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Religious education: Children celebrating Christmas
St. Prince Dimitry's hospital church
Church Kindergarten No. 1 at the Diocese of Smolensk
Parish of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land, Novosibirsk

St. Prince Dimitry's hospital church

In our church we celebrate Christmas at the Sunday school. Preparations for the feast begin early in December and include a number of events. The rector of our church, Father Arcady Shatov, holds confessions several times during December at a time specially allocated for the Sunday school children. Children of all ages - from 5 to 14 - prepare Christmas presents for the patients of the 1st City Hospital and the Bakulev Institute for heart surgery which has a children's ward. Minors make colorful paper-cuttings of angels, stars and post-cards. Older children prepare more serious presents like clay angels, animals, fur-trees, etc. Senior children make embroidery and wood-painting (which look almost professional!) By the beginning of January they have got several boxes filled with presents made by their own hands.

Children hold continuous rehearsals of their festive presentations. They are engaged in all kinds of performances - puppet theater, singing and dancing, horseplay, fairy-tales enactment. A children's choir performs a Christmas recital at every fur-tree party. Parents and parishioners make colorful costumes and sceneries for the children's performances. When Christmas comes, many children come to the church for the night service. We arrange a "lying place" for the smallest ones and make 30-minutes shifts as baby sitters so that everybody could attend the service. Thus children can have a rest if they are unable to stand through the night, though many of them including the smallest ones manage to hold out. After the liturgy comes a children's repast.

From January 7 to 11, Christmas greetings are brought to patients in the hospital and children in kindergartens and boarding schools. A group of nurses from our sisterhood and children (all those who wish) is assembled. Led by priests carrying banners, icons and a Christmas star with a candle and preceded by the choir, they go around the hospital. Usually, there are 2 or 3 such groups because there are many wards in the hospital. The choir sings festive hymns, while priests explain the feast and children give out the presents they made, as well as sweets and fruits.

It has become a tradition to visit also the Pediatric Institute, where there are usually about 400 children patients, the House of the Baby, several boarding schools which the sisterhood patronizes and the hospital's kindergarten.

It is a large program which often lasts till the end of Christmas holidays. Considerable funds are needed for our almost 2000 presents.

Fur-tree parties. Christmas cannot be without fur-tree parties. Not New Year fur-tree parties, but Christmas fur-tree parties, which, regrettably, are not yet as popular as the former ones. Therefore, we try to do our best to invite for them as many children as possible. They are first of all Sunday school children with their brothers and sisters, children of the hospital staff and orphans brought to us by some boarding schools. Usually, we hold several fur-tree parties - for the smallest ones, for senior children, for children who go to church regularly and for those who know little about God in general and Christmas in particular.

For fur-tree parties children usually get together at the church where they are met with the Christmas star, always alight, - the pride of our skillful men. Father Arkady comes out to the children to say a short Christmas sermon. Then, guided by the star and singing the Christmas hymn, the children go for the Christmas party itself. Usually they are divided into two groups. The smallest ones have more dances around the fur-tree and action in general, while bigger ones perform recitals and plays. Sometimes, if the circumstances allow, children have a festive meal prepared by parents.

In 1995 we began to hold domestic fur-tree parties for small groups of 10-15 children of the Sunday school. These events serve to draw children and their parents closer together.

In conclusion I should say that it takes tremendous efforts and thorough preparations to make a joyful feast. It almost always means sleepless nights, enormous strain, temptations and sometimes tears. But all this is overcome by love and the joy of common efforts and children's laughter.

M. V. Mashkova
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Church Kindergarten No. 1 at the Diocese of Smolensk

Christmas is the most joyful feast for Christians around the world. It is also the favorite holiday for our children. And it is not surprising, because the whole kindergarten is sparkling with glass balls and garlands. It smells with pine-needles. In the center of the hall is an enormous fur-tree crowned with a marvelous eight-pointed star. Next to it is a puppet-show of the Nativity attracting one by flickering lights. On the walls is a display of children's drawing on the Christmas theme. There is laughter everywhere. Now and then the praises of Christ are heard. Is it not a miracle?

This miracle has been created with the help of God by the hands of children themselves and their teachers. Children begin to prepare for the day long before it. As true Orthodox Christians they restrain from sweets and cartoons, and more important, they fulfill every obedience. They rehearse new verses and songs about Christmas and even dramatic performances in order to praise the Newly-born Infant when the day comes.

Children are engaged in all this not because presents await them. They know that during Christmas holidays they will bring all they have prepared to those who are lonely and sick and who need their support. They will go to orphanages, houses for the elderly, hospitals and to other kindergartens. They will perform at the stage of the enormous Drama Theater. And so will be every year. And they will go there not with empty hands, but with what they themselves have done and can share now. Such Christmas celebrations have become for us and our children not only a good tradition, but also a need - a need to bring people the Word of God.

E. V. Polyanskaya,
Principal of the kindergarten
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Parish of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land, Novosibirsk

Christmas celebrations at the Parish of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land includes traditionally a number of events.

