Simplifying the Christmas Celebration
I love Christmas. I love celebrating Christmas with my family. There is something special about celebrating our Savior's birth with children. They have such joy and anticipation that we adults can rush past if we're not intentional. In this day of Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter, it is easy for me to get caught up in holiday madness and project myself into a frenzy. Intentionality is the key to making the most of the advent season. Here are some steps that I am taking to keep Christ central as our family celebrates and looks forward to Christmas.
One of the goals that my husband and I have for our kids is to help them focus first on Jesus, and as a result of that, on others, rather than on "me, me, me" and "I want, I want, I want!" The main ways that we are hoping and praying to accomplish this is by having a plan, reading great books that model this, planning activities that serve others, and making a big deal about the gifts we can make or buy for others.
1. Have a Plan
I always have lofty goals of how many cutesy crafts, delectable dishes, and fabulous gifts we are going to create together. I read about 25 days of giving books to my kids or RACK-ing* people, and want to join in with my kids and do it all. Then reality hits and the crafts take SOOOO much longer than I anticipated, the recipes require more attention than my kids care to give, and the gift making is so much more complicated than I had hoped.
(*RACK stands for Random Acts of Christmas Kindness and amazing ideas for RACKing can be found on Pinterest.)
This year, I am trying to be more realistic. I am deciding what crafts, baking, and gift making I really want to do with my kids before Christmas arrives (more about some of those specific projects later). After coming up with the list, then I look at the calendar and try to plan loosely when those projects can actually be completed. This doesn't have to be super specific, but I am infamously optimistic about how much I can get done and know that if I don't take this step many of the things I'd like to do will not get done. After looking at the calendar, I decide which things can realistically get done and adjust my expectations accordingly.
2. Surround Your Kids With Great Books
One of the simple ways that we like to turn the focus back to the Lord is by surrounding the kids with great Christmas books. Obviously, THE book that points us each to the true meaning of Christmas is the Bible. We typically have our family Bible time in the morning over breakfast. During the advent season, we typically read something to set their hearts specifically on Christ's coming. This year we are reading Ann Voskamp's Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, which beautifully works through Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament revealing the way that God has loved and used those who fall short time and time again. It goes hand in hand with a Jesse tree, which shows Jesus' lineage and takes the readers or listeners right up to the birth of Jesus.
Besides that structured time of reading together each morning, we have a basket of at least 20 great books that I love to read to the kids at Christmas. I have considered giving a book each day, but for us a basket seems to work better. We stop and read a book or two from the basket almost daily. Additionally, in the past, we have read Bartholomew's Passage, and Jotham's Journey by Arnold Ytreeide at bedtime and might read Tabitha's Travels by the same author this year. Our older two kids often tell us how much they love reading together, and while the younger two squirm a lot and don't seem to be listening, I am always amazed at how much they catch. Whether it's a fictional piece that entertains and delights, a Christmas classic, or a historical book that explains our traditions, reading quality books together is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
3. Prioritize Loving & Serving Others
One of the ways that we are attempting to turn our kids' focus from themselves to others is by planning things that they can do for others. I love Galatians 5:13b, "serve one another humbly with love." We are making it our theme verse this month. My older two kids are 7 and 9. We sat and brainstormed about ways we could show love to those around us. Here are some of the ideas we came up with :
- bake treats for the neighbors
- make cards for teachers, Sunday School teachers, and Pastors
- serve at a local ministry
- taking cookies or doughnuts to the fire station
- finding ways to help warm up people who serve outside during the winter
- buying gifts for needy people around the world through World Vision or Samaritan's Purse
More specifically, the older ones help with the baking of the pumpkin bread and making of the treats. Then we all deliver them to the neighbors wishing them a Merry Christmas. We are looking into taking the older kids to a local outreach center to help them sort through donations for needy families. I've also been reading about fun little random acts of kindness that we can do together throughout the advent season on various blogs.
We are going to decide together a few of those fun ideas, like leaving encouraging notes in our library books or taking a coffee or hot cocoa to a Salvation Army bell ringer or leaving hand-warmers in our mailbox for the mailman. I love the idea of brightening someone else's day and teaching my kids the value of giving and serving at the same time. I'm certain that doing those things will bring a smile to the face of our Heavenly Father, so it's a win-win-win!
We are also playing a little game we're calling "Catching the Fruit of the Spirit." If we catch someone in the family displaying one of the fruits of the Spirit, we put a quarter in a jar on the mantel and all the money we collect is going to go to buying something out of the World Vision or Samaritan's Purse catalog.
For additional tips for making room for serving during the holidays check out Mary Carver's blog here.
4. Gifts for Family
Our family recently celebrated Christmas early with my brother and his wife. Before their arrival, our kids were excitedly talking about what their aunt and uncle might be giving them for Christmas. In an attempt to turn things around, when my boys would begin talking that way, I would ask them what they were planning to give or make for their aunt and uncle instead. Then they would begin, or pick back up, brainstorming about gift ideas for my brother and sister-in-law. In the past they have made puzzles for them, decorated coffee mugs, and made little story books about our family. This year they decorated a calendar with artwork and family birthdays and anniversaries. Now they are moving on to what they can get or make for each other or their dad and me. While they still talk about what they are hoping to get, I truly love hearing them excitedly talking about what they can give to each other.
If Christmas is truly a celebration of Christ and His coming, I want my eyes to be on the One who came to deliver us, not on the delivery of presents. I want to cherish this special time of year when things have a tendency to get so busy, by being thoughtful and doing things that have meaning and draw myself and my loved ones towards our Savior. Philippians 2 has always been a challenging passage. Jesus humbled himself for us and is our perfect example of loving others more than ourselves. I am praying that this Christmas, as my family reads great books, tries to serve and love those around us, and makes gifts and gives gifts to one another that we might follow His example. What greater gift could we give Him this Christmas?
Heather Gross writes from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is married to her favorite guy, Pete. Their four kiddos range in age from 2 to 9. When she's not busy homeschooling her boys, she enjoys bargain hunting, baking, reading, and blogging. You can read about more her family and her faith at Learning as We Grow...Growing as We Learn, and she also occasionally posts recipes at Making Feasting Fun.