Many have said that Christmas is a “magical” time of year, which if by “magical” they mean a sort of atmospheric wondrous awe, then I would absolutely agree. Christmas seems to be very unique among our many holidays, and is a very memorable time of year especially for children. I’m sure many of us, like myself, when reminiscing on our childhood memories find that many of our favorites are likely ones that took place in the context of Christmas. But Christmas is a significant holiday for Christians because it commemorates the arrival of the long-awaited savior of the world who would give himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins! Jesus Christ truly is the reason for the season! However, as the culture continues to march in the direction of secularization, the holiday of Christmas (at least from the world’s perspective) is becoming more and more secularized and commercialized. This means that it is becoming increasingly more challenging for us as Christians to keep our focus upon the true meaning of Christmas, and that we will have to be increasingly more diligent and intentional in how we celebrate the birth of Christ.
A few weeks ago I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs called “Stand to Reason” hosted by prominent Christian apologist, author, and itinerant speaker, Greg Koukl. This particular episode was from the first week of December, and Greg decided to share with his listeners about some of the traditions that his family has established at Christmas each year. My heart was warmed to hear of how diligent and intentional Greg is as a father in establishing family traditions that are specifically designed to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, maximize quality time with family, and to create lasting and meaningful memories during the holiday season. As Greg shared some of these traditions with his listeners, I would like to share his ideas (perhaps with a bit of my own input along side) with my readers, and I hope that you find them to be as encouraging and as inspiring as I did.
- Slow Down! It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of the Christmas shopping season as we are bombarded with advertising and sales. If we are not careful, Christmas ends up being more work than celebration, and it certainly can become more about material goods than about time with family. Greg suggests finding ways of maximizing quality family time together. One way is to do the majority of your gift purchasing online – this can be done quickly and efficiently from home, and many online retailers offer free shipping this time of year. Perhaps the intentional slowing-down of the typical and ever-increasing Christmas chaos will make a strong statement that Christmas means much more than just the exchange of material goods.
- Utilize the Nativity Scene: When I was a young child I attempted to pronounce the word “nativity” but it always came out as “activity,” which is ironically quite appropriate because I would always desire to play with the figurines of my mother’s nativity set as if they were toys. The nativity scene was always part of my Christmas memories, but it was more of just a decoration on display in the periphery, rather than a central focus of the season. Greg suggests a wonderful tradition that utilizes the nativity scene as a teaching tool for children. Get out your nativity set and put it on display as soon as you can, but do not put out the baby Jesus. Make it a family tradition to place the baby Jesus figurine in the manger on Christmas morning. This illustrates both the anticipation of the coming messiah, and the celebration of his arrival when Christmas day finally comes around. (Side note: when I first heard of this wonderful idea, I immediately went out shopping for a nativity set, and much to my surprise it was rather difficult to find one with a baby Jesus figurine that was all by itself! Obviously this tradition doesn’t work well if your baby Jesus figurine is permanently part of the set and not able to be removed. If you don’t have a nativity set yet, make sure you do your research to find a good one in which you can save the placement of the baby Jesus figurine for Christmas morning.)
- Observe Advent: Not only does the observation of Advent help in creating excitement and anticipation for Christmas Day, but it also can serve as a great time for family Christmas-themed devotions. Utilize an Advent Calendar by opening each door as a family. Or perhaps use the Advent wreath and candles by lighting them each Sunday together as a family before or after a meal together. You could follow up each candle-lighting with a family reading from Mathew or Luke, and progress through the Biblical Christmas narrative. All of the different sensory stimulation, such as the visual of the candles and the sound of dad’s voice reading from the Bible, serve to create wonderful and memorable experiences that children will remember for the duration of their lives.
- Be Musical: Christmas music is truly a special kind of music that very powerfully creates an atmosphere of Christmas. Get a collection of Christmas music and play it constantly in your home while you’re decorating, baking, wrapping, or whatever you happen to be doing. You could also find a good Christmas concert to attend as a family. Many local churches and even some performing arts groups have Christmas programs this time of year. Or perhaps make your own music by singing together as a family! Christmas hymns about the birth of Christ are some of the most well-written and recognizable hymns in all of Christian history, and they do a fabulous job of telling the story of the Gospel! “What Child Is This” and “Oh Come Immanuel” are two of my personal favorites.
