Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Check out the St. Nicholas Day article at my other blog

 Please hop over to my Creative Gift Giver blog, where I've just posted an article on celebrating St. Nicholas Day (December 5/6).  It shares come of the ways my family has celebrated this feast day and shares some links and other resources for simple ways you can celebrate!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Did you know it's "Stir Up Sunday?"

Most Christians recognize this as the first Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation before Christmas. However, in some Catholic churches, this Sunday is also unofficially recognized as "Stir Up Sunday." (In Anglican and Episcopalian churches, "Stir It Up Sunday" was last Sunday.) This name is taken from the opening prayer of the day, which goes:

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and come,
that by thy protection we may be rescued
from the dangers that beset us through our sins;
and be a Redeemer to deliver us;
Who livest and reignest with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
ever one God, world without end.

Traditionally, this is the day that families make their holiday pudding, so it is properly matured before Christmas. The whole family takes a turn at stirring the mixture; while doing so they make a wish for the coming year. A coin may also be thrown into the pudding. It is believed that the person who finds it on Christmas Day will have wealth and happiness throughout the year.

If you would like to start this tradition in your family, Recipezaar has a simple Christmas pudding recipe. They recommend using a metal bowl covered with foil if you don't have a pudding mold.

Nestle's website also has a recipe for a pretty chocolate Christmas Pudding. (Its pudding is pictured above.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A few more ideas for Holy Thursday

I was searching around the internet for more ways we could observe Holy Thursday in our home. Here are some ideas I came across:

1) Eat a "green" meal
In Germany, Maundy Thursday is known as "Green Thursday" (Grundonnerstag). I understand that the word comes from grunen, which means to mourn. But over time, it has morphed into the word grĂ¼n which is the German word for "green." In Germany and some Slavic countries, it is the custom to eat something green today-- perhaps spinach salad, cucumbers, string beans, or maybe even pea soup? (Float oyster crackers in the soup to represent the bread that Jesus shared with his apostles on this night?)

2)Recite or chant the Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration Falling.) You can find the English words here. Eventually, I plan to teach this song to my children in Latin. You can find the Latin words here.

3) Some people will celebrate with the Christian version of a Jewish Seder Meal. I haven't delved into this much yet; perhaps it will be something we will try next year. If you are interested, check out this link or this one for ideas.

4) Study Last Supper religious artwork
This is something we occasionally do in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, as a means of introducing the children into deep concentration and study of classical religious artwork. This is something I plan to try this year. I will download some famous paintings and icons depicting the Last Supper, and then discuss them with my children. We will look at more than just Leonardo DaVinci's famous painting. In fact, I plan to stay away from discussing some of the supposed "hidden messages" in that painting, but instead focus on what the people are doing, the expressions on their faces, etc.

In addition, we will look at icons of the Last Supper, like this one. Or others, like this beautiful one by Nicholas Poussin.

5)Make a visit to seven local churches to visit the altars of repose in each church, and spend some time praying to Jesus.
Explain to your children that this is a way that we can show Jesus that we are with him on Holy Thursday, the night when He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before being arrested by the soldiers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Observing Holy Thursday with a Last Supper diorama and figures

I am always looking for new ways to help my children understand the important days of Holy Week. I search for hands-on activities that help them better understand their faith.

One of our Holy Thursday activities includes working with our "Last Supper" diorama and figures. I made these small figures using wooden balls and dowels, painted to look like Biblical figures. The table is a small piece of plywood with wooden spool legs. It is covered with a simple white cloth. I found the minature candles, paten and chalice in the dollhouse section of the local craft store.

The kids use more elaborate figures in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, yet they are still drawn to my simply made figures. That's one thing I love about my kids -- they are critical of my less-than-skillful painting techniques!

We read the Last Supper passage from Matthew 26 while the kids use the figures to re-enact the scene. It is done with a lit candle. It is a simple, yet beautiful way to meditate on the Last Supper.

My figures took a few weeks to make, so it may not be a project you want to take on now if you would like it finished by Thursday. I have some ideas and resources if you would like to quickly create some figures for your children to use this week.

