The anticipation (or perhaps anxiety!) of the lead up to Christmas is real.

Perhaps you’re aware that, over the past few years, John Lewis has created a stir with the tradition of their Christmas advert. For many people, it has become an additional moment of anticipation in the annual build up to Christmas. If you’ve not seen this year’s advert yet, you can check it out here:

I have to admit that I think this year’s advert, ‘Unexpected Guest’ is not really to my taste and I do find it a little bit weird. Having said that, in many ways, their theme of an ‘unexpected guest’ is on point for the season.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about the Jewish ‘Ancient expectancy of the Messiah’ (CCC, paragraph 524), but Jesus was certainly not the expected warrior Messiah they had been hoping for. While Mary and Joseph anticipated the arrival of the Baby Jesus, the Holy Family were unexpected guests in Bethlehem, where they gratefully accepted the mediocre hospitality that an innkeeper was able to offer in a lowly stable meant for animals.

I remember fondly the oft-told, true story my old parish priest would share around Christmas time. As a boy growing up in rural Ireland, his parents would place candles on the window sills of their home on Christmas Eve. The candles were an invitation of welcome to anyone in need of shelter or a meal. Most years the candles did not attract visitors. However, he recalled a couple of occasions where their family did receive an unexpected guest on Christmas Eve. In his Christmas reflections, he shared about the simple beauty of hospitality and the openness of his parents to receiving an additional guest in their already full household. What a witness his parents were to him about receiving and serving those in need!

While the concept of inviting strangers into your home is not something you would promote with your children in school, the concept of Mary and Joseph as unexpected guests in Bethlehem and the hospitality offered to them can be explored through The Christmas Crib (Collective Worship subscribers only).

Christmas Crib

Christmas Crib

There is an old Mexican custom where, during Advent, people dressed as Mary and Joseph and travelled around their villages knocking at peoples’ doors to see who would give them hospitality.

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Although some would say he’s not an unexpected guest – if you’ve been nice of course – another surprise visitor around Christmas time is Santa, leading some children to become confused about whether they’re preparing to celebrate Santa or Jesus at Christmas! If, after all your fervent, Advent efforts, the children in your class are still struggling in the blur of secular versus sacred Christmas stories and traditions, then perhaps you can share with them this brilliant and amusing Santa vs Jesus video to help them to remember the true reason for the season!