By Kathy Lieberg, grandmother and Franciscan associate at St. Anne’s Guest Home
After Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We can look at the Holy Family as not only Mary, Joseph and Jesus but also include St. Anne and St. Joachim, Mary’s parents. Although they were not mentioned in scripture as being part of Jesus’ life, I’m sure they were very much a part of His life. A Jewish family, including grandparents, aunt, uncles, and cousins was a very important entity then, as I’m sure it is now.
In our world today grandparents can also be important in the lives of the grandchildren, especially with so many parents working and the grandparents helping with the children. This gives grandparents a good chance to have a positive influence on the grandchildren in the ways of their faith. By making sure they go to Mass every Sunday, and possibly every day grandparents can show the importance of Mass, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and obedience to what the church asks us to do. This obedience can be shown as not just something we have to do, but a love of God and wanting to do as He wants us to do and to also attend Mass to thank and praise God for all He does for us.
We grandparents can also be prepared and honored to be present when grandchildren are baptized, celebrate first Penance, first Holy Communion, and Confirmation. When the children see grandparents attend these events they will begin to realize the importance of their faith and the path to holiness.
As parents and grandparents our job is to help our children and grandchildren get to heaven.
In our homes we grandparents can have holy objects, such as statues, pictures and rosaries around so the children are exposed to them. When out in public we can show how it is ok to pray in public such as when we are at a restaurant.
Finally, as grandparents, we can hopefully grow in our own holiness by being examples of holiness to those around us, especially our grandchildren.
Pictured here is a 65 year-old nativity scene, or crèche, which Sr. Elaine Marie, bookkeeper at St. Anne’s received for a Christmas gift at nine years of age. As she grew up, she and her parents would set it up on their farmstead each year. More figures, such as a deer, Santa, some of the angels, and, of course a dog, where added to the original set over the years. Even after Sr. Elaine entered Religious Life in the late 1950s, her parents continued to put up the set at Christmastime. When they moved to live and work at St. Anne’s some years later, they brought it with them; her mom continued setting it up in her apartment here. Today, this crèche sets on top of a file cabinet in the main office here at St. Anne’s, where staff can be reminded of the miracle of the first Christmas.
So, this is the history of one particular, special, nativity scene; but what is the history of the crèche in general? St. Francis of Assisi and a special Christmas celebration at Greccio in 1223 played a very important role. In an article re-published by the Catholic Education Resource Center, Fr. William Saunders shares the history as it relates to St. Francis. According to Wikipedia, St. Francis had recently returned from the Holy Land. Greccio was a small town in south-central Italy where St. Francis would be spending Christmas. In a cave near there, St. Francis’ famous Christmas commemoration took place. Fr. Saunder’s article draws from St. Bonaventure’s writings:
- It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Greccio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis….Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Greccio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant marvelously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep…
According to the Friends of the Creche, “the Low Latin word cripia, meaning manger, was the origin of the terms creche, crib, krippe, krubba, szopka and wertep meaning Nativity Scene respectively in French, English, German and Swedish, Polish and Russian.”
Wikipedia also shares that “such pantomimes became hugely popular and spread throughout Christendom. Within a hundred years every church in Italy was expected to have a nativity scene at Christmastime.” Through time, statues were used in place of live participants. In Catholic countries in early modern times, “sculpted cribs were set up in Catholic churches and homes, often exported from Italy.” These scenes became more elaborate and had their peak in Naples in the 1500s-1700s as well as in Genoa, Italy. By the close of the 19th century, nativity scenes were also even popular outside of Catholic context and had many variations.
This afternoon, at our Christmas gathering with our residents, one of our activities staff shared an inspiring essay with us. She pointed out that, while wrapping Christmas gifts for loved ones, we can make a point to pray for each person. Although we may have thought of this before, I was impressed by this little reminder. Our prayers for each person can be a more valuable gift than the packages we’re wrapping.
