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Each year I present my family with a shared Christmas gift. Tickets to a movie, a board game, and reservations at the bowling alley were all big hits; matching wool hats with pompoms, not so much. 

In 2019 I gave everyone their own word. A “Star Word,” to be exact. It’s a gift that can be used all year long, takes just a few minutes to prepare, and costs no more than the paper on which it’s printed. I think it might just be my favorite family Christmas gift ever.  

Star Words are words that the recipient can use as a guiding word to draw them closer to God in the coming year. They’re drawn from a list of words worth pondering and printed on star-shaped pieces of yellow paper. Recipients tuck Star Words into their wallets, pin them on bulletin boards, post them on bathroom mirrors, or display the words in any other place where they’ll see it regularly. It’s a practice that was inspired by the way God used a star to guide the Magi to Jesus. 

The giving of Star Words isn’t a new concept. Many congregations have been using them during their Epiphany service for years. At Susan Foster’s church, the giving of Star Gifts is a much-anticipated practice. During worship people are invited (without peeking) to take from the offering plate one of more than 150 words that have been printed on star-shaped paper. They’re encouraged to reflect on that word during the coming year and think about how God might be speaking to them through that word. The words on their list include: 

  • Adventure

  • Awe

  • Beauty

  • Change

  • Commitment

  • Contemplation

  • Courage

  • Delight

  • Discovery

  • Encouragement

  • Faith

  • Freedom

  • Forgiveness

  • Gratitude

  • Generosity

  • Grace

  • Hopefulness

  • Healing

  • Joy

  • Music

  • Mercy

  • Peace

  • Perseverance

  • Power

  • Simplicity

  • Strength

  • Thoughtfulness

  • Time

  • Wisdom

  • Wonder

Rev. Marci Glass has been using similar words at her church too. In a post titled Star Words, Glass describes the thinking behind the practice in this way: “The premise is this: the magi followed the star to find baby Jesus, bringing their gifts. We are also seeking Jesus, trusting God can/does use many signs (or stars) to guide us closer to the Divine presence.” And Rev. Glass is a superstar—her post also includes a link to a timesaving downloadable set of more than 150 words in star shapes. 

Since there were only six people in my immediate family, I used the smaller list of 25 words Rev. Traci Smith included in her Guiding Stars: An Epiphany Activity at Home post. (If you have young children in your family, you’ll also appreciate the ideas she includes for using Star Words with them.) Smith suggests having each person take their word from a basket but not share their words with each other until the following year. We prefer to show each other the words we’ve drawn right away because (a) we’re itching to tell each other and (b) doing so prompts conversations about our experiences over the year. 

My initial hope in introducing Star Words into our family Christmas celebration was that each of us might become more attuned to what God is doing in our lives and more aware of what God might be calling us to do in the new year. I looked forward with anticipation to the next Christmas when we would share the stories of our words with each other before drawing our guiding words for the next year. That hope was fulfilled last Christmas as family members shared the ways in which their particular word had pointed them to noticing God at work in their life during the pandemic.  

  • One family member remembered how, when she’d drawn the word “simplicity” in 2019, she’d initially wanted to toss it back into the basket. She had big plans for 2020 and a simpler life wasn’t part of them! But now, as she reflected on the past year, she could see all the ways in which God had been present in her pandemic simplified life. 

  • Another shared how she had experienced the “faithfulness” of God during the many life transitions she’d faced that year. 

  • I sheepishly confessed to having forgotten that my word was “courage” until late spring when I’d found myself asking God for courage as the pandemic progressed and then experienced God’s faithfulness in answering those prayers with a “yes!” over and over again.   

Hearing those stories prompted me to start a family Star Words journal in which I’ll list the words that find us each year, along with the God stories we share the following year. I look forward to watching it grow along with our family. 

Star Words: a meaningful gift that keeps on giving. No shopping, spending, or wrapping required. Try it at home this year!

For more Star Words stories and ideas, including tips for distributing them at church during the pandemic, see the post Star Words: An Epiphany Tradition Grows



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