There’s a whiff of Christmas in the air. One thing we all notice is how after the November holiday, we all spiral faster towards our frenetic celebration of Christmas. It’s finally the season of parties, reunions, get-togethers, exchanging of gifts, mall sales, and sluggish traffic.

They say, too, that Christmas is a specially magical time for kids. But in an increasingly materialistic world – one dominated by online shopping and real-life bazaars packed with people wanting to buy more stuff they don’t actually need, how can we teach our children the reason for the season, i.e. God becoming man for us to save us from sin?

“It is not the presents that make Christmas so special, it is the presence of those you love and Christ’s presence in your home,” says Manjoe Mendoza, of EduChild Foundation, a support group created by parents to help moms and dads “in the delicate task of rearing a family.” Their tagline is “Loving Couples, Great Parents, Happy Families.”  He is also the group’s CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life representative, and father to ten children. “This might sound like a cliché, but it sums up what Advent and Christmas is all about for the Mendoza family.”

What you read is not a typo. In a world where couples want fewer children, or opt to have a puppy or a kitten instead  – arguing that they’re family too – the Mendozas are a rare breed. They’re a big family and certainly proud of it.

I asked Manjoe what it’s like to spend Christmas with a family that puts the von Trapps to shame, and how Manjoe and his wife Lenette manage to teach their children about what Christmas really means. Here are some of his tips:

  1. A clean heart is the best prep for Christmas. Just like when we tidy and spruce up our homes whenever we expect visitors, preparing our hearts for Christmas is essential to welcoming the King of kings. “The best preparation for the coming of Jesus is to have a clean mind and heart ready to receive Him,” says Manjoe. “We bring our children to kumpisalang bayan in our parish or in any of the churches with regular confession schedules. Since they are used to going to confession, we no longer need to prod or bribe them to go. It’s an integral part of their lives.”
  2. Put the “Christ” back in Christmas. If you think Manjoe always had the benefit of a purely Christian or Catholic view of Christmas since childhood, you’d be wrong. “My earliest memories of Christmas as a kid were that of waking up early Christmas morning and rushing to the Christmas tree to check what Santa Claus left for me and my sister,” he shared. His mother was Aglipayan before she married Manjoe’s father who is a nominal Catholic. According to him, his parents were not able to catechize the brood on the true meaning of Christmas apart from bringing them to church to fulfill the Mass obligation. One of their family traditions was the regular visit to their grandparents and the usual rounds to greet godparents, uncles and aunts, expecting gifts or money. “Because of my childhood experience, my wife and I downplayed Santa Claus and focused instead on the child Jesus in the manger,” explained Manjoe.
  3. Kindness on my wishlist. Kindness doesn’t cost a cent, and it makes everyone feel good too. “When the children were younger, we started a tradition of having an empty manger at the beginning of Advent and they would offer to the infant Jesus their good deeds for the day on small slips of paper. By Christmas day, our Messiah would have a comfortable manger cushioned by their acts of kindness and generosity,” Manjoe said.
  4. Everyday is Christmas. Manjoe teaches his children to do good deeds for the child Jesus in the manger, but that doesn’t mean these acts of service and love are limited to the season. Quite the contrary, in fact. “We frequently remind our children to remember those who have less in life like orphans, street children and abandoned elderly,” stressed Manjoe. “We encourage our children to give part of the money or gifts that they receive to our favorite charities. Actually, I tell them that they don’t need to actively seek out these groups of people because our country is beset by calamities, there will always people needing help. So my children have this attitude of giving, all year round.”
  5. Advent, not just “that” season before Christmas. With the unbelievable number of parties we attend and the frenzied preparations we make like cooking for Noche Buena and making sure everyone we know has at least some small gift from us, we all tend to forget that the purpose of Advent is not Christmas shopping but spiritual preparation. How does Manjoe remind his family about the importance of Advent? “The Advent wreath prayer where all family members can participate is one of the best ways to prepare for Christmas because every day the family can gather in prayer starting on the first Sunday of Advent. Praying as a family is always important, especially during Advent and Christmas.” Manjoe added.
  6. Simbang Gabi isn’t just for wish-making. Let’s face it. We all like to attend the traditional Simbang Gabi or dawn Masses, but it takes a gargantuan effort to wake up before dawn, let alone do it nine days in a row. Many of us participate in this timeless tradition for the wish we want granted; Manjoe thinks that this shouldn’t be the case. “It’s all about our own sacrifice, because Jesus became man and paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to save mankind,” Manjoe reminded us. “It would be best if we can highlight the element of sacrificing one’s comfort to attend the Mass, not because of a wish that we hope to be granted.” The Simbang Gabi really meant to heighten our soul’s anticipation for the coming of the Savior.

The best place to plant the fiery seed of Christmas in the hearts of our little ones is in the home. According to Pope John XXIII, “mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.”

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