Everyone talks about their hectic Christmas schedules – the shopping, the cooking, the decorating, parties, activities, and the lists could go on and on. Too often, Christmas becomes drudgery, a far cry from the celebration that it should be. Many people agree that the commercialization of Christmas and the political correctness associated with Christmas has pushed the meaning of Christmas aside. This year, why not resolve to make Christmas a blessing for your family? Here are some simple things you can do to keep Christ in your Christmas celebration.
Decorating: Buy a beautiful crhe (it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it shouldn’t be too fragile for children to handle) and make a ceremony out of setting it out each year in a prominent, special place in your home. Every year, my husband reads the story of Christ’s birth from Luke’s account while family members set out the wooden figures that make up our family’s manger scene. Our children loved that special time, beginning when they were just toddlers. Now, their children clamor to be the one to lay the Jesus figurine in the manger or to set the angel on her wooden perch high above the rest of the scene. This simple ceremony establishes the focus of Christmas clearly in the minds of all the family – here is the reason we are celebrating. We usually put the crhe out several days before the other Christmas decorations so that it has a place of honor and priority. Further, we usually place the crhe low enough so that youngest children can move the pieces. We find that children like to place the sheep and camels close to the baby Jesus on one day, and on another, they like to move them away and put the shepherds nearby. Their personal involvement with the figures is important and significant in their experience of the nativity scene.
Shopping: There are numerous ways that your children can learn to share with others at Christmas. The “shoe box” ministry where the family packs small gift items into a shoe box to send to the children of prisoners or to a mission field are very meaningful ways that children (and adults) can focus on giving to others rather than allow Christmas to become commercialized and materialistic. We have usually been in a church where baskets are distributed to the poor in our local community. These baskets are typically filled with grocery items, but often include toys and clothes. Currently, our church has envelopes on the Christmas tree in the lobby. Inside the envelopes are the first names, age, sizes and wish list for children who are needy in our community. Families will choose an envelope and buy gifts for those who are listed on the card they have chosen.
Activities: Set aside some time during the hustle and bustle for your family to attend a Christmas concert or dramatic production. Many churches have a “living Christmas tree,” where a choir sings the carols of Christmas. Others have major dramatic productions with an important Christmas message. Combing through the local newspaper will provide many opportunities for the family to focus on the true meaning of Christmas through wonderful music or drama. In Georgia, where my mother and several siblings live, their church has an annual live nativity scene, where members enact the roles of Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and the Wise Men. When we are there at Christmas, we usually volunteer for our family to participate during the hours when it’s hard to get volunteers. That experience was a highlight of several past Christmases.
Caroling: Even a small group can brighten the lives of people in nursing homes or a children’s hospital. Our children need to learn that life doesn’t stop during the Christmas season – many people are in nursing homes without a family to visit them or bring gifts. Others are in the hospital during Christmas time and aren’t well enough to celebrate or join in outside festivities. In these instances, a visit from a family, especially one with children, brings joy and happiness to those whose daily existence provides little opportunity for interaction with people outside the institution.
Gift-Giving: Some of the best gifts are not those under the Christmas tree. Gifts of love and service are especially appreciated at Christmas time. My mother, who is 86 and lives alone, commented recently that though there is little that she needs, a gift of doing some little chore at her house would lighten her load. She suggested replacing burned out light bulbs, raking leaves in the yard, fixing a broken chair, or handling some of the chores that require heavy lifting or climbing. My mother also decided that this year, her gifts will be giving each family member (including the youngest great-grandchildren) an item from her house that would be meaningful coming directly from her as a gift: an item of jewelry, picture, decorative item, or memorabilia from the past.
Christmas Cards: Choosing cards with spiritual significance is always good, of course, but even a “secular” card (one with a snowy scene or reindeer, etc.) can include a Bible verse or personal message. Some people make fun of family Christmas letters, but I think they are a meaningful way of communicating a family’s values and priorities. In addition, they emphasize the importance of a Christian home, marriage and family. Further, such annual messages can relate God’s faithfulness in significant ways through the family’s experiences and recounting of God’s goodness in the good times and during the inevitable difficulties, too. I have elderly relatives who live a great distance away. Sending Christmas cards to them is a way of staying in touch and assuring them that they are an important part of the family.
Family Devotions: One of the traditions in my husband’s family was the reading of the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth as the family gathered on Christmas morning before opening gifts. My husband remembers one year when he looked yearningly at a big teddy bear waiting for him under the Christmas tree while he listened to his father read the Scripture and pray. We altered that tradition a bit; we gather in the living room for devotions before moving into the family room where the tree and gifts are located.
Say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays”: In the inclusive and diversified world in which young children are growing up today, it is important to reinforce the celebration of Christmas by wishing people “Merry Christmas” rather than succumbing to the more generic “Happy Holidays” that is becoming increasingly more common.
Advent Wreath: During the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, it can be very meaningful to light the candles in an Advent Wreath to mark the progress of the weeks leading to Christmas. There are some wonderful Advent devotionals that help families understand the events prior to Jesus’ birth. The Internet is a good source for Advent devotionals, and many churches publish their own booklets for families. We have found Sunday dinner to be a good time for gathering the family around the table where an Advent Wreath is the centerpiece providing an opportunity to engage the whole family in worship.
Birthday Cake for Jesus: When our children were young, we sometimes baked a birthday cake for Jesus and had the children decide what to give Jesus for His birthday – a kind deed, a card for a missionary child, etc. This was a vivid reminder for them – in terms that they understood – of the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas Music: Turn off the television and have wonderful Christmas music in the background of your family life in the weeks prior to Christmas. With so many meaningless “Christmas songs” on the radio and in the malls during Christmas, it is important to expose your children and to fill your own mind with the great Christmas carols and the special Christmas music that enriches the meaning of Christmas.
Most of all, parents should set the tone of the family’s celebration by their attitude. When parents are attuned to the real meaning of Christ’s birth, it comes out in conversation and in interactions with various family members. In fact, all who enter your house will know that in your home Christ is worshipped and adored – that His birthday is the cause for your celebration.