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Anna Marie Spargo, left and Jay Spargo, right, join granchildren, Cecilia Spargo, Dominic Bowers and Eli Bowers as they decorate the Christmas tree with purple lights Nov. 27 at their home – part of their shared family traditions during Advent.

Grandparents share Advent, Christmas traditions

Family traditions – some recent, others decades old – help members of the Catholic Grandparents Association bring a special focus to Advent and Christmas.

For Mary Clare Mendick, Anna Marie Spargo and Vici Hegarty, members of St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, and Kay Buhrman, a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha, their traditions help pass on the Catholic faith to their grandchildren or emphasize the importance of giving.



Mendick’s tradition grew out of a desire to do something more than buy gifts for her grandchildren. For years, she has given to each – from about age 5 through their teenage years – money and a letter asking them to seek out someone in need and use the money to help them.

"It’s their opportunity to learn to be more aware and look around for the needs of others – to be compassionate and to serve others, and maybe strengthen their faith in the process," she said.

She distributes the gifts as the family celebrates Thanksgiving together, and each child describes what he or she did with the money when they celebrate again at Christmas.

In past years, their stories have included a victim of theft and victims of a house fire.

"It’s so enriching and overwhelming to hear their stories – sometimes everyone is in tears," Mendick said.



Family traditions for Spargo date to her childhood, continued as she and her husband, Jay, raised their five children, and now are carried on in the homes of their four married children, with their 20 grandchildren ranging from 1 to 16 years of age.

The families’ celebrations begin with decorating Christmas trees with purple lights at the beginning of Advent and adding slips of paper each day noting sacrifices being made for others. The families also say daily prayers around Advent wreaths while lighting the candles.

"Anything you can do that involves concrete, physical activities help the kids remember," Spargo said. "And these things help the grandchildren focus on the spiritual side of Advent."

Spargo’s grandchildren also draw names among themselves and pick one of their own valued possessions to give to each other.

By Christmas, they decorate the trees with multi-colored lights and ornaments, and exchange their gifts on Epiphany to conclude the season.



For Buhrman, the season begins with her grandchildren, ages 2, 4, 11 and 13, visiting for an overnight stay, and together, putting up the Christmas tree.

As Christmas approaches, they work on a special blessing to be said before Christmas dinner, she said. "We include all the things we’re grateful for, especially remembering how important family is and praying for those who are no longer with us."

After Christmas dinner and before unwrapping gifts, a favorite tradition is hearing her oldest granddaughter read the Christmas story from a Bible that belonged to the girl’s great-grandfather, Buhrman said. "It brings into perspective the importance of what happened so many years ago for all of us.

"I hope they will remember what we did together and someday continue these traditions with their own families," Buhrman said. "They are eager to learn, so my joy is to help pass on the Catholic faith. This is one thing we can do as grandparents."



Hegarty’s tradition began about 15 years ago, when she was saddened to be spending Christmas away from family. Arriving at church for Christmas Mass, she was asked by the extraordinary minister of holy Communion (EMHC) scheduler if she could take Communion to a homebound parishioner who had requested it.

It wasn’t something the parish generally provided on Christmas Day, but Hegarty also checked with several other homebound parishioners and took the gift of Jesus to all of them, happy to be needed.

"It helped just having that awareness that I was not really alone and that God was taking care of me when I didn’t think anybody cared," she said. "I also realized there were people out there who were worse off than I was."

Now Hegarty or other EMHCs take Communion to homebound parishioners each Christmas, as well as Sundays throughout the year. She occasionally takes some of her seven grandchildren along.

"It’s one of the most rewarding ministries in the church, because I see how these people light up. Some don’t have anybody to talk to, and you might be the only person they see that week."

And as a coordinator for the Catholic Grandparents Association, a group sponsored by the archdiocese and St. Gerald Parish, Hegarty believes grandparents can have an influence on the faith of their grandchildren.

"We do it by attraction, not promotion," she said.

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