By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
Parishes throughout the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph prepare to welcome the Christ Child on Dec. 25 through preparation and prayer. Many of the parishes have Advent and Christmas traditions dating back generations, while some of the newer parishes are beginning their own.
Here are ways Advent and Christmas are celebrated in some parishes across the diocese.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Many parishes reach out to less fortunate families, shut-ins and nursing home residents during the holidays through a Giving Tree, Jesse Tree or Angel Tree. The tree is put up in mid to late November and decorated with paper ornaments, candles or angels. Each ornament bears the first name or gender of a child or an adult and their clothing size, along with up to three wishes: including something needed and something wished for.
Our Lady of the Presentation in Lee’s Summit has been reaching out through their Advent Giving Tree for 30 years. Begun by parishioner Amy Howard, it is now a parish-wide service project she coordinates. This year, 1,000 tags decorated the Giving Tree with suggested items for Care Center residents and teens and children served by Lee’s Summit Social Services.
St. Sabina Parish in Belton began the Jesse Tree tradition in 2006 as a way for parishioners to reach out to those in need in the community. A bare tree is set up in the gathering space. Isaiah 11:1 says, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom,” a foretelling of the House of David, the ancestry of Jesus. Kris Larkey, Pastoral Associate, explained, “In valuing Jesus’ ancestors and message, we use the Jesse Tree to show our care and concern for others in need during the Advent season by adorning our Jesse tree, not with Old Testament ancestor ornaments, but with items that can help those in need. The first weekend parishioners bring unwrapped toys. We use these toys to help parish families in need, some we donate to Heart-n-Hand Ministries, and some to West Central Community Action. This year we received approximately 500 toys. The second weekend we collect socks, hat and gloves, which are used to help parish families in need, Heart-n-Hand Ministries, and Uplift Organization, which serves the homeless. On the third Sunday canned foods and non-perishable items are collected, again helping parish families in need and the community food pantry at Heart-n-Hand. The 4th Sunday of Advent there will be a collection for the Retired Religious.”
Holy Trinity Parish in Weston reaches out to the poor in the parish and the Weston community through their Angel Tree, a giving tree decorated with paper angel cutouts on which an adult’s or child’s age, gender and gift suggestions are listed. Coordinated by the Parish School of Religion ministry, the gifts help parish and community children and adults in need and, beginning this year, a family in Hillcrest, a Platte County transitional housing program.
St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City reaches out to the less fortunate in the parish and to the poor in the community through their Christmas Star giving program.
St. Charles Borromeo Parish collects toys and non-perishable food items to deliver to Bishop Sullivan Center to help those in need have a happier Christmas.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph (Co-Cathedral) sponsors several outreach programs during Advent. Kitty Spafford, Stewardship/Outreach Coordinator, explained, “The Angel Tree, where parishioners take an angel with suggested gift ideas to purchase for home bound parishioners and Catholic residents of the nursing homes we minister to. For food pantry patrons, we give treat gifts for a movie night, or gifts for men or women pantry patrons. Families and Confirmation students gather following the 11:30 Mass the Sunday before Christmas for brunch, then caroling as we deliver Angel gifts. We also participate in Samaritan’s Purse/Operation Christmas Child for the poor in our community and around the world. For both programs, parishioners fill shoe box size gift boxes for children of all ages to be distributed in Jesus’ name for all to experience God’s unconditional love.”
Guardian Angles Parish decorates its Giving Tree with paper ornaments listing wanted gifts for those in the parish who are in need. The wrapped gifts were to be delivered to recipients before Christmas.
At St. James Parish, Liberty, the Advent Giving Tree has been a ministry coordinated for the last decade by parishioner Linda Gross. This year, parishioners provided 1,433 gifts to 521 recipients. The Giving Tree supports parishioners in need, Ashton Court and Cedars of Liberty nursing homes, Hillcrest Hope, Love INC, Liberty Women’s Clinic, Kansas City Indian Center and St. James Place.
The Giving Tree ministry at St. Peter Parish offers a brighter Christmas with gifts for the needy, seniors and the homebound in the parish and in the area. In addition, for the past several years, a Cranksgiving food drive held in November, has collected thousands of pounds of non-perishable food and gift cards for perishable items from local grocery stores to restock the St. Peter’s Food Pantry. Bicyclists and motorcyclists ride a course to the stores to ask for donations. This year, Cranksgiving collected 4,600 pounds of food for the food pantry. The parish also collects CVS Pharmacy cards for the elderly.
Each Advent, St. Peter’s School receives a list of names of individuals and families served by Seton Center, which is portioned out to the teachers. Every class raises funds to provide a need and a want for the people on their list. The student delivered 95 bags of toys and clothes to Seton Center this Advent.