You might consider making figures out of clothespins. Instructables has step-by-step instructions with photos. (These aren't Biblical figures but you could adapt them.) There is another nice tutorial on the Going Sew Crazy blog.

One of my favorite sites, Making Friends, has instructions for making Biblical paper dolls. I once made them using magnet sheets. This link is for a Nativity set with figures, but it gives you the templates for the figures. You could make a Cenacle-type diorama with a shoe box.

Finally, this website gives information on making simple sewn Bible figures.

You could also do a websearch for paintings with Biblical figures, cut them out, cover them with clear contact paper, and then mount them to popsicle sticks for quick puppets.

My one caution would be that your figures should not appear cartoonish or silly. These aren't toys, but rather materials to help your child develop the tools to meditate

I would love to hear from others who have made their own Bible figures. Please tell us about it!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Readings and activities for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week

This is an important week in the Church, leading up to the most important day of the year in the liturgical calendar. In the next couple of days I will discuss a few activities and observances in the home to help your children better understand the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday). But some families like to begin the observances with Palm Sunday, and carry them through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It's a great way to build up the anticipation for the big celebration of Easter Sunday.

What kind of things can you do to help your family prepare for the Triduum?

This website suggests a daily reading with a special snack like homemade pretzels, or by honoring a neighbor or friend with the gift of an Easter lily.

This website suggests simple activities like picking a favorite Easter or Christian movie to watch as a family, making Resurrection cookies or ensuring you make it to reconciliation and/or adoration this week.

This Greek Orthodox church website shows some beautiful icons appropriate for this week, and includes an explanation of the icons and some prayers.

How about making a display of Holy Week items? This could be a fun "treasure hunt" for children. This website has some good ideas on items you could include in your display. (Scan down the page a bit until you come to the "Holy Monday" entry for the list of items.

Check with your diocese for special observances that might be happening. For example, a church you have never attended may be offering a Living Stations of the Cross observance on Good Friday, or there may be a procession from church to church after Holy Thursday's Last Supper Mass. Depending on their ages, your children might enjoy these tangible re-creations of Christ's last days. (However, check for age appropriateness.)

Do you have special activities and observances for these days before Holy Thursday? If so, please share them in the comments section. I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Celebrating Palm Sunday

My childhood remembrances of Palm Sunday are special. I recall the excitement of getting the blessed palm leaves, which were so different from the leaves found on trees around our Midwestern home. It was fun to carry and wave them in church, then bring them home and weave them into little crosses which were tacked up above the door in our bedroom. And there was the excitement of knowing that next week would be Easter Sunday!

I thought I would share some other ideas for making this day special, and extending the Biblical message we heard at Mass today.

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, we process through the church with our palms. We also celebrate a special Last Supper with the children. (We meet only on Sunday mornings, so could not recreate this on Holy Thursday.) The children re-enact the role of Jesus and his Apostles -- preparing the "Cenacle" for the important meal, (we set a long tablecloth on the floor and they set it with chalice and paten). Then we re-create the Last Supper together. Afterwards, we enjoy matzo bread (for the unleavened bread) and white grape juice. The kids look forward to this celebration each year, and ask if they can play the role of various apostles and Jesus.

The children also work with a Last Supper Diorama. I'll share information about that in my blog on Wednesday.

Some other ideas:

1) One year at home, I gave my son a paper palm tree filled with a few little trinkets and treats. You can find directions for making these candy palm trees on the Christian Crafters website.

2) This blogger describes how she sets the table with a ribbon cross and six candles to represent the days of Holy Week. On each day of the week, one of the candles is extinguished until all are out on Holy Saturday. This is a simple project to do, and would not require any special crafting expertise.

3) Palm weaving -- I love this crown of thorns made from palms! I think we will try that this year, and use it to decorate our table on Good Friday.

This website includes palm weaving tutorials, including step by step instructions on making a braid, a cone and a cross.

4) Palm Sunday crafts
You can find coloring pages here and instructions for making a Palm Sunday donkey here.

Finally, how about serving special food on Palm Sunday? Maybe a snack made from anything grown on a palm-type tree -- coconuts, bananas, dates, etc.