- Watch Meaningful Christmas Movies: There are some wonderful films out there that are unique to the Christmas season. One of my father’s favorites is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” starring Chevy Chase. It’s fun to watch him crack up histerically at all the funny scenes as though he’d never seen the film before (even though he watches it at least four or five times during the Christmas season). And as fun as it is to laugh at all the ridiculously funny Christmas comedies, there are also some fantastic productions available that are a bit more meaningful as it relates to the true Christmas season. “The Nativity Story” is a fantastic production that very accurately portrays the Biblical Christmas story in stunningly well-produced film. It has been one of my favorites for a few years now, and I highly recommend every Christian family make this film a regular part of their Christmas celebration each year. Greg also recommends “The Star of Bethlehem.” I personally have yet to see this film, but I find Greg to be a trustworthy source of good material and upon his recommendation I highly anticipated seeing it very soon.
- Bask in the Atmosphere: Christmas is a very sensory-stimulating time of year with many distinguishable sights and sounds. Greg suggests taking your children to the local mall, not to shop, but simply to walk around and look at all the decorations. Sometimes you can find some rather extravagant light displays to enjoy as well. When I was a child back in Midland Michigan, there was a local woman who had a massive front yard and every tree in it was lit up with Christmas lights. Over the years her display became more extravagant, and eventually it became locally famous as cars would constantly be driving slowly up her driveway to look. She delighted in people enjoying her lights and kindly asked drivers to turn off their headlights and use their driving lights when viewing. Here in Indianapolis there is a local tractor dealer on the northside who has voluntarily constructed an amazing display of Christmas lights with all kinds of themes. Traffic is constantly backed up and being directed by police officers because of all the people wanting to drive through the display to enjoy the lights. It really is an awe-striking scene.
- Daddy-Daughter Date: This tradition particularly warmed my heart. Greg told listeners that one of his family traditions is to take his little girls on a daddy-daughter date night in which they enjoy a meal together, and then go shopping for mommy’s Christmas present. Obviously this can be done with boys as well (though probably best not to call it a date), but the point is that children have fun being involved with the giving of gifts and not just the receiving of them. In my Christmas article I wrote last year (which you can read here), I addressed the issue of materialism and self-centeredness that can be induced by Christmas gifts, and how important it is to teach our children that Christmas is more about giving gifts to others than receiving gifts. I think Greg’s shopping tradition is a great way to teach children how to give gifts at Christmas.
- Give / Volunteer: Another great way to emphasize the giving aspect of Christmas is to give as a family to a local charity, whether that be financially or by giving of your time and labor to volunteer. Charitable giving is a great way to exercise humility and thankfulness for how God has blessed us, as well as to experience the joy of being able to serve and be a blessing to others who are perhaps less fortunate than ourselves.
- Attend Christmas Eve Service: You’d think this one would be fairly obvious, but I cannot emphasize this particular tradition enough. If Jesus really is the reason for the season, what better way to celebrate than by worshiping him together with your local church family, singing Christmas hymns, and hearing the teaching of the Word of God regarding God’s gift of a savior to the world? I am particularly excited about being able to participate in my local church’s Christmas Eve service this year because I have not been to a Christmas Eve service in many years. My family lived in Shanghai China for the past four years, and even before that we always had a big family Christmas reunion party on Christmas eve, so I was not able to attend a service on Christmas Eve. But this year I will not get up to Michigan to be with my family until the 26th of December, which means I will be able to be with my church family worshiping the Lord together this Christmas Eve!
- Christmas Morning: Greg has a tradition in his family that on Christmas morning the family gathers to read from Luke BEFORE gifts are opened. The climactic conclusion to the Biblical Christmas narrative is read from the Bible, and then the baby Jesus figurine is finally placed in the nativity scene, symbolizing that the savior of the world has arrived. Once these things are done, then the exchanging and opening of gifts takes place. I particularly love this tradition because it prioritizes Christ and forces the presents to take a back seat position. It emphasizes the idea that Christmas is above all about Christ.
Much thanks to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for sharing some of your holiday traditions with us. I know as one who anticipates being a father someday, I now have a rather impressive arsenal of deeply intentional and impacting Christmas traditions to establish with my family one day. I hope that my readers have also gotten some wonderful ideas of things to do with their families during the Christmas season. May I encourage you to not waste any time – start implementing family traditions and creating memories right now, today – don’t let a moment pass by without being intentional about making the most of the Christmas season!
I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas season, and remember…
We wrap our gifts to each other in paper and place them under a tree, but God wrapped his gift to us in humanity and nailed it to a tree.
Merry Christmas everyone!