I was just remembering watching the little boys in our church’s preschool program play priest — they were baptizing a stuffed animal, I think, while solemnly censing the room with their toy censer — and marvelling at how beautiful it is to see kids who just marinate in the faith. Church isn’t just a place they go sometimes, but a part of their lives, and a part of their play. The imagination of an Orthodox child includes the rich textures of the faith, and echoes with the stories of Saints and Scripture. How lucky we are!
Two of my girls used to love to play with Barbies, and I remember coming upstairs one day to find that they had constructed a Barbie church. They’d transformed some Mattel product that should have been a stage for rockstar Barbies into what was actually a very pretty church, complete with iconostasis. When they imagined the perfect Barbie lifestyle, they included worship and the sacraments.
Sr. Magdalen from the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex (writer of Conversations with Children, among other things) once spoke in our parish, and she mentioned a girl who always brought her beloved Barbie doll to church. Her mother or grandmother was horrified, because Barbie is so worldly — but Sr. Magdalen admonished her to stop saying that, and to encourage the child to bring what she loved into the church; let all things be sanctified and made part of her life in Christ.
To the pure, all things are pure… (Titus 1:15)
This year, as I consider the Christmas gifts I’ll give my children and godchildren, I’m thinking about ways of incorporating the faith into their play. If they have some tiny icons (like Legacy Icons’ little Micro Icons) maybe they’ll make their way into Barbie houses and Lego castles, or maybe they could use some peg people, like a little priest and his acolytes to join their community. Perhaps some more books to feed their imaginations with the images and stories of Orthodoxy (in fact, Ancient Faith is having a Children’s Book Sale right now!)
I’ll certainly be ordering a few more toy censers — the ones we’ve given to friends and placed in our preschool classroom have brought so much joy! When the kids play priest, there’s nothing like a realistic censer complete with a cute little felt charcoal disc to make it feel… holy. And it is holy. Their sweet, pure play is holy. May it be blessed!
As we all prepare for Nativity with prayer, fasting, almsgiving and yes, some gift shopping, you’ll find the following Orthodox children’s gifts online if you’re interested! If you have ideas for other gifts that will encourage little imaginations to include the Church in their play, post links in the Comment section — how wonderful if we can make sure that the gifts we give this Christmas help to grow the faith in the little hearts who receive them!