By John Boucher
Christmas songs and music were the most popular religious-themed Internet searches during the last four weeks of both 2006 and 2007. One of the most popular Websites is called www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com that presents the history, words, and music of over a thousand Christmas songs. Over seven million visits were made to the website in the first 15 months after it went live.
This interest in Christmas carols and songs means that they might be used to help people connect or re-connect with their Christian heritage, with the Church, and with Jesus Christ. Many inactive Catholics are looking for their spiritual roots at Christmas time. Christmas carols may be what brings so many people back for Christmas Mass, long after they have ceased regular Sunday Mass attendance and participation. Christmas carols describe the birth of Jesus and proclaim some part of the basic Gospel message, while connecting us to the Scriptures. They draw people into deeper connectedness and communal faith as we join in song together.
Reaching out through Christmas music
Christmas music can be more than just entertainment. It can be an opportunity for Jesus to touch people’s hearts. Below are some ideas to help parishes and prayer groups to develop simple events or programs to reach out to active, marginal, and inactive Catholics, as well as to unchurched neighbors, friends, and family in the time before Christmas.
Christmas music, sung outside of liturgical space in a variety of settings and at different types of events, can invite people to deeper faith. Neighborhood Christmas gatherings, birthday parties for Jesus held in homes and Catholic schools, and Christmas caroling in local stores, malls, and area neighborhoods all are good opportunities for singing. Kids love Santa, so how about a music-filled celebration of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or a “Visit from St. Nicholas” in a parish hall or school. Christmas carols and music at such events can be used in an intentional way to evangelize, to draw people into the parish community, and to prepare them for fuller participation in the Christmas liturgies that they will celebrate.
A parish “Christmas Carol Festival” event might look something like this:
Lighting of a Christmas tree (on church property or elsewhere) and/or the blessing of the empty manger after Thanksgiving
- Singing lots of explicitly Christ-centered Christmas carols (with words provided)
- Two brief (three minute) conversion stories (witnesses) by active Catholics
- Reading of one of the Christmas Scriptures
- Refreshments: donuts, cookies, cider, etc.
- Printed invitations to upcoming Advent services, Christmas Masses, food pantry efforts, and outreach to the needy and poor in the area
- Costumed St. Nicholas who is interviewed by an MC at various events
In all of this, keep an eye turned to following-up with participants after the Christmas season.
Plan now for December
In the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey training sessions for the “Christmas Carol Festival” will be held on May 2 and 3, 2008 for interested people and parishes. Attendees will receive a handy 70 plus page Christmas Carol Festival Guidebook (by Therese and John Boucher) that includes templates for e-mail and post-card invitations that can be sent to all addresses in the parish area, guidelines for witnessing, and simple notes about the history of familiar Christmas carols along with Christ-centered explanations of the words in the carols. The guidebook also include tips for creative activities. (Example: FREE Coupon—cup of hot cider and a fresh apple or two donuts at St. Greg’s Christmas Carol Festival, Sunday, December 11, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.)
The training sessions will include material to help parishes train active parishioners to invite active, marginal, and inactive Catholics, as well as unchurched relatives, friends, and neighbors to their festival. And to help parishes think and plan beyond the event, there will also be ideas for follow-up after the holidays. Information on how to connect people to events and programs such as a “Jesus is Alive” one-day parish retreat, “Being a Christian in the Modern World” three day mini-mission, “NEW Life in the Spirit Seminars, “Catholics Returning Home” sessions, “Evangelistic Ash Wednesdays,” “Theology on Tap,” and other parish evangelization efforts, will be given.
John Boucher is Director of the Office of Parish Life, Evangelization Ministry of the Diocese of Trenton. For more information about “Christmas Carol Festival” go tohttp://www.xmascarols07.homestead.com/ or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Adapted from an article published in Evangelization Exchange, June 14, 2007 atwww.pncea.org.
Copyright © 2008, John Boucher.