Whispering, “Happy Birthday Jesus!” before even arising from bed on Christmas morning is a rich form of spiritual pretending that can bring a child’s prayer to life in a very special way.
As I do school visits to read my story, Little Lamb Finds Christmas, I offer various activities after reading to help the children internalize the messages of the story better. One activity stands out as the most striking in its impact on the children. I offer the chance for each child to hold baby Jesus, either the ceramic figure I bring with me, or just to hold a pretend baby Jesus in their arms. Then we all draw Jesus close and whisper to him, “Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!” We do this as a practice for Christmas morning, because that is, of course, His real birthday. Witnessing the tenderness with which the children do this is breathtaking. Many of the children instinctively equate this spiritual gesture with love and instead of, “Happy Birthday” they say, “I love you Jesus.” Some say both. I heartily recommend practicing this gesture with your children on Christmas Eve to offer as an idea they might choose to do when they first wake up on Christmas morning.
Preparing to do this gesture with the children in schools, I discuss with them all the things that make Christmas wonderful. (I love that, “Jumping on parents in bed to wake them to say, Merry Christmas!” is considered equally as delightful as, “opening presents” by the children I visited with.) I confess that with all the fun and excitement we all can, myself included, sometimes forget that Christmas is a birthday party. Jesus’ Birthday Party. We can leave Him out of His own party. I emphasize this by taking my ceramic Jesus and his manger and put Him on the floor out in the hallway. The astonished silence in the classroom is amazing. I ask the children if we should bring Baby Jesus back to His own party, and they eagerly agree. Then we talk about different ways to make sure to include Jesus in His Birthday Party. They have such compassion as they realize how sad it would be to be left out of your own Birthday Party. They also “light up” realizing how happy it makes Jesus when they each wish Him personally a very “Happy Birthday!” Starting their day with that greeting, before doing anything else, invites Him to His party and can make for a very Merry Christmas all around.
One way to assist the children in doing this is for each child in your household to have access to a Baby Jesus figure to “tuck in” next to their bed on Christmas Eve. If your home is one in which you have the tradition of hiding the Nativity Scene Baby Jesus until Christmas morning, even better! The child gets to care for Jesus on this special night before He was born and gets to be the first to wish Him a loving Happy Birthday in the morning. Have an “official” procession to bring Baby Jesus to the family Nativity scene singing a Christmas or birthday song before opening presents in the morning. If you have multiple children, the procession can make several stops at multiple mangers! What a great way to begin the best day of the year and genuinely include the one for and now WITH whom we celebrate!