A place to lay His head
To teach kids compassion is a continuous job but one that is very rewarding. One activity I enjoy doing every year is a sacrifice manger. The concept is so simple, but one that my children seem to really enjoy. In essence, the idea is to provide a soft place for the baby Jesus to lay. To accomplish this, every member of the family works to do good deeds (making a bed, picking up laundry, etc.) or offer a sacrifice (sharing a toy when they'd rather not) to honor God. When each act is completed, a piece of straw is placed in a centrally located manger. We have attempted this for a couple of years, but this is the year that the concept is really taking off!
As the mother of four, I am committed to being fancy in all I do, so of course our manger is the top of the line. Actually, it's an old dish drain. What can I say, most day's I'm lucky to brush my teeth before 8:00 am. Let's just pretend that I chose the dish drain to evoke that sense of humility the first manger had and not because it's the first thing my eyes landed on that vaguely had the manger shape.
To this dish drain, I added a piece of linen to keep the "straw" from falling through the slats. I know some people use actual straw, but, again, I'm the mother of four and usually can't remember to get straw during the Fall. Instead, I have found a simple up-cycle that encourages my children to work on their fine motor skills with scissors.
This time of year, we are graced with an abundance of brown packing paper from Amazon packages. Often, we use this for drawing and painting. This year I saw it's potential as straw. I had to cut it into manageable pieces for the kids. My oldest (5) was able to cut his piece of paper into strips and then those strips into individual pieces of straw. My three year old needed me to cut the strips for him. His attempts produced confetti more than anything resembling straw. But after I cut the strips, he happily cut his straw to approximately 5" lengths.
Sitting around and cutting up our hay, we reviewed the Christmas story. We discussed how Jesus was laid in a manger. In today's world, I believe there are few children who know what a manger is. My kids are genuinely confused as to why any baby, much less a baby as important as the Christ child was placed in a container of straw. This prompts some really great discussions about God's intent - that His people be a humble people and His example of this in His incarnation.
It also is a great time to get the kids involved with imagining the first Christmas with their five senses. "Do you think the manger was soft?" "I wonder if it was a very cold that night." "Mary wrapped baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. Do you think the animals helped to keep Him warm?" "Do you think it was very bright in the stable?" "I wonder what the stable smelled like." All this discussion makes that night's events more real for my children and their anticipation of the coming Christmas holiday.