At St. Anne’s, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of musical entertainment by various groups, from the Sweet Adelines to church youth groups, to name some. We are grateful to all those who have shared their beautiful voices and holiday cheer with our residents. Students from St. Michael’s School even shared Christmas cookies! Little do the know all the benefits music really has for elderly individuals! According to research documented by the University of South Florida’s School of Music, music participation with the elderly provided “multiple physical benefits regardless of the senior citizens’ health conditions.” This same source shared that active music participation can benefit senior citizens by contributing positively to their psychological well-being or mental health…”(Coffman, et. al.) Such participation offers increased self-understanding, learning success, providing rewarding and interesting experiences, and an opportunity for creative self-expression, all of which increase their quality of life. Another online source, Music Sparks, outlines “remarkable psychological benefits” of listening to music for the elderly, including:
- A happier outlook on life and improved interest levels
- Improved social interaction
- Discovery of personal identity and increased self-esteem
- Enhanced moods and increased positive emotions
- Increased communication in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients
- Increased relaxation and reduced tension and anxiety
There are noteworthy physiological benefits as well, including:
- Better nights of sleep
- Diminished pain
- Improved memory and recall
- Improved recovery time
- Increased awareness and ability to concentrate
- Increased mobility and coordination
- Increased overall cognitive abilities
- Lessened need for medication
- Reduced pain
- Reduced recovery time
Adaire Ranstrom, music therapist and recent UND graduate, offers other insight on her website. She shares research that music therapy can benefit those with a variety of disorders, including: Alzheimer’s/ Dementia, Autism, Strokes, COPD, Chronic Heart Failure, Parkinsons, Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Cortical Blindness, and Cancer. My father, Rick Neumann, who has worked with a program called “The Gathering” shared his thoughts on the benefits of music: “One of the things I have experienced first hand is at the Gathering. The Gathering is a group of volunteers who ‘entertain’ a group of people with memory loss for 3.5 hours so their caregivers can have a break. Some of the participants don’t really interact much during the day until music-time. Once the music starts they all come alive and most remember the words to the songs. It’s truly amazing.” Whether it be at Christmas time, or throughout the year, we all can benefit from “the Sound of Music.” It is truly a gift for which to be grateful. ~Sr. Christina Neumann
Have you ever noticed how a simple smile at a discouraged person can affect him, put a twinkle in his eyes and lift the corners of his mouth? I’ve found that here at St. Anne’s, the benefits of offering a smile can’t be easily overrated. What a difference that can make, not only to them, but also to me.
You see, smiles have documented benefits, both for the giver and the recipient. Psychology Today informs us that smiling “activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress…” Smiling releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, which this same source refers to as “the feel good neurotransmitters.” This relaxes your body and can also lower your heart-rate and blood pressure. Also, serotonin is an anti-depressant/mood lifter that’s actually stimulated by many pharmaceutical anti-depressants. According to inspiyr.com, smiling actually strengthens your immune system, stimulating the production of white blood cells.
A smile can also serve as a natural pain reliever. According to another online source, “people who smile and laugh often are less likely to develop heart disease.” Also, according to this same source, smiling reduces stress, improves Mood, and increases productivity and longevity. Smiling can also increase your attentiveness and ability to multitask by fighting stress. Smiling also affects how you look to others and makes you more attractive. Isn’t a person with a smile on her face better looking than one with a frown?
In short, smiling can be a gift, both to yourself and to others. I’d like to close with a couple of quotes that I find worth mentioning. The first is a piece of advice I memorized years ago from an unknown source: “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” Finally, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is noted for saying: “’Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
~Sr. Christina M. Neumann
By: Sr. Christina M. Neumann, OSF
Believe it or not, Friday December 12th is actually “Official Lost & Found Day,” according to various sources, including www.daysoftheyear.com. This topic seemed quite apropo for us at St. Anne’s; neither our residents, our staff, nor the visitors who frequently come here, are immune to this common human plight: that of losing items. We can only hope and pray that these things are found quickly and in one piece. Our reception desk here is a frequent “lost and found” site for items to be turned in.
Before I go on to share research on effective ways to find our missing articles, might I share a personal favorite method to start with: asking St. Anthony. In 5th grade CCD (Religious Education class), our instructor taught us a little prayer: “Dear St. Anthony, please come around, for something’s lost and can’t be found.” Though it’s not necessarily scientifically proven, I have found that this method often offers immediate success. The story of how St. Anthony became the patron of lost items is an interesting one, but that would be a topic for another article.
Other practical tips for finding lost items:
- Take several slow, deep breaths
- Look in plain sight first. Check your immediate surroundings and places you were recently. Look in the obvious spots. Survey the room or rooms where the item might be. Don’t go into depth, searching under piles of clothes and inside pants pockets. Instead, just look around to see if the item is in plain sight.
- Be systematic. Scan the room from left to right. Look over every corner, searching for places you haven’t checked yet, until you’ve covered the entire room. Your brain isn’t used to it, so it should pick the object up more quickly!
- Recall where you have been. Think about where you last where and call to mind possibilities of what could have happed to the object there (e.g., you could have set it down, it could have been bumped off a ledge, etc.)
- Don’t forget to look for the missing object where it’s supposed to be, or where it can usually be found. Sometimes things are just where you left them.
- Blank out your mind: Slow down those racing thoughts by giving them nowhere to run. If you can clear your mind, you can calm down to focus on the job at hand. Look slowly and carefully where the object should be: How many times have you smacked your forehead after a crisis after finding an object in its normal location after not seeing it there before? That’s one of the dangers of panic: the temporary suspension of certain mental functions. The “fight or flight” instinct controlled by the “lizard brain” is very powerful for evading predators (or incapacitating them, for that matter) but it has a powerful ability to blind you by impairing higher brain functions that human beings have developed over the ages. If you force yourself to slow down and work methodically, you can get control back from the “lizard”.
- Look slowly and carefully where the object probably shouldn’t be, but could be
- Once you’ve exhausted the normal places where the object should be, try moving on to less likely locations. Maybe you left the object near a door, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, etc. when you were interrupted in doing something else. In other words, check in high traffic areas or near areas where the object should be.
