Remember the excitement when you ran sleepy-eyed to the Advent calendar in the morning to open another window? You felt curiosity as to what surprise was waiting there. It was a lesson in patience, because lo and behold, each day, another open window brought you closer to Christmas. Today I’m reliving that excitement, opening home-made Advent calendar envelopes with my 4-year-old son.
Our family Advent calendar
Our Advent calendar is different today, though. Instead of candy, there are small tasks, such as making Christmas ornaments or a wooden Nativity scene with our own hands (OK, that’s with dad’s help!). However, there is no shortage of “sweets.” In our calendar there are tasks so that we can spend more time together, in an attractive, relaxing way (an outing to the pool) or simply creating something together (baking gingerbread cookies).
When preparing a calendar for my son (and, in fact, for our whole family), I didn’t want to focus on things only we would enjoy. It was important that the tasks include preparing something for someone, taking care of others. And so in the envelopes with reindeer smiley faces my child found tasks such as visiting his sick grandmother or making a bird feeder. However, one task was unique and particularly engaged the toddler: preparing a care package gift for a homeless person.
My 4-year-old gets busy with the care package
For years I’ve been supporting the activities of the Capuchins from a Warsaw monastery who take care of the homeless. As in previous years, the Blessed Anicet Koplinski Capuchin Foundation suggested that members of the public prepare care package gifts for the people in their care. The whole thing is insanely simple; all you have to do is buy specific products from the list they provide, and bring them to the Capuchins.
The initial surprise that painted itself on my son’s face when he pulled the task out of the envelope one morning, over time (and thanks to our subsequent conversations) began to give way to fascination and readiness to act. Excited, with an illustrated list of things to buy drawn by me, he waited for his dad to return from work to go shopping.
Ground coffee, black tea, a few bars of chocolate, a thermal mug, as well as gloves, socks, a hat, underpants, and shaving cream and razor. We gave our son a little basket and a mission: to find in the store everything that was drawn on the list. He tackled it bravely, getting firmly into character; he thought it only appropriate to try on a hat or gloves to see if they were warm enough.
Mommy, there were just no underwear!
“Mommy, there were just no underwear!” my son greeted me with a happy, yet unconcerned voice when I returned home. (Don’t worry; we found them the next day in another store.) I could see the effect of our toddler’s experience of being able to do something for someone. It’s an interesting change for a young child, who, naturally, is the object of care of everyone around him. They ask if he’s warm, if he’s hungry, and if he’s well. Now he has a chance to take care of someone else.
Watching his involvement was an extremely instructive lesson for me
I shrugged as I answered my son’s numerous questions about why someone is homeless, where his mom and dad are, where he sleeps. “If this gentleman doesn’t have a home, then Santa has nowhere to leave him presents. Will I be his Santa?” he asked. But the most beautiful thing was that he took the initiative to prepare something more himself.
“Can I draw a Christmas card for the homeless man? Would it be nice for him?” asked the toddler, teaching me another lesson in my motherly school of life. As a result, in addition to a few trinkets, we added drawings to the package for the homeless man, including a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and Santa Claus on a sleigh.
Since a 4-year-old could prepare a package for a homeless man in one evening, you can make a difference, too. Don’t delay! Your parish is a great place to start to find out how to get involved in helping those who are poor and homeless by giving a donation, or volunteering on a particular occasion or habitually; in practically every town or city there are shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, etc. that will welcome your contribution.