For members of area churches, Christmas is about more than shopping, baking and decorating.
They find a number of ways to help others, whether it is selecting a Christmas present for someone they do not even know or sharing their love of music by going caroling and visiting shut-ins.
“There’s a lot of need in the community,” said Andy Behrendt, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waupaca.
That need is even more apparent this time of year for those continuing to struggle in the current economic conditions and who are now facing the first of several months of heating bills.
“Part of the spirit of Christmas is giving,” Behrendt said. “Helping people in the community – that I think is one of the more important things.”
At Trinity Lutheran Church, people brought gifts for Waupaca’s Miracle Tree and went caroling at area nursing homes.
The church is this year’s host of the annual Christmas community dinner.
Behrendt said there is a lot of excitement this time of year, and they kicked off the Advent season by reminding the members of Trinity that Advent is the season of coming.
It is about “the coming of baby Jesus in the manger” and also that Jesus is here with us and will come again, he said.
The coming of Christmas, Behrendt said, is a calling for people to be ready and prepared.
“Jesus is with us, and God’s love is with us,” he said. “We can prepare for that coming by sharing with other people.”
Sharing with others is a theme at many churches.
Cathy Weigand and her husband Mike are pastors at First United Methodist Church in Waupaca.
In their sixth year as pastors of the church, she said, “I think Christmas around here has always been about the community. The mission stuff has always been big. It’s been important for the people of this church to actively participate in giving, sharing, helping.”
Members of their church do so by raising money to buy whole chickens that are given to Northcott Neighborhood House in Milwaukee.
What began as a chicken drive has grown to include potatoes and handmade mittens and scarves. The money raised is given to the inner-city program to be used as needed, Weigand said.
This is First United Methodist Church’s 14th annual year doing this. “We start it right after Thanksgiving. We raise money, and it all gets delivered before Christmas for their Christmas dinner,” she said.
Another project underway at the church is the collection of mittens and gloves that will be given to the children in the Waupaca School District that are part of Project Backpack.
“When we are done with that, then we will collect socks for the same thing in January or February,” she said.
Weigand said what members of the church are doing is helping people locally and beyond.
She is amazed by the generosity of people.
Pastor Larry Gross of First Baptist Church in Waupaca said the church has a couple projects that take place during the Christmas season.
“We give turkeys and hams to needy people,” he said. “We have about 20 turkeys and about six hams.”
They are given to families in need.
Gross has been a pastor at the church for 35 years, and said the children in their school go caroling at nursing homes and the youth pastor will be going caroling to the shut-ins.
Like many area churches, special Christmas programs are planned that involve those of all ages in music, drama and scripture reading.
To make all the concerts and plays happen takes a lot of volunteers, he said.
The decorations are also up, and it is the hope of Gross that people remember that Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
He wants people to focus on Christmas being about Christ.
“All the other stuff is fun and nice, but that is the message,” he said.
Behrendt said Trinity’s Advent and Christmas decorations began going up after Thanksgiving and that the focus is on the fact that “we’ve been given this gift of God – Jesus.”
And, he said knowing this means people are called to share their gifts with others.
First United Methodist Church is also decorated for Christmas, and members of the church had the opportunity to buy Fair Trade Advent Calendars, participate in an adult Advent study on Sundays and go Christmas caroling.
There are also special music programs for all to enjoy.
“I start working on Christmas when school starts,” Weigand said. “It’s now all day, every day.”
Her theme this Christmas Eve will be to talk about that Jesus was a real baby with real parents – something many have experienced but that becomes so much bigger.
“One of the things we always work on here is to help people experience God, whether it is at Christmas time or any time,” she said.
Often, people are more open to that at Christmas – perhaps remembering a childhood memory or feeling the pull that maybe there is something they should be doing to create space for God, Weigand said.
During Advent, people are called to wait actively for Christmas and to do so with intention, hope and joy, she said.
And, she said that when people talk about being ready for Christmas, they often talk about shopping, planning a meal and having their tree up and decorated.
Weigand sees it a question of asking, “How is it with your soul?”