I run a group for families which meets every other and week. We meet outside and explore nature together in fun ways for an hour or two, before the children play in the playground and the Mums stand and chat.
For Christmas, I’m planning an outdoor party, something which follows the same format as our usual get-togethers, and I thought I’d share my plans with you in case they inspire you to do something similar, or you can use the planning as part of an event you’re already organising.
As people arrive
I usually arrive half an hour early to our event, as it’s outside and open invite to lots of people, and new people usually arrive early so I want to be a friendly face of welcome so they a) know they’re in the right place and b) feel they are welcome!
We meet next to a piece of play equipment (a huge owl!) so the children, including mine, often play on this as people are gathering. I sit at a picnic table nearby, and usually get something out as a ‘welcome activity’, something which introduces the theme and gives people of whatever age something to do as we wait for everyone to arrive.
For my Christmas party, I’m planning to have:
- Party bags for people to decorate – these will be cloth bags they can draw on with Sharpies. This is particularly as we’ll be making things, and I want them to have a bag to carry and take things home. I’ll pop a piece of A4 card (cereal boxes!) into each bag so that the pen doesn’t go through both sides as they’re drawing.
- A Nativity I Spy sheet, although this would mean having a clipboard of some kind for each child who want to do it. Having I Spy and Colouring means it will work for more people.
- I also have a huge Nativity Spot the Difference which introduces all of the events in the Christmas story in the Bible in a lowlevel way. (There are 40 differences!)
To start: an active quiz
As an introduction to a topic, I often do a true or false quiz, where they have to run to one tree if they think my statement is true, to another if they think it’s false. It would be easy to do this with things about Christmas, including things which aren’t mentioned in the story (donkey, kings, stable) which people think are there. I might also include a Who Said This round, where I read things said by different characters in the Christmas story in the Bible and see if they can guess who it was, giving them two options each time.
The main bit: treasure hunt story
For the main part of my party, I want to explore the Christmas story in a fun way, something they’ve probably not done before and that will work for a range of ages, including the adults! My children suggested a treasure hunt, so I’m working with that. Their idea was to hide geocache-style tins in the wood and give people clues to find them. Each tin will contain a peg doll of a character in the Christmas story and a little scroll with a bit of the story told from that character’s point of view. I will adapt the Godly Play Holy Family story to create this. Having done a few treasure hunts, I know that the key is not having too many places to stop, so I’m going for:
- Gabriel: I am the angel, Gabriel. I told everyone about the baby Jesus.
- Mary: I am the mother, Mary. I was the first to hear about the baby Jesus.
- Joseph: I am the father, Joseph. I took my wife, Mary, with me to Bethlehem to be counted by the Romans.
- Donkey**: I am the donkey Joseph took on his journey to Bethlehem. Sometimes Mary rode me, and sometimes she walked. It’s not easy riding a donkey when you’re about to have a baby!
- Cow*: I am the cow. I was surprised to find a baby in the manger where I was expecting my breakfast!
- A choir angel: I am the angel in the choir. I went with thousands of others to tell the shepherds that Jesus had been born.
- Shepherd: I am the shepherd. I hurried to Bethlehem to see the baby the angels told us about.
- Sheep***: I am the sheep. I was left on the hillside when the shepherds went to Bethlehem. But we saw the angels!
- Wise men: I am Melchior, one of the magi, the wise men. I followed a star many miles, bringing gifts to worship Jesus.
*Although animals are not mentioned in the Bible narratives are handy to talk about the baby being laid in a manger, and there would probably have been animals nearby because of that fact.
**Again, not mentioned in the Bible narrative, but handy for telling the story of the journey to Bethlehem.
*** These are mentioned in the Biblical version of the story!
I need to create a series of clues set up to take people around the hiding places. We could do this as families or in small groups, but with our group of about six families with children who know each other, it will work well to do it as a one group all together. Because of this, I can make the clues a bit harder, (but not too hard because that’s boring!) as the group can work together to work them out. I will also be on hand to give clues.
Also, due to the age and ability of the group, I will make sure that some of the clues involve pictures, for example things they need to spot to find the next box. This makes sure younger children and those who find words hard don’t feel excluded.
A reflective bit: Wondering question and thinking of others
Maybe once we’ve collected all the peg dolls, I will gather us all in a sheltered spot (there’s a willow ‘cabin’ in the place we meet). I’d like to create a still, reflective moment, which can be tricky, especially as with a mixed age group. I plan to share some chocolate stars, then as we hold those in our mouths, I’ll do a two minute story recap and ask a reflective question for people to think about such as: “I wonder where you might be in this story.”
If the reflective moment goes well, I thought we could spend a few moments thinking of people we know for whom Christmas is a tough time, people who are lonely or poorly or grieving or homeless… I am going to try an accessible version of satsuma prayers, with each family opening a satsuma and each person holding a segment as they think of a specific person they know for whom Christmas is hard, either lifting them up in our hearts or, for those who feel comfortable doing so, silently asking God to come close to them
The last bit: a game!
To finish I thought a game would be fab, perhaps a classic party game like Musical Statues! Since we’re outdoors, I’ll charge my solar powered mini-speaker and use that with some Christmas music.
If we want to make some things, we could make:
- a candle using a sheet of bees wax rolled tightly round a length of waxed string (This could be used as an Advent candle is made early enough, or if not, just a candle!)
- clay star ornaments with single words of blessing on to give to people. The words could be courage, hope, joy, peace etc.
- a Light up Stick Star using sticks and string tied together, then adding battery lights woven around them.
I thought I might have a few things for them to take home as party gifts: a pack of chocolate stars and a satsuma, to enable them to do again at home the pause and reflect we did at the party, plus a nativity I Spy colouring sheet.
What might you do? Could you adapt this for a few families you know?