Happy Palm Sunday to you and your family!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Make a Holy Week banner

Yesterday I posted information and photos about the Jesus Tree we are using during Lent. Today I thought I would share information about another new tradition that we have started in our home. It is a tradition for Holy Week, running from Palm Sunday through Easter.

I made a simple banner with a length of purple grosgrain ribbon and some pieces of felt. The felt was cut into various shapes to represent the most important days of Holy Week, including:

- a palm leaf for Palm Sunday
- a chalice and host for Holy Thursday
- a cross for Good Friday
- a tomb for Holy Saturday
- a "He is Risen" sun for Easter

Most of these were simple hand-drawn shapes, although I found the "He is Risen" piece inexpensively at Hobby Lobby. I used stiffened felt (also available at craft stores) so the banner will hold up better. The ribbon and pieces have velcro dots on them.

On Palm Sunday, I will hang the banners -- minus the pieces -- on each child's door. Then my son and daughter can attach the palm leaf by matching the velcro dots. The other pieces will be added on each appropriate day throughout the week.

I thought this would be a visual way to mark the importance of Holy Week and help them remember everything that happened.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Our Lenten Jesus Tree -- a new tradition

We began a new Lenten tradition in our home this year. We are using a Lenten Jesus tree, a tradition that is somewhat similar to Advent's Jesse tree custom.

In case you aren't familiar with the Jesse tree, I'll briefly explain. During Advent, one reads an Bible passage each day to trace Jesus' lineage from the time of Abraham to His birth. The observance usually ends on Christmas Eve with the reading of the Nativity story. After each reading, you put a symbolic ornament (representing that day's message) on a small tree. For example, after reading about Moses, you might use an ornament decorated with a picture of stone tablets.

I love this tradition and decided to adapt it for the Lenten season. About half way through Lent, we began reading a New Testament passage about Jesus each day. Our readings started with His baptism in the Jordan River, then moved to His public ministry and to the miracles He performed. It will end next week as we read a passage each day relating to the important events during Holy Week.

I created a small wooden tree that I have hung on the kids' bedroom doors. As you can see from the photos, the tree has bare branches with a few leaf buds (just like the trees appear in early spring around here.) With each reading, the kids are given a green wooden leaf to attach to the tree. (The scripture reading is written on each leaf, as the photo close-up shows.) As our readings grow, so does the beauty of the tree with its growing buds and leaves.

Doing this helps them become more familiar with Jesus' life and the important things He did while on earth. And it's a fun way to learn their faith!

But the fun doesn't stop there! Each week from Easter to Pentecost, the kids will add a decorated wooden egg to their tree, while we read various readings from the Acts of the Apostles.

By the end of May, they will have a nicely blooming, decorated tree on their bedroom doors.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Lenten Book and Activity: Benjamin's Box and Resurrection Eggs

When Lent rolls around, my children eagerly pull the book Benjamin's Box off the shelf and ask me "where are the Resurrection Eggs?" These two items have become synonymous to Lent in our home. I have mentioned both items previously in my CreativeGiftGiver yahoogroup and on the CGG website. Some of my regular readers have asked me to write more about these items and how they can incorporate them into their Lenten observances. I would love to discuss this wonderful tradition a bit more.

Benjamin’s Box is a Zonderkidz book written by Melody Carlson and illustrated by Jack Stockman. The story is built around a young boy named Benjamin who lives in Palestine during Jesus' life. Specifically, the story takes place during the last week of Jesus' life. Benjamin's grandfather has given him a special box where he keeps his treasures. In the beginning of the story, it only contains a piece of straw. His grandfather told Benjamin that the straw came from the bed of a baby who would grow up to be a king. As Benjamin proceeds through the week, he picks up little treasures to add to the box, like a broken cup that was used at a very important meal and a gambling stone used to determine what soldier would get to keep the clothing of a very important person who is being crucified. At the end of the week, he has a box full of bittersweet and joyful memories.

My children love the story because it is told from the perspective of a child about their age. The first time we read it, my son promptly created his own treasure box out of an old shoe box. The story is special by itself, but we have enhanced it even further by using Resurrection Eggs while reading.

