advent holiday candles


COVID Christmas: Helping Teens Navigate the 2020 Holiday Season

2020 has challenged youth ministers to serve our teens virtually and socially distanced. But now, we face a new challenge: ministering to our teens during what promises to be a particularly difficult holiday season.

Anyone who has lost loved ones or experienced personal hardship near the holidays knows Advent and Christmas are not always joyful. This season can intensify our pain, and Advent 2020 is set to do so on a grand scale. As many in our parishes face unemployment, loved ones battling or lost to COVID-19, and other struggles 2020 has brought, we must help teens navigate a Christmas season that is likely bleaker than any they have previously experienced.

The Struggle is Real

The story of Christmas starts with darkness. The Israelites, oppressed by one empire after another, longed for a Savior who had yet to come. Many teens can relate to the Israelites this Advent, wondering where God is amid the darkness of 2020’s myriad problems. This year, the consequences of living in a broken, sinful world are painfully obvious. And with COVID-19 lockdowns, teens also face their own brokenness and sinfulness with less reprieve.

Youth ministers are some of the privileged few whom teens might trust with their struggles. It is vital that we acknowledge the negative emotions our teens’ experience. They need to know God gave them all their feelings – good and bad – and we can help them handle those feelings. Encourage your teens to practice lamenting – crying out to God in their pain without looking for an answer, but simply asking Him to be present in their suffering. Lead them in frequently examining their consciences and point them to Reconciliation, helping them confront their sins rather than wallowing in sinfulness. Knowing 2020 has increased teen mental health issues, note that if a teen is struggling beyond what is healthy, to point their family toward professional help.

Reason for the Season

With parents out of work, limited ability to gather, and other concerns, 2020 promises to strip many teens of their beloved holiday traditions. Grieving those things is certainly valid, but we cannot allow sadness to overwhelm us. Christmas consumerism often overshadows the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world but losing the trappings of the holidays this year presents an opportunity for teens to return their attention to Christ and the Church this Advent and Christmas.
Encouraging your teens to participate in spiritual Christmas traditions can provide them with some comfort as they lose other parts of the holidays. Help your youth identify the spiritual elements of Advent and Christmas that their families already celebrate, like setting out an Advent wreath or nativity scene. Go all-out teaching them spiritual Christmas traditions they may not know, like the St. Andrew Christmas novena or the Jesse tree.

With Advent starting the new liturgical year, you can also celebrate a sort of Catholic New Year’s Eve with your teens. Ask them to reflect on the blessings of 2020 and the ways God worked in their lives this past year. To give them a sense of renewal, and encourage their spiritual growth, help them create “spiritual resolutions” for the new liturgical year.

Research & Development

COVID-19 has been a pivotal moment for parishes. Some dove into new ways of ministering while others drug their feet. A colleague of mine calls youth ministry the Church’s Research and Development department, as we often pioneer wacky ideas. Whether or not your parish adapted well when the pandemic started, Advent 2020 is a perfect time for youth ministers to lead their churches in R&D. This holiday season presents a unique opportunity for the Church to shine light in the darkness, so let’s go all in!

Pay attention to the needs of your teens, parishioners, and the surrounding community. If people need to grieve, have a Mass or prayer service remembering those lost to COVID-19. If people are struggling financially, brainstorm ways your parish can provide food and gifts. If people need a morale boost, host fun outdoor events at the parish – like drive-in holiday movies or over-the-top Christmas decorations. Have the teens help with these projects as much as possible!

Many have said pastoral care – or lack of it – during the pandemic will make or break many people’s relationship with the Church. Use this Advent and Christmas season to extend Christ’s love and compassion to your teens and your parish community. No matter what you do, people will remember that you cared.

With all of the difficulties this year has brought, it is fitting that 2020 throws us one last challenge of accompanying our teens through a tough holiday season. Let’s use all we have learned this past year to compassionately and creatively share Christ’s light and love with our teens this Advent and Christmas – socially distanced, of course!

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

About the Author

Mary Conney

I am a youth minister in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville with degrees in theology and clinical psychology. I hate coffee and Twitter, but love macaroni and cheese and praying the Magnificat. My favorite saint changes from day to day depending on my mood.

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