St. John Francis Regis Parish’s Giving Tree provides wrapped gifts for patients at Carol Park Nursing Home in Grandview.
St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joseph reaches out to the needy in the parish and the community through their Advent Giving Tree.
The Peace Tree at Visitation Parish is a way for parishioners to provide gifts for 14 Catholic social service agencies, including Bishop Sullivan Center. The parish collected 850 requested gifts this year.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord
As the weeks leading up to Christmas pass swiftly, trees are decorated, wreaths hung, and gift buying becomes frantic. During the final weeks of Advent, parishes sponsor dinners, caroling groups and collections of mittens and scarves for those who may not have them. Santa Claus even takes a break from his workshop to visit some parishes and delight the children. There is a definite spiritual feeling in the air.
St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Kansas City displays an Advent wreath in the worship space. The parish plans to decorate the worship space for Christmas after the last Mass Dec. 21.
At St. Peter’s, the Advent Choir Concert and reception underlines the anticipation of Christmas. The school Christmas program follows quickly on the heels of the concert. The monthly senior luncheon is given a Christmas theme. Christmas baskets are packed for the homebound and elderly, which will be delivered to 65-75 people in the parish. An Advent communal penance service and an evening of prayer help parishioners prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. A long-standing tradition in Kansas City is the Christmas Dinner for seniors without family, coordinated and hosted by former Kansas City Police Officer Richard White. He has hosted this dinner for 38 years, beginning at St. Francis Xavier Parish.
Guardian Angels Parish will present its 25th annual Christmas Concert Dec. 21, complete with the parish’s own musicians, singers and crews. A reception will cap the celebration of the Christmas concert.
Our Lady of the Presentation Parish has a parish-wide Advent Service Day early in December. Some of the service activities this year included a Nativity bracelet children’s craft, making Christmas cards for homebound parishioners and for the sister parish in El Salvador; making Christmas placemats for elderly residents of area care centers, bagging and tagging home baked cookies for delivery to St. James Place Food Kitchen in Kansas City and One Good Meal in Lee’s Summit; and sorting donations for the homeless served by Project Uplift. Presentation also sponsors Caroling for Canned Goods — carolers sing throughout nearby neighborhoods to collect canned goods for area food pantries.
St. Joseph Parish in Trenton encourages parishioners to give to help the poor, abused women and children during Advent by setting up donation boxes for the parish food pantry, a local women’s shelter and the Children’s Advocacy Center. The parish Christmas Dinner, a potluck meal sponsored by the Altar Society, was held Dec. 13. Following the dinner, Religious Education students sang carols and other songs and accompanied themselves on musical instruments. Santa Claus made an appearance.
Visitation’s Youth Group sings carols at Bishop Spencer Place, a local retirement community, and there is a parish group that comes together to visit the home of a family where a loss has occurred to sing carols. This year the group visited the home of a young mother battling cancer, to show her support and love from both the parish and the school.
Visitation women pack gift baskets of the homebound and nursing home residents with books, flowers and candy. For the children at Operation Breakthrough, the school children plan a special collection: new or gently used scarves, gloves and mittens and hats. About 12 years ago, the leader of a group of young Girl Scouts read the book, The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen, to the girls. Inspired by the story, the scouts started collecting scarves and mittens for the children at Operation Breakthrough. Then, about four years ago, the project became part of a school project, as a way to get students involved in giving back. A donated tree decorated with scarves, gloves, mittens and hats collected by the students is taken to the day care facility. After the kids and some adults choose their own gloves, mittens, hats and scarves, the tree is given to an Operation Breakthrough family for their Christmas.
St. Francis Xavier Parish-St. Joseph offers an Advent Vespers service on Sunday evenings, based on the Liturgy of the Hours. The school Christmas program helps parents and families “get into the spirit” of Christmas.
The Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver at St. Monica Parish for many years adopted parish and area families for Christmas. This year, the whole parish got involved. Donations of groceries for a month, or turkey, vegetables, fruit, non-perishable foods and staples replenished the food pantry with some delivered to the homebound of the parish in baskets assembled by parishioners. In addition to the food, the parish contributes toys or clothing for children in the adopted families.
Some years ago, St. Francis Xavier Parish-Kansas City was presented with a handmade Mary banner, designed and sewn by parishioner Mickey Settle. About 10 feet high, it is an image of the pregnant Mary and goes up midway through Advent. The infant Jesus will be placed in her arms at Christmas.
