CHRISTMAS and the year's end form a special time, a time for giving, for taking stock, for making resolutions. Think back. What were your Sabbaths like this year? Happy? Hectic? Boring? The children sing "Sabbath is a happy day," but for the minister's family it is often the busiest, most tension-filled day of the week. Responsibility for happy Sabbaths descends largely upon the wife, since her husband is especially occupied with his sermon and congregation that day.
With this in mind, why don't you give to your family this Christmas the promise of fifty-two happier and more interesting Sabbaths during the year ahead? Memorable Sabbaths, like holidays, are the result of preparation and planning. Activities must be organized to replace daily play for the children, meals quick, easy, and yet tasty, and schedules designed to minimize pressures. Let's consider some specifics.
Many wives have found that Thursday cleaning is a help. It helps to avoid the Friday afternoon race when potatoes are boiling over, children are flooding the bathroom floor, and you are dashing around with a half-shined shoe in one hand and the vacuum in the other, praying for the sun to stand still. If your housework is already done and your cooking well under way Friday morning, the relaxed pace of the afternoon will set the stage for a truly holy day ahead.
Children enjoy getting ready for Sabbath. Let them help you dust, sweep, lay out their clothes. Stacking a complete outfit of clothes on each child's dresser will save on the nerves Sabbath morning. Friday is also a good time to pack the diaper bag with quiet items for church.
Sundown worship should be extra special. Songs, finger plays, stories, records, and Scripture recitation make worship attractive.
Special food helps to make Sabbath outstanding. Fresh fruit salad and warm cinnamon buns herald every Sabbath for one family I know, and their children never forget its coming. Vary your meals, of course, but keep one or two items exclusively for the Sabbath, things to anticipate. Last Christmas we were given a candle in a red glass container and used it one Friday night. My four-year-old decided it was the "Sabbath candle," and asked for it again the next week. Since then, at each Sabbath meal we say the fourth commandment in unison and light our candle. It reminds us of the specialness of the day, and even the toddler is remembering key words in the scripture we repeatedly recite.
Sabbath morning rush can be eliminated by rising half an hour earlier than planned. The extra time cushion will save nerves and still get you to church on schedule.
"Take Me Out and Spank Me"
For children Sabbath school is fun. Church, however, is another thing. After an interminably long service, one weary little fellow pleaded desperately, "Mommy, won't you please take me out and spank me?" Anything to escape!
Providing quiet diversion for children during church is one way of keeping Sabbath happy. This, in itself, is not enough, however. It is basic that the child understand what is expected of him, and with a little one it may be necessary to remind him as church starts, "This is God's house, Davy, and we don't talk or cry here. If you do mamma may have to spank you. Now here's something to look at to help you be quiet." This firm but kind approach offers both direction and assistance.
For babies, "finger fiddlers" are good. Little dolls, soft plastic spoons, rubber bands—even ponytail holders—all keep little hands busy and quiet.
Participation in the worship service keeps your interest, but children sometimes miss this because they are not encouraged to participate. You can help your child find the texts in his own illustrated Bible. If you have taught the Lord's Prayer at home, your child will get a real thrill joining in at church, and all can participate in the offering.
Lately I noticed my four-year-old's boredom during singing. Understandable, since she didn't know any of the songs, much less their meanings. So during that week I found out which hymns would be sung the next Sabbath, picked the easier of the two, and taught her the first stanza during worship. What a difference it made! That Sabbath she reached eagerly for the songbook, held it with me, and sang lustily.
If children are singing, praying, giving, and looking up texts during the preliminaries, the lull doesn't really begin until the start of the sermon. Things to do then should be geared to Sabbath and quiet.
A homemade activity book is a favorite with children from one to five. It requires a little time and ingenuity to make, but holds interest unusually well. Pages are of doubled cloth (6" by 7" or so) and have a separate activity on each page. Suggestions are: pocket with zipper to open and close; in pocket cloth flowers with buttonholes in center to fasten onto a row of buttons on next page; cloth fish with sewed-on hooks to hang on a row of eyes; clouds and sheep to snap into sky and onto grass; cloth shoe with eyelets and shoestring for lacing; little purse with zipper top and felt pennies; doll with buttons on front and dresses to snap or button on. Don't be afraid to improvise. Use large snaps, hooks, and buttons for tiny fingers.
If you have a problem with time, Marge Sommerville, originator of Kiddie Felt Products, has a unique felt book plus other creative toys that will occupy your little tot's attention. The address is Route 2, Box 228, Candler, North Carolina 28715.
Other church activities include:
Bible sticker books
Plastic snap-together flowers
Bible stories felt sets
Felt circles to string on shoelace
Animal sewing cards
Tiny doll, car, animals
Pad and pencil
Older children may mark their writing pad each time certain words are mentioned in the sermon, write down the texts given, or remember to retell on the way home their favorite illustration. Whatever devices you use, vary them to offset boredom, keep them only for Sabbath, and church (even with children) can be a happy time.
Sabbath afternoon you are likely to hear, "But what can I do, Mother?" You may be tempted to reply, "PLEASE, just let me read the Review!" But your personal attention Sabbath afternoon can determine your child's anticipation or dread of the holy day. A few activity suggestions are games, Bible puzzles, walks, family singing, church activities, story records, nature study, and shut-in visitation.
Some have to cope with duplicate church services, morning and afternoon. Most congregations will understand if you stay home from one of these with small children. If you do go to both, however, and must drive between services, a picnic lunch can spark up the occasion. En route tell Bible stories, memorize scripture, count birds on the wires, or play Bible questions. Don't forget that tiny bodies need exercise and may require a walk around the block between Sabbath school and church at the second service.
A truly joyous Sabbath closes as it begins—with sundown worship. It may be at home, in the car, or by a roadside park. Whichever it is, be sure you mark properly the end of this sacred day.
Heavenly blessings will attend your efforts as you give to your family this Christmas fifty-two Sabbaths to remember.