Resurrection Eggs are a set of 12 plastic eggs that contain small little trinkets that symbolize the many important events that occurred during Holy Week. Many of the items match those being collected by Benjamin.

We read one page of the story each day. Then one child is allowed to pick out an egg and open it to discover that day's treasure. For example, when Benjamin describes people waving palms while a very important person rides into town on a donkey, my children open the appropriate egg and discover a tiny plastic donkey.

Matching the eggs to the story page is easy. Each egg is a different color and most match the color of the egg on the bottom of each book page. All of the eggs are stored in a plastic egg carton, and its cover also includes a reference list of each egg and its contents.

I love this "hands on" way of learning more about Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. And although many aspects of the story are sad, the book handles it in a child-friendly way. It is not terrifying or scary for young children.

I highly recommend these two items. The eggs provide a "hands-on" way for children to remember the important events of the week. The book gently describes the events of the week without frightening young children, yet the story has enough depth to interest older children, too.

You can pick up the book inexpensively at Click below to read more reviews and information about it:

I purchased my Resurrection Eggs at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Resources - Stations of the Cross Materials

As promised, this blog entry includes more resources and information on celebrating Stations of the Cross with children. It includes information on making your own Stations of the Cross devotional area, a supplier for Resurrection eggs, and some of our favorite books and other media on Stations of the Cross.

1. Creating your own Stations of the Cross devotional area

This section provides more information on making your own Stations, including resources for artwork, how to make little shrines, and more.

Holy Spirit Interactive has downloadable and printable stations of the cross.

The Monastery Icons website sells some beautiful Byzantine icons depicting each station. They are a bit pricey, but they could become cherished heirlooms to pass down to your children.

Our Sunday Visitor publishes a poster that depicts the Stations of the Cross with simple colored drawings.This link gives more information:

Stations of the Cross, Poster Set

Illuminated Ink has a simple Stations of the Cross grotto kit you can make wit your kids:

You could use these simple line-art drawings to make your own stations.

This link gives information on making shrines from popsicle sticks. It is from one of my favorite Lenten resource books, Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church by Peter and Catherine Fournier.

Another one of my favorite books, Catholic Traditions in Crafts by Ann Ball, describe how to make Outdoor Metal Stations of the Cross with aluminum sheets and an engraver. You can find the book at This link gives you more information.

Catholic Traditions in Crafts

This might be a fun project for the upcoming year -- make your own Way of the Cross stepping stones and create your own garden! These are quite elaborate, but I think you could adapt them and create a more kid-friendly project:

If you want to create a permanent outdoor devotional area, you can purchase weatherproof stations from these two websites :

EWTN Catalog

Catholic Supply has a small set that retails for about $295.

2. Make a Game of It

"Resurrection eggs" are a great "hands-on" way to meditate on the Stations of the Cross. The kit includes a plastic egg carton and 12 plastic eggs that contain little items symbolizing Jesus’ passion and death. These are available from many Christian booksellers and Here is a link to information about it on the Amazon website:

Resurrection Eggs

3. Provide things for your children to do during parish devotions.

When I attend traditional stations with my daughter, I bring a small cloth bag filled with appropriate and quiet things to keep her busy. Besides a Way of the Cross coloring book, I rotate several child-friendly books that are written about the Stations. Here are some books you might consider.

The Story of the Cross: The Stations of the Cross for Children

This is a small, inexpensive paperback published by Catholic Publishing:

The Way of the Cross for Children

This one is by Pauline Books and Media:

Childrens Way of Cross (More for Kids)

This classic little book is by Father Lawrence G. Lovasik:

The Stations of the Cross

Do you have any favorite resources? I would love to hear about them!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Attending Stations of the Cross with children - Part II

Yesterday I listed five strategies for attending Stations of the Cross with children. Today's blog post will conclude with five more.

6. Make a game of it
I know that some people might not agree with this concept. It certainly isn’t right for every family. But I find that it works well with my daughter, who always needs to move a lot in order to absorb and understand things. I’ve set down some rules, however, to ensure that the game doesn’t become too boisterous and detract from the prayerful experience of the stations.

