Advent and Christmas are magical times for children. It is difficult to sometimes separate the anticipation and fantasy of the secular Christmas with the deep mystery and beauty of the birth of Jesus. So as educators of children we try our best to “tell the Biblical story” surrounded by spiritual awe and wonder, but I sometimes wonder how close does that resonate to a fantasy, that perhaps surrounds Santa. One of them is real.
This is what I really appreciated about the “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” curriculum. It was a unique way of connecting the birth story to real places and real people, and I believe helped children to connect to the fact that Jesus was/is REAL in their lives today, whilst still retaining the mystery of angels, stars, and Jesus incarnate in a manger.
We used the curriculum as the basis of worship for our Kids’ Community through Advent. When children left the sanctuary worship after the Children’s message, where the children heard segments of the Birth story, we entered our children’s sacred space and followed the ritual each week of “setting the table” with the symbols of the “big” church service. Using the invitation of the singing bowl the children then entered that space. Once there we read the Bible text and introductory information provided by the curriculum to set the scene. We then deepened into that place, by moving to a “stage” set with props to meet the Palestinian or Israeli child. Each week, I provided the letter from each of the four featured children in the program to children in our community who were of the same age and gender. They could then practice reading the letter (which also worked as a conduit of information with some parents.) The stage had a map of the area, a globe to get perspective of where the children currently live and different background props related t to that week’s location: clothing that may have been worn by Mary, angel wings, a shoddy looking cave or a shepherd’s field. I also enlarged photos provided as part of the curriculum, so that the children could see the “real” places that exist today. I asked the children to think about two things they felt were the same about their lives and two things that were different from each letter that was read out aloud. I appreciated that the program did not attempt to get political but rather introduced our children to the terminology of Palestinian, Israeli, curfew, tanks as well as pizza, soccer, music practice and school. In a time when they hear the language of Islam in many negative contexts on television and the media, “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” provides a normalcy of shared friendships between Christian, Jew and Muslim children in the same classrooms. If we start with that premise for our children, they will have a counter balance to some global trends…and isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Radical inclusion?
As parents collected children after worship, I distributed copies of the letter provided which was very helpful. Also as part of our Advent Sunday School, which is distinct from worship and involves adult and children’s education opportunities held between our services, I could welcome parents with Arabic phrases. As part of the sessions where they made Advent wreaths and a calendar, parents also helped children write Colorado postcards to the school in Bethlehem, thereby creating another opportunity for parents to discover more about the program.
Again thank you for providing this program that helped to start pertinent conversations in a creative and comfortable way, while helping Jesus to become REAL!
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