There’s a lot to do when getting ready for Christmas. But hopefully in the mix of all the “I haftas” (“I hafta bake cookies,” “I hafta decorate the tree,” “I hafta shop and wrap presents, etc.”) there are genuine, heartfelt sentiments: “I want to do this.” “I want to do that.” “I want to share something of myself with you.”

One of the many places where a spirit of true sharing may be found and appreciated as a gift are in parishes and schools around the Diocese. It’s where people of all ages and backgrounds faithfully and selflessly give the gift of their time, talent and treasure to help create a more meaningful experience of the Christmas season for their fellow parishioners and the wider community. Some of these folks might be first-time visitors to the parish community and, surely, there are those who may be looking to return to the Catholic faith after having drifted away for a while.

Such examples might include live Nativity scenes like the one to be set up on the grounds of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, Dec. 28 at 6 p.m., where students in the parish school and religious education program will participate in an outdoor “Grecchio in Point Pleasant Beach – St. Francis’ Living Nativity.” Scheduled to take place on the right side of the church by the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the Nativity story will be reenacted by the students and feature live animals. Refreshments and Christmas caroling will follow.

‘And Hear The Angels Sing’

Whether they sing or play an instrument, ‘tis the season for the sharing of musical gifts. Members of parish music ministries are putting in extra rehearsal hours getting ready for upcoming Christmas concerts as well as for the music they will present during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses.

A couple of upcoming performances to note are the Dec. 5 “Back to Church” concert featuring an orchestra and choirs in St. Rose of Lima Church, Freehold, at 4 p.m.; the Christmas concert that the choirs from St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, will present Dec. 12 at 4 p.m., and the Dec. 12 “Lessons and Carols” by the music ministry of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, at 7 p.m.

Examples of other musical outreach efforts are reflected in Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, and St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, both of whom welcome the talents of musicians from outside the parish communities. Sacred Heart Parish, which is the oldest parish in New Jersey, hosts numerous concerts by the Capital Singers of Trenton throughout the year. For Christmas, the ensemble will present Handel’s Messiah Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. St. Barnabas Parish has scheduled a free holiday concert by The Toms River Multigenerational Orchestra Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. in the church.

Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, is using a Christmas concert as a benefit fundraiser for capital improvements to Our Lady Star of the Sea Church. On Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. will be “Believe: A Christmas Concert” featuring musicians Elizabeth Novella, David Smokoloff and Gabrielle Stravelli with Peter Isherwood, Andrew DePrisco, Ann Marie Pocklembo and Joe Moffitt.  Tickets are $40.

Rich Resources

Different ways of teaching others about the Catholic faith or enhancing their prayer experiences can certainly be placed under the Gift of Sharing umbrella. There are parishes that provide resources and prayer aides for their parishioners.

St. Isidore the Farmer, New Egypt, has “The Little Blue Book for Advent & Christmas Seasons” available with brief reflections for the 27 days of the Advent season and 16 days of the Christmas season. “Spending just six minutes a day, these reflections will focus on our weekly Gospel readings. This is a wonderful gift to give yourself,” according to the announcement in the parish bulletin.

As a Christmas gift for his parishioners, Father Michael Manning, pastor of Holy Cross Parish, Rumson, purchased copies of Matthew Kelly’s book “Life is Messy.”

When it comes to the celebration of Masses, the majority of parishes likely have to make adjustments, considering their needs and anticipated crowds. Those parishes that are increasing the number of Masses probably will need additional assistance from parishioners to serve in the various liturgical ministries. Such is the case in St. James Parish, Pennington; St. George Parish, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, where 16 Masses between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be celebrated. “We hope you celebrate with us, in church this year, and be inspired by our beautiful music and decorations.” Further information can be found in the parish bulletin on the parish website; Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

School Spirit

Students in Catholic schools are also rolling up their sleeves in finding ways to share their talents with others. Holy Cross Academy, Rumson, is gearing up for its annual Christmas concert and the Nativity play scheduled for Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. in the academy’s gymnasium.

Dr. Mark DeMareo, principal, explained that students in grades K-5 will perform the Christmas songs their teacher loved as a child. “The students are very excited to share this beloved Christmas memory with their teacher,” he said.

The upper grades, he continued, will perform “holiday classics” such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” Other selections include “The Little Drummer Boy” with student drummers and “Silent Night.”

“Every student in the school will perform and the classes will sing and do choreography with their song,” Dr. DeMareo said. He added that a unique aspect of the school’s music curriculum is that students in grades four through eight learn keyboard skills on the 17 digital pianos donated by the PTA. Students will be highlighted via videotape in which they will play Christmas carols on the piano.

After the performances, the students will present the “Nativity Play” in which selected students in grades K-8 will portray the characters.

“A newborn baby from one of our parents will be highlighted as the infant Jesus,” he shared.

“Holy Cross Academy strongly supports opportunities for children to shine in the performing arts,” Dr. DeMareo said. “This is the chance for them to explore beyond boundaries and express themselves freely.

“So many students are talented and just need the chance to develop their gifts,” he said. “At the Christmas season, these songs and traditions are memories that will be shared with our students’ families and our school and parish community as well.”