- Check on yourself. It is possible to forget that your glasses are already hanging around your neck or perched on your head. Check these obvious spots once more even if you’re sure you already did. •Don’t forget to check your pockets while you’re at it, even empty them out to make sure. Check the pockets of any jackets or coats you’ve worn lately, too. If you have carried a backpack, bag, or purse lately, make sure to get all the way to the bottom.
- Think back to the last time and place you used the missing object. Retracing your steps may lead to the object.
- Think about how and when an item is used in order to locate it. Consider the item’s characteristics. The nature of certain items makes them easier or more difficult to locate. For example, if you often use something in the winter, try checking the pockets of your winter jackets.
- Search your car. For many people, the last place they were was in their car. Look in all the nooks and crannies.
- Ask others to help you look for it. Enlisting the help of others will often enhance your chances of spotting the lost item.
- Check everything again and again. Even if you have searched your room for your keys three times, check again. It is not rare to find something in the very place you thought you had already searched thoroughly. In fact, writing off a tucked away spot because it is “impossible” and you “looked there already” is often how items stay lost!
- Remember the camouflage effect. Your object may be right where you recall having had it, or where it’s usually kept, but it has become covered up. Check beneath anything that might have been inadvertently placed on top of the object and be hiding it from view.
- Look once, look well. Don’t keep going back to check a particular site, no matter how promising. If it wasn’t there the first time, it won’t be there the second (assuming, of course, that your initial check was meticulous).
- Clean your surroundings. Try doing a rigorous tidy-up of your room, house, apartment, dorm room, car, book bag, backpack, purse, or whatever area you have likely lost your item. Just cleaning up may very well reveal the whereabouts of your lost item. •Try not to make a mess or you’ll have a harder time finding what you lost. Instead, be systematic, and use the opportunity to tidy up as you go.
- Give it time. Sometimes an item will surface in time. Your sister finds it while vacuuming in an oddball spot you never would thought of, for instance. Unless it is something which can cause serious problems (like credit cards, cell phones, checkbooks, I.D.), sometimes just waiting pays off.
- If you’re in a hurry trying to look for the object missing, just slow down take a deep, breathe and process your thoughts. Slow and steady wins the race, look from room to room, and don’t go crazy trying to rush. (Things will usually “show up” when you’re not looking for them, so just relax).
- Write your name on your items.
One way to prevent all this fuss and commotion is to improve your memory. The Mayo Clinic offers seven tips:
1. Stay mentally active
2. Socialize regularly
3. Get organized
4. Sleep well
5. Eat a healthy diet
6. Include physical activity in your daily routine
7. Manage chronic conditions
This is a guest post by Cindy Flath, Supervisor of the Research Department at Altru Health System.
The days have gotten shorter; seemingly endless cloudy days and little sun greet us each day. If we could hibernate like bears winter wouldn’t seem so bad.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter; sapping your energy and making you feel moody.
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:
- Your biological clock … The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
There are alternates to medication that may help to alleviate the symptoms of SAD
- Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
- Get outside. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Light therapy generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms.
Walking through the hallway outside our nurses’ office, I asked our residents in the med. line if they had celebrated St. Nicholas Day as children, putting out their shoes. To my surprise, none of them had. As a child, St. Nicholas visited our home every year on the eve of his feast in early December.
Last year, we at St. Anne’s had an 18-year old German girl, Antonia Kerl, stay with us for about three months. This included St. Nicholas Day. On that occasion, she did a program for our residents on “Christmas in Germany,” sharing German food and customs with our residents. For the December issue of our newsletter, The Broadcaster, she also contributed a little article, featuring St. Nicholas as our “Saint of the Month.” It ran as follows:
St. Nicholas was born in 270 AD and died on December 6, 343. He was the Bishop of Myra (what we now call Turkey). Unfortunately, we do not have many details about his life. He is known for his good deeds for the society, and he ministered to the sick, the poor and the ones in need. Therefore, he is the patron saint of children, various peoples and regions and several professions. The feast day on December 6 is a big day in Germany. Children place their shoes outside the door and hope that St. Nicholas will come and leave small presents, such as chocolate, oranges or nuts in their shoes. In Germany, he is accompanied by Knecht Rupprecht, who is supposed to punish the children who did not behave throughout the year, whereas St. Nicholas rewards the good children.
To this day, even in the United States, St. Nicholas’ fine tradition of generosity continues. This afternoon, Sr. Elaine told us Sisters at lunch: “Don’t forget to put out your shoes tonight; but St. Nicholas has to go to Hugo’s (Grocery Store) quick first.” ~Sr. Christina Neumann, OSF
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Wednesday afternoon, I strung popcorn with our residents to add to the Christmas tree in our Activity Room. Although this was the first time I’ve done this at St. Anne’s, this yule-time task is definitely not new to me. Our family used to watch slides of old family photos with my grandparents, while hoping not to hit a hard kernel and stick ourselves with the needle. I’ve heard that cranberries can be messy, so this afternoon, we’ll be using red beads to add to the décor in their stead. Maybe we’re re-instating an old custom. If we do it again, I won’t make so much – three cups gave me a lot more than we needed so I ended up making caramel corn with the rest of it! I hope our residents enjoy that, too!
Please share your own Advent or Christmas traditions and customs. We’d love to hear them!