The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25 every year (nine months before the Nativity of Christ). Gabriel arrives to give Mary news that will not only change her life, but change human history forever.
The time has come for God to make known his plan for the salvation of mankind–that the Son of God will become human because of His great love for humanity. The angel Gabriel appears to the young virgin, calling her “highly favored.” Mary, in her humility, is unsure of this greeting. However, Gabriel tells her that she has found favor with God and would give birth to His Son.
Mary responds with pure obedience and says, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary’s humble cooperation in the divine plan brings for salvation for all.
At the Feast of the Annunciation, Orthodox Christians celebrate both God’s love toward mankind and Mary’s faithful response and obedience. He took on flesh from the Virgin, and she willingly chose to be the Mother of Christ.
After the Annunciation, Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who recognized Mary as “Blessed among women.” John the Baptist, in the womb of Elizabeth, also recognizes the Divine Child and leaps for joy.
The feast causes all to celebrate for God is now with us. In the midst of the solemnity of Lent, we pause to marvel at the beginning of our salvation. For, as the troparion says,
“Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
Ways to Celebrate the Feast as a Family
1. Attend Divine Liturgy and Learn the Troparion
As always, the best way to celebrate the feast is by attending Divine Liturgy, receiving the Eucharist, listening to the Gospel being read, singing the hymns of the Church, and praying with the faithful. If it is not possible to attend the Divine Liturgy in person (as is the case this year), following a live stream service can also be meaningful.
The troparion for the feast is rich with imagery and meaning. In order to help the children understand and learn it, consider doing the following:
-Have older children (ones who can write) copy down the Troparion. They could practice using their best handwriting, or doing calligraphy or hand lettering.
-Parents can write the troparion and ask younger children to illustrate it line-by-line to make a pictorial representation of the hymn.
-Talk about the meaning of the hymn the night before the feast, perhaps at Evening Prayers or dinner.
-Learn the melody and sing the troparion throughout the day and the days following the feast.
2. Make a Special Meal
The Annunciation marks a slight break in fasting, as fish and wine are permitted by most traditions. You can cook a special meal together, set out the nice dishes, decorate the table with candles and flowers, and have a special family meal in celebration of the feast.
3. Wear Blue
Blue is the traditional liturgical color for feasts associated with the Theotokos. Simply dressing your whole family in blue and explaining the connection can help young children have a visual reminder of the special day.
4. Listen to the Story of the Annunciation
Finally, on her podcast Under the Grapevine, Dr. Chrissi Hart has lovely readings of children’s books that often are associated with various feasts. For the Annunciation she reads The Annunciation from the Twelve Great Feasts for Children by Mother Melania and Christina’s Favorite Saints by Maria Khoury, part one. You can find the podcast here.
Activities for Younger Children
1. Look at Ultrasounds and Baby Pictures
To help young children begin to understand the just how tiny the God of the universe made himself when He became incarnate, take a few minutes to talk about the size of babies in the womb. If you still have ultrasound pictures from your pregnancies, this can be a very powerful visual tool in addition to being fun for the child to look at! You can also show the children pictures of themselves as newborns to demonstrate how small and helpless Christ was as an infant.
2. Make Annunciation Popsicle Puppets
If your children enjoy making crafts, try out this cute popsicle puppet craft from the Lavatican blog. The child will cut out the figures of the Angel Gabriel and the Theotokos from a coloring page (like this one) and glue them onto popsicle sticks.
3. Act Out the Story
Finally, younger children can take turns acting out the various people in this narrative: the Theotokos, the Angel Gabriel, and St. Elizabeth. An adult or older child can read the story from the Gospel or from a children’s Bible while the children pantomime the actions.
Activities for Older Children
1. Collect Items for a Crisis Pregnancy Center
Matushka Emily from Charming the Birds from the Trees had the wonderful idea of celebrating the feast of the Annunciation by collecting items to donate to a crisis pregnancy center. If you have such a center near you, call and find out what items may be helpful. This could be diapers, baby clothes, maternity clothing, etc. Then, as a family go and buy a few items on the list and bring the donations in. If you do not have a crisis pregnancy shelter nearby, consider bringing baby and children’s items to a homeless shelter or a shelter for women and children. What a powerful way to honor our Lord who became incarnate and his holy mother.
2. Study of Angels in the Bible
The Angel Gabriel has an important role in this feast. Many children are curious about angels, so use this as an opportunity to have them learn more. The children can find other references to angels in Scripture, read this article from Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, or this article from Orthodox Christian Information Center. Elissa Bjeletich also has a good podcast on the subject.
3. Compare and Contrast Mary’s Song with Hannah’s Song
Finally, after Mary agrees to become the mother of Christ, she prays what is often called the Magnificat or Mary’s Song. This song has many similarities to Hannah’s prayer in I Kingdoms 2. Older children can read the two prayers trying to find similar wording and themes.
Let us join the Angel Gabriel in calling Mary blessed among women. In the words of the kontakion of the feast:
“O victorious leader of the triumphant hosts!
We your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos.
As you possess invincible might
Set us free from every calamity, so that we may sing:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!”