One of the Advent traditions for our children is placing a piece of straw in a manger when they do extra work, help one of their siblings, or give up something they really want or want to do. As the kids get older we have more and more straw each year and they get more excited about it.
In Bishop Hebda's Christmas Message he talks about a similar tradition...
Each year as Christmas approached, the Sisters would construct a nativity scene out of whatever discarded items they could find and this always included an empty box placed where we would normally put the manger. All during Advent, when no one else was looking, the individual Sisters would put a single piece of straw in the box, representing some act of charity that they had accomplished that day. By the time that the community gathered for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the box would inevitably be overflowing with straw signifying the anonymous works of charity that the Sisters had embraced to prepare for the coming of the Christ child.
I’ve often tried to emulate the Sisters’ Advent practice, but more often than not have found my manger lacking in straw. When I mentioned this to the Sisters, they suggested that I broaden the project, inserting a straw not only for each act of charity, but also for each instance of gratitude.
I might have to join the kids next year during Advent as we prepare for Christmas. As we celebrate the Christmas Season it's important to look back with gratitude on the many blessings of the past year and carry that into the new year. Merry Christmas!