Holy Rosary Parish began the tradition of baking Italian Christmas cookies and selling the “gorgeously presented” trays of cookies during Advent back in 2006. Proceeds benefit the Altar Society, which uses the funds to pay for expenses of the altar.
Parishioners of St. Munchin in Cameron pack holiday baskets filled with baked goods and toiletry items for shut-ins and nursing home residents. Most years the parish youth group assembles on a Saturday morning to bake cookies, and at the end of the day and after Masses the next morning, holds a bake sale to raise funds for the Youth Group. They usually bake between 800 and 1,000 cookies.
Parishes across the diocese have Advent wreaths, which count down the weeks before the birth of Christ with a ceremonial lighting of candles.
Joy to the World!
The first Nativity scene was created for Christmas Day, 1223, in Grechio, Italy, by St. Francis of Assisi. The Creche or Nativity set is a Christmas tradition in churches, schools and homes. Some are big and ornate, some smaller and simpler, but all portray the Holy Family and the stable or cave. For some reason, Christmas decorations seem incomplete without the crèche.
St. Gregory Barbarigo Parish in Maryville replaced their original Nativity set about 5 years ago. The set used now is set up in the church after the 4th Sunday of Advent. The original set is now in a long-time parishioner’s home.
St. Therese Parish in Parkville sets up an empty stable in the gathering space of the church for the First Sunday of Advent. As the weeks pass, statues are placed in and around the stable, with the Holy Family taking their places on Christmas Eve. The Three Kings will be added at Epiphany.
Guardian Angels Parish sets up their Nativity scene before Christmas, with the animals, shepherds, Mary and Joseph in place. At the 4 p.m. Children’s Mass Christmas Eve, Santa brings in the Christ Child in procession with the children and he is reverently placed in the manger. There will be caroling before all Masses.
Weston’s Holy Trinity Parish assembles its Nativity scene the week before Christmas, as do many of the parishes.
A group of parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Parish in 1961 began researching the history, weather, and other conditions of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. They wanted to construct a Nativity scene that would be an authentic interpretation of the first Christmas. Carved wooden buildings sit atop a simulated topography of hills and valleys, lit by a star-studded sky. Inside the cave the Holy Family is watched over by shepherds with their sheep and several other animals. The view is north. The observer can imagine him/herself inside the cave with Mary and Joseph, looking out through the entrance to see Bethlehem nearby. The creche has been used every year since 1962. The pastor carries the Infant Jesus, wrapped in a blanket, in procession with parish children at the Family Mass Christmas Eve. He will place the infant in the crèche. Families are invited to bring the infant from their own creches to be blessed.
St. Joseph Parish in Trenton sets up their Nativity set outside the church. The crèche is large enough to be seen by passersby. According to Peggy Bradley in the parish office, the crèche dates back several pastors.
St. Munchin Parish will hold a Mitten and Sock Mass on Christmas Eve. A tree set up near the altar will be hung with mittens and scarves that will be distributed to schools, women’s shelters and community agencies to distribute to those who need them.
Saint John Francis Regis Parish plans to decorate the church and assemble the crèche at the close of Advent, Dec. 21. Decorations stay up through Epiphany.
St. Matthew the Apostle Parish has a newly formed Children’s Choir that will be singing just prior to the 4 p.m., Mass, Christmas Eve. St. Matthew’s also will celebrate a Midnight Mass.
The Parish School of Religion at Annunciation Parish in Kearney holds a Christmas Party the week before Christmas. Party organizers pass out empty baby bottles to attendees, which they are to return at Epiphany filled with spare change. Diapers and baby formula are also suggested. Epiphany is celebrated with a Baby Shower for Jesus. The collected funds, diapers and formula will be dispersed to various agencies around Kearney. There is also a Mittens & Socks Mass, after which donated hats and glove will be delivered to Kearney and Holt, Mo., food pantries.
Posadas and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In the words of Deacon Danny Esteban, Holy Cross Parish has “some wonderful traditions. We start with the Novena of our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 3. Then it culminates Dec. 11 with the “Seranata la Virgen.” Beginning at 6 p.m. we have groups singing to Our Lady. Just like they do in Mexico City. Every year our parish is packed. Starting on Dec. 16 we begin the Posadas. It›s a fun time here.”
Posadas are a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter and finding no room at the inn. The traditional Posadas song is sung at each stop during the procession, until finally they find shelter and a meal. A number of parishes, especially those with a sizeable Hispanic membership, have started the tradition of Posadas, including Our Lady of the Presentation, Sacred Heart-Guadalupe, St. Sabina, Holy Cross, and seminarians at Conception Seminary College.
Have a Blessed Advent and Christmas!