This time of year my family enjoys plenty of cookies, reindeer sightings, and visits from the UPS truck. But as Christians we know the true purpose of the holiday season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus and God’s amazing gift of salvation. Here are some special family traditions that help us focus on our faith while also having a ton of fun.
Around October, my kids start asking, “How many days until Christmas?” I’m grateful when December finally rolls around and I can give them a visual answer—countdown rings!
Every year we create a classic paper chain consisting of 25 interlocked rings made from construction paper. Each morning starting December 1, my children take turns tearing off a ring. This simple activity is a daily reminder that we’re looking forward not just to a holiday called Christmas or the presents it will bring, but to a birthday party. And at a birthday party, everybody knows the birthday boy is the star of the show. I love how this easy and inexpensive craft can focus our hearts on the central meaning of Christmas.
To make your countdown rings even more fun and meaningful, try this. Before assembling the paper chain, write a special activity on the inside of each ring. Examples include “read a Christmas story,” “decorate cookies,” “pray for Grandma” or “dance to a Christmas CD” and so on. When your kids tear off a ring, they can read the “assignment” for the day—each task involving an exercise of faith or family fun. The point is not to add more to-do’s to the calendar, but rather to live out the love and joy of Christmas with our kids. Choose easy activities that are age-appropriate and won’t overtax your daily agenda. Then have a blast building memories all month long.
Bring the nativity to life
My family also has a tradition of setting up two nativity scenes each year—one on the mantel (my favorite, the Willow Tree collection) and another in the play room (our Little People nativity set, a beloved toy for the past eight years). Both of these nativity sets help us tune our hearts to Jesus as we make the scenery of his birth a focal point in our home.
Here are some fun ways to enhance your focus on the nativity this year.
Watch the feature film—Each year near Christmas Eve I make a point of watching The Nativity Story on DVD because it brings to life the Bible tale of Mary, Joseph and the newborn Savior and helps me reflect on the wonder of God’s plan. Young children might be startled by the opening scene or struggle to follow the dialog, but upper elementary age kids and older can enjoy watching with you.
Traveling wise men—Set up your manger scene but place the wise men far away—on the opposite end of the mantel, or even in another room. Each day, move them a bit closer to the stable. By Christmas Day, the wise men have finally arrived to worship the Holy Child. (Yes, I know according to biblical accuracy the wise men actually showed up two years after Jesus’ birth, but every nativity scene incorporates them so have some fun with it.)
The best gift—When setting up your nativity, leave the baby Jesus out of the scene. Wrap him in a gift box for the kids to open on Christmas Day. Then invite them to complete the nativity with this most beloved central character—our Savior. He is the best gift of all!
Birthday cake for breakfast
On Christmas Eve each year, my kids and I bake a birthday cake for Jesus—then we eat it for breakfast on Christmas morning! (Complete with candles and singing.) This simple tradition focuses our attention on the purpose of Christmas—the birth of the Christ child—and adds a major fun factor to our festivities. My girls enjoy choosing the cake flavor, smearing on the frosting, and decorating with lots and lots of sprinkles. Come Christmas morning I think they get just as excited about the cake as they do about the gifts under the tree. That’s a victory for sure.
Give a gift to Jesus
Christmas is a time for exchanging presents. Jesus gives us the gift of himself. This year, consider giving him a birthday present in return. Not because we need to repay him for what he’s done (we could never afford to), but simply because we love him. And we want to teach our kids that Christmas is not just about getting but giving as well—especially giving to Jesus.
Here’s one way to do it.
Have everyone in your family choose one “gift” to give to Jesus. Ask them to write their gift on a slip of paper. Your gift could be:
• An action or virtue (for example, “I’ll be kinder to my sister”)
• A worry (your job anxieties, health concerns, your fear of heights—whatever traps you; entrust it to Jesus)
• A personal sacrifice (maybe an unhealthy habit or idol; one year my younger daughter gave up thumb-sucking!)
• A pursuit or dream (your hopes for a baby, a goal to start a business or run a marathon, etc.)
Place these slips of paper in your stockings as your Christmas offering to Jesus. It’s a symbolic way to commit this Christmas—and all year long—to our Savior.
Merry Christmas, everyone!