Now that Thanksgiving has been enjoyed, the turkey and all its leftovers have been savored, and the fall decor has been packed away, the Christmas season is officially upon us. Lights are hung, trees are up, and Christmas music is on every station.
I have always loved the spirit of the Christmas season. There is something magical in the air this time of year. Christmas lights illuminating an otherwise dark room. A cup of steaming coffee or cocoa in front of a fire. The anticipation of receiving presents and watching others open the ones you lovingly picked out for them. Just thinking about Christmas makes my heart happy.
But Christmas also gets very commercialized, and the busyness of the season and emphasis on gifts often drowns out the real meaning of the holiday. We can go the entire Christmas season with barely a mention of Christ. Oh, we may sing the carols and even put out the nativity. But are we really celebrating the birth of our savior and all that means for our lives? Or are we simply celebrating festivity and tradition?
I’ll be honest that this wasn’t really a great concern of mine until I started having kids. I knew that Christmas was supposed to be a time of celebrating Christ’s birth, but it never really bothered me that parties, presents, and traditions drowned it out. I just went along for the ride and enjoyed the festive spirit.
Having kids has made me more intentional about a lot of things, and around Aidan’s first Christmas, I started thinking about the traditions that I would like to incorporate. Levon’s family had their traditions and my family had mine, but we wanted to start our own that would be unique to the family we were building.
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That got me thinking about the kind of memories and atmosphere I wanted to create. What did I want my kids to remember about Christmas and what did I want them to value? It was then that I realized that Christ had been a bit absent from my Christmases, and I vowed to set a better example for my kids of what Christmas was all about.
How am I planning to do this? I think these 7 strategies are a great place to start:
7 Ways to Keep a Christ-Centered Christmas
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Reading the Christmas story
Every year when my extended family would gather for Christmas, my grandpa would read Luke 2 before we opened presents. At the time, I was always impatient for the reading to end and the opening to commence. Now that I’m raising my own children, I understand why that tradition was so important to him. He was trying to model proper priorities, just as I am now.
I plan to read the Christmas story to my children every year, as well, but I’m going to find books that tell the story at their level. I’m also going to find ones that tell it from new and interesting perspectives. Anything I can find that will capture their attention and keep the birth of Christ at the forefront of their minds.
Growing up, my church talked a little about Advent, but I didn’t really know what it was until I was an adult. Now that I know what it is, I love the spirit of anticipation and excitement that it creates.
There are lots of really great Advent activities out there, but we got Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas last year from my mother-in-law, and it’s beautiful! Each day has Scripture, a story, discussion questions, and a family activity. Most of it is beyond Aidan’s comprehension right now, but that will come. The great thing about this book is that I know he’ll get something new out of it every year. If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Advent as a family, this is a wonderful option!
I also recommend the Shepherd on the Search 25-Day Family Devotional Advent Book. It’s designed to go with the Shepherd on the Search activity set, but can definitely stand by itself!
**UPDATE! New for 2017
This year I got Asheritah Ciuciu’s Unwrapping the Names of Jesus Advent Devotional, and I absolutely love it. Not only is it an awesome personal devotional, but it has some really awesome family Advent activities as well. I highly recommend this one!
Attending a Christmas service
This is not easy with kids. And to be totally honest with you, I’m not sure it will actually happen this year with a squirmy, chatty toddler and a new baby. But if and when it’s possible to attend our Christmas Eve service, I plan to do so. I have always loved these services, and I want my kids to experience the joy of singing about Jesus and celebrating His birth. Plus, if we’re going to put Christ first in the season, it only seems right that we should spend some time in His house.
Playing and singing songs about the birth of Christ
I play all kinds of Christmas music, but I especially want to fill our house with the songs that talk about Jesus. Throughout the year, I try to be very intentional about the atmosphere I create in our home, and Christmas is no different. However, it is very possible to hear, and even sing, songs without ever contemplating their meaning, so I don’t just want to play Christmas music. I want to talk to my kids about what they mean. I’m not suggesting a nightly lecture series or anything. But when a song like “Joy to the World” comes on, I can talk about why Jesus’s birth brought joy to the world. Or why the little drummer boy would want to give up his drum to a baby. I can use little talking points like that to help my boys internalize the messages of the melodies.
Hands-on nativity activities
My mom got Aidan a Fisher-Price Little People Nativity set last year, and he loves it! He may just be having fun playing with toys right now, but it’s a great way to introduce the Christmas story at an early age. I love that it provides him an opportunity to learn about the birth of Jesus in a very age-appropriate way.
I also got him (and our future children … which now includes Andrew) The Christmas Star from Afar. It’s a hide-and-seek game in a similar vein as Elf on a Shelf, but it’s much better because it celebrates the true meaning of Christmas. I love that it’s made of sturdy wooden pieces, so I don’t have to worry about the kids breaking or tearing anything, and it comes with a lovely book to read together, as well.
Encouraging a generous spirit
It really bothers me how much of a “gimme” attitude I see in kids (and some adults!) around Christmas. I definitely remember being excited about presents as a kid … and let’s be honest, I still get a little excited! … but the entitlement and greed you can see this time of year is crazy. I want to foster spirits of generosity and gratefulness in my kids. In this season, through my words and efforts and actions, I want to work to keep their focus on the gift giving rather than the gift getting. My kids are still little, but in a few years I plan to have them pick out or make gifts for each other. The money spent is not the issue. (I also want to teach them wise money management, but that’s another topic for another day!) The point is to encourage them to put time and thought into their gifts and to show them how fulfilling it is to give to others. I want them to think about the presents they will be giving as much as the presents they will be getting.
Talking about Jesus more than we talk about presents
I think this final point is the culmination of all the previous six. I remember what it was like to be a kid at Christmas. I remember the excitement of opening new toys. I don’t expect my kids to not want Christmas presents. I just don’t want that to be all Christmas is to them. But by Thanksgiving, they are constantly bombarded with messages of “Buy this!” “Buy that!” and “You MUST have this!” In order for our families to keep Christ at the center of our Christmases, it’s imperative that our kids hear about the arrival of baby Jesus at least as often as they hear about the arrival of Santa (or presents under the tree, in general, if you’re like our family and don’t do Santa). What are you discussing at Christmastime? Does the birthday boy even get an honorable mention at your table?
I hope this has given you some points to ponder as you celebrate Christmas with your own family. I know it has become a passion of mine for the years to come as my kids grow.
I want to leave you with this poem that I think perfectly sums up what I’ve been trying to say. I came across it in a magazine that our store distributes, and it impacted me deeply. I think it will do the same for you.
“I had a dream, Joseph. I don’t understand it, but I think it was about a birthday celebration for our son. The people in my dream had been preparing for about six weeks. They had decorated the house and bought new clothes. They’d gone shopping many times and bought many elaborate gifts. It was peculiar, though, because the Presents weren’t for our son. They wrapped them in beautiful paper and stacked them under a tree. Yes, a tree, Joseph, right inside their homes! They’d decorated the tree with sparkling ornaments. There was a figure like an angel on the top of the tree. Everyone was laughing and happy. They gave the gifts to each other Joseph, not to our son. I don’t think they even knew him. They never mentioned his name. I had the strangest feeling that, if our Jesus had gone to this celebration, he would have been intruding. How sad for someone not to be wanted at his own birthday party! I’m glad it was only a dream. How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real!”
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