children, the Flecks said.
With regular feasts and celebrations already built into the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar (in addition to suggested customs during special seasons), the Flecks have merely built upon what they are already celebrating at Mass with their kids.
“We have a manger and the children add straw to it for each good deed they’ve done, sacrifice they’ve made or prayer they’ve said for others,” explained Mary, commenting on a unique family Advent tradition. “On Christmas Eve, we lay the baby Jesus on this bed of straw made from their good deeds.”
Advent in the Fleck household also includes singing verses of the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” at dinnertime, lighting the Advent wreath, and using a Jesse Tree—which includes adding symbols of Jesus’ lineage to a special tree each day and reading an accompanying passage from the Bible.
To “increase the children’s anticipation for the birth of Christ,” the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the three wise men journey throughout the Fleck home until their appropriate day of arrival in the nativity scene. On Christmas Eve, the family then reads Jesus’ birth narrative from Scripture and the baby Jesus arrives—courtesy of the youngest child of the house.
While Santa Claus does bring gifts to the Fleck kids, David and Mary emphasize the life and virtue of the historical St. Nicholas to their children, reminding them that he was very charitable and giving, especially to the less fortunate.
Christmas doesn’t end on New Year’s
“During Christmas, we try to make the children aware of the fuller sense of the Church’s celebration of the entire Christmas season,” Mary pointed out. As a result, the kids are greeted with, “Merry Christmas” each morning during the octave of Christmas.
The family also chose a non-traditional schedule for decorating their home for the holidays: lights, tinsel and a tree don’t appear until the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)—and don’t come down until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is when the Christmas season officially ends on the Church calendar.
“Christmas is too big of a feast to only celebrate one day!” Mary said.
Part of the family’s Christmas celebration this year also included an Epiphany party on January 5. David, who serves as
director of the diaconate
for the Diocese of Bismarck, typically hosts an Epiphany party for the men and their wives who are preparing to become deacons. But after poor weather forced the event to be cancelled, the party took on a new flavor this year.
After attending Mass as a family, the Flecks discussed the meaning of Epiphany while enjoying a big brunch. “Some of our best discussions about our faith occur during our family meals,” David stressed.
Afterwards, the kids did a white elephant gift exchange and decided to dress up like the three kings who visited the baby Jesus.
“They just used clothing found in our dress-up bin or in their closets for their costumes,” Mary said. “It was fun to see what their creative minds assembled.”
Soon, there was a five-year-old donkey and a three-year-old Blessed Virgin Mary roaming the house. The Flecks’ oldest daughter made a “King’s cake” and hid a small plastic baby Jesus under one of the pieces of cake. After recently learning about the Epiphany tradition of asking God to bless one’s home in the new year, the family incorporated that into their evening meal prayers as well.
Always a reason to celebrate
The Flecks readily admit that they are by no means experts. In fact, their faith-based family events aren’t always necessarily planned or even formally organized. “We would suggest to begin simply and to stay focused on what is important,” they advised. “If you take on too many activities, you may burn out as a parent and not want to do it again. Make it something that is simple and doesn’t need a lot of prep.”
David and Mary have been pleased with their children’s positive response to the faith-based activities. But with celebrations, feasts and dress-up games, how can the kids complain?
“Rather than having their Catholic faith be simply an intellectual concept, faith-based activities make [the kids’] faith come alive,” said Mary, who oftentimes simply gets ideas from a quick online search. “It integrates faith into the day-to-day schedule of our family life and gives us good family time in a very meaningful way.”
After reflecting on this year’s Christmas activities, the Flecks couldn’t help but admit it: The events were possibly more fruitful for the parents than the kids.
“It challenges us to integrate our faith into daily life and not become complacent in celebrating the liturgical events of our faith.”
Plus, who doesn’t like more reasons to throw a party?
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