I purchased a beautiful set of prints from a Catholic bookstore. I put each print in different places around our house, then give my children hints on where they can find them. They must walk to the hinted location. When we have found the print, we discuss what we see in it, and what it means to us. Then we say an “Our Father,“ after which each child makes up a short prayer about the station. Sometimes we might sing a song, too. I will then give them a hint about the next location, and we will walk there and repeat the process. We do this as long as I can keep their attention. Some days we might only do four stations; other days we might be very lucky and do all fourteen!

Another family prays the stations of the cross by filling a shoebox with small items that represent each station. The children then take turns taking the appropriate item out of the box before the station’s prayers are said. This link describes the items they use.

Others may opt to use the Resurrection Eggs, a set of 12 plastic eggs that contain little items symbolizing Jesus’ passion and death. These are available from many Christian booksellers and

7. Use a candelabra while praying the Stations

Some families have successfully kept their child’s attention by using a candelabra. The devotion is done in a room illuminated only by 14 candles. A simple meditation or prayer is done for each station, after which a child extinguishes a candle. (Children love doing this!) The room is completely dark after the last station. This clever use of candles, light and darkness creates a lasting impression on children and adults!

These blogs describe their use of candlebra with the Stations:

Just Another Day in Paradise

Catholic Culture

Magnolia Cul-de-Sac

8. Break it up and do only a couple of stations each day.

Although it is best to pray all the stations in one sitting, this may not be realistic with young children. Instead, consider saying one or two stations each day. It could become part of your evening prayer time. You will then cover all station in about a week. By breaking the devotion into smaller pieces, your children will retain more, too.

9. Do the online Stations with your children.

Here is one way you can use technology to build your child’s faith! There are many online sites that offer virtual stations of the cross. Here are two that I have used with my children:

Stations of the Cross: Children and their Families Walk with Jesus

Stations of the Cross for Children

This website shows photos of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

10. Provide things for your children to do during parish devotions.

You can still occasionally attend the traditional Stations devotion at your parish with your young children. Just try to be flexible and realize that you may not be able to stay for all fourteen stations. When I need to take my children with me, I bring a small cloth bag filled with appropriate and quiet things to keep them busy. My bag includes a Stations of the Cross coloring book and books. Here are some resources:

This link provides a printable coloring book of the Stations of the Cross.

Here is a downloadable book on Stations of the Cross.

In tomorrow's post, I will share additional books and other resources on Stations of the Cross.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How Lenten observances can nourish your child's soul

Since we are in the season of Lent, I thought it timely to spend the next month and a half discussing various Lenten observances and how they can be used to nourish your child's soul. Many Lenten practices -- like fasting and abstinence -- do not always apply to children. Many Lenten observances -- like Stations of the Cross -- do not seem very "child friendly." Yet we can adapt these practices and observances to help our children grow spiritually and and build a personal relationship with Christ.

In this blog, I will often refer to some of the things I've learned as a certified catechist for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. I thought it might be good to tell you a bit about this program, in case you have not heard of it.


The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in the 1950s by a Roman Catholic Biblical Scholar named Sofia Cavalletti. It is a world-wide program that is currently used in 32 different countries. It uses a hands-on approach to faith formation. There are no workbooks and no tests. Instead, the children use a variety of handmade materials to deepen their understanding and relationship with our Lord. It is solidly Catholic and follows the teachings of the Magisterium. At the same time, it brings catechism to a level that reaches into the depths of a child's soul. In short, you can feel the work of the Holy Spirit when you step into an atrium!

If you want to learn more about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, please check out the website of the National Association at


Some topics we will cover:

- Surviving Stations of the Cross with young children

- Favorite books, CDS and videos/DVDs for Lent

- Celebrating Palm Sunday

- How to make Holy Week meaningful to your children

Those are just a few proposed topics. I actually have many, many other ideas! If you would like to see something special, please let me know.

Don't forget to subscribe to this blog (on the left hand side of the page), so you will know when new articles are posted.

Cheryl Schroeder Basile