As Advent is upon us once again, it's time to remind our students of the true meaning of giving and balance it against the ideas of the material world. We want to take the message of faith and transform it into something more than "Jesus is the reason for the season.” But what can we, as educators, do to teach children this is the time to think about our gifts to and from God, first, and to each other, second?

Here are some things not to spend your class time on. Do not ask your students to make out a list for Santa in anticipation of all he may bring them and do not ask them to write a paper or stand up and tell about all they received when they get back from Christmas break, or even where they have gone. This becomes a show and tell of material wealth, puts many in a position of embarrassment or storytelling (lying), and encourages children to think this is the important part of Christmas. In addition, don’t make homemade gifts for Mom and Dad or ornaments for a tree somewhere; let the other groups they’re involved in do that.

Instead start your Advent lessons with this poem by Christina Rossetti.

What Can I Give Him?

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd I’d give him a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I’d do my part.

But what can I give him?

I’ll give him my heart.

Emphasize that the message of God’s greatest gift to us was his son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. At that point the discussion needs to become, specifically, what can we give him in return? Children will respond with answers of love, kindness, and prayers.

It’s important to make them become concrete with these thoughts. If love is our gift, how will we show it, i.e. to those in our family, our neighborhood, nursing homes, or hospitals? If our gift is kindness, who will receive it? Will we be kind only to those we like, or will our kindness extend to the homeless, and those less fortunate whom we don’t even know? If our gift is our prayers then make lists of those to pray for as our gift to them. Our time in conversation and praise to God should be our gift to Him. Suggest selecting a specific time to go to the Adoration Chapel, attending an extra Mass a week or praying at home, above what is normal for each student.

Whatever you do to drive home the message of Christmas this year. Center your lessons on the greatest Gift Giver and how we should receive and give back to Him.

Remember, in the crush of commercialism, we may be the only place they hear that message.