Christmas party at the Siberian Academy of Sciences. Gathered together for it were over 700 participants. Father Boris Pivovarov brought Christmas greetings. High school children performed a play called "The Brightest Star" about the star of Bethlehem, veneration of the magi and the wicked King Herod. The children were helped in preparing the performance by a professional artistic director O. Mindolina. All the costumes for the magi, the angel, the shepherds and the King Herod were made by the staff of the gymnasium and the Orthodox kindergarten and parishioners. The gymnasium's choir sang Christmas hymns and carols. The children emanated the purity and benevolence which are so characteristic of generations brought up in Orthodox faith. After the concert the children were engaged in a solving a quiz. Using for it a large painting on a Christmas theme, the teachers held a catechetical lesson in an interesting and joyful form.

Christmas greetings brought to the patients of the Siberian Academy of Sciences Central Clinic. For three years now the corridors of the clinic have resounded with Christmas hymns as more and more children come here with parents to praise the newly-born Christ. In 1995 over 20 children from the Orthodox gymnasium came to the cardiological ward of the clinic. Together with them were several teachers and nurses from the parish's sisterhood. They were led by the Father Rector Boris and Father Alexander. The children sang Christmas carols and recited verses. The girls' singing of Russian, Ukrainian and Greek Christmas carols met with general acclaim.

Christmas greetings brought to the medical staff of the Sibakademstroy. On January 11, a group of sisters of the Sisterhood of St. Protomartyr Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna and school girls of the Orthodox gymnasium brought Christmas greetings to the patients and staff of the Sibakademstroy where a chapel had been set up for the staff and the patients. The sisters and the girls brought Christmas presents made by children in the kindergarten and the gymnasium. They also brought to each ward a fur-tree branch, a paper angel and sweets. In several wards they gave recitals and answered questions from patients about Christmas.

A trip to a house for the elderly. It has become a good tradition for the parish to visit the inmates of the Berdsky House for the Elderly. This year people in the Academgorodok gathered some 700 presents for the elderly including socks, stockings, soup bars, handkerchiefs, and sweets. The parishioners spent over 4 hours with the patients and old people. Father Andrew said a common thanksgiving and visited every ward, sprinkling the inmates with holy water and giving a blessing to each. A small parishioners' choir followed him, singing Christmas hymns and carols. Children helped the adults to give out presents. They had a present for each inmate of the house. A trip to an orphanage. It has become a tradition for our parish to bring Christmas greetings to the Baryshevsky orphanage. This year a whole bus-load of children, their teachers and parents and the parish choir came to the orphanage. After a festive thanksgiving, a Christmas concert was performed. Young actors in colorful costumes enacted a Christmas play and a humorous scene from the gymnasium life. They recited verses and sang Christmas carols. The feast concluded with a folk dance around the Christmas tree, a quiz and giving out presents to the orphans.

Christmas matinees at Akademgorodok's Sunday school. The matinee for minors (from 4 to 7 year old) was organized with the help of senior gymnasists. They themselves wrote the scenario and actively participated in the performance. Led by Natalya Gorelova, the children sang the Christmas hymn and several Christmas carols. They also recited verses and enacted a Christmas play called "A Little Fur-tree". Two hours later, the middle group of the Sunday school (from 8 to 13 years old) gathered together in the gymnasium's chapel. They had rehearsed their performance of "A Little Fur-tree" for several Sundays. In addition to it, they sang the Christmas troparion and kontakion and Christmas carols and had made drawings for an exhibition at the Scientists' Club. Both matinees were greatly enjoyed by the children. It should be noted that parents were also actively engaged in the preparations; the costumes they made for the play were magnificent, and the cake and cookies for the tea were very tasty.

The gymnasium entertains handicapped children. As soon as the matinees for the Sunday school children ended, the gymnasium opened its doors for more guests, this time handicapped children. They came for the first time in the hope to find hospitality, good will and understanding. We tried to do our best to communicate to these children our joy of the feast. A small choir of the gymnasium sang the most beautiful songs, while children from the third grade performed a play called "A Conversation among Marks from the School Records". The 15 young guests enjoyed the matinee. They received Christmas presents and were accorded the warmest possible welcome.

Christmas celebrations at the Orthodox gymnasium. The gymnasium held Christmas celebrations from 10.00 a. m. till evening on January 8. First there was a matinee at the kindergarten. Then at 1 p. m. there was a matinee at the pro-gymnasium. At 4 p. m. celebrations began at the gymnasium itself. The best part of the celebrations was a play about a modest gymnasist by name of Fyodor who defeats a wicked dragon who tried to ruin the festivities.

Credit should be given to the staff of the gymnasium for their selfless efforts in preparing and conducting the Christmas celebration at Akademgorodok. They made costumes, wrote plays, made cookies, bought sweets, prepared presents, decorated the rooms and arranged an exhibition.

The most important thing, however, is that our children at the gymnasium give us increasingly tangible help each year. They took part in all the matinees and all the festive praise-givings. They were with us at All-Night Vigil, and later, till January 11, helped us to bring Christmas greetings to all who rejoiced in the feast.

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