Something I have thought about before having kids is to pass on some meaning to the holidays we celebrate-and Christmas most often comes to mind because it is such a well-loved and widely celebrated holiday that it has its own “season”, really. “Christmas Season!” Granted, it is mostly December, although every year it’s prepared for earlier and earlier. Just like my parents did in a lot of ways, I want to make sure we as parents take advantage of the Christmas Season (and other holidays, which I will get to as well) to really teach our kids, in a fun way, what is most important about the holiday.
A little more discussion on Christmas first; then I’ll give a neat little list for some ideas I’ve seen and thought of that maybe you could use with your family as well if you would like to teach some Christian (and in our case, Protestant) meanings of Christmas.
Thoughts on Christmas
So, here are the issues and reasons I feel its best to be intentional about imparting some meaning to our children for Christmas. Not surprising to many, Christmas has more and more become about giving amazing, exciting, and expensive gifts. You can even see signs at the bank for making a “Christmas Savings Account” which really makes me want to gag. Don’t feel judged if you have one of those. If you find it easier to have a savings for Christmas gifts to make it happen, regardless of it being hundreds or thousands you set aside-I just find that the fact those exist and are advertised year-round highlights how much we really focus on gift-giving as a country (as many other countries do, I’m sure.) Also, an unfortunate thing I’ve noticed is that all the fun things we do with kids during the Christmas season really have nothing to do with Jesus or grace-and I know that can be hard because it’s not as in the here and now in a tangible way. Are we, even us churchgoing Sunday School-teacher types-really, truly trying our best to make those lessons tangible? I think we could do better as a whole. Mostly, kids probably think of Christmas Eve as being exciting because of Santa or cookies, or maybe an early present to open; then “oh, lets all go to a dark, quiet, Christmas Eve service and fall asleep on the adults from boredom and sugar crash because that’s what we have to do.”
What if we did some fun things that at least have a hint of the meaning of Christmas so that they’re tangible and easy for kids to learn and remember? And fun for the adults as well? Here are some ideas I’ve had or borrowed:
1)Happy Birthday Jesus Party-This is something my parents did-maybe not every year, but enough that I remember it and enjoyed it. It was probably celebrated before or even after Christmas. The picture I’ve seen shows my sister and I dressed for dance class, so it probably wasn’t even the week of Christmas. And that’s really okay. If travel and commonplace traditions make it so you find little time left for these things (although you could consider cutting what you can out if it’s interfering with a meaningful celebration..), you can do it beforehand. The anticipation of Christmas is all part of Christmas, too! In some ways, no matter what you come up with-the unbeatable tradition of gift exchange is probably going to win out for excitement with our kids, so why not let them look forward to the Happy Birthday Jesus party at an earlier time so it can be enjoyed without kids looking over their shoulders at their presents under the tree? I think one of the big points is to not let Christ be like the vegetables you have to eat before you have dessert, but let Christ have His own place in your children’s lives where they can see Him as exciting, joyful, and fun!
On a year-round scale, I think our children’s pastor and others I’ve seen out there do a fantastic job in these more modern times of making Jesus something more vibrant and fun for kids. Music, games, and talking about real-life application has taken the place (although not entirely so it loses its narrative meaning) of the quiet, flannel board discussions. I still like the flannel boards, so don’t get me wrong, Sunday school teachers a generation before me! I just like the added emphasis on making church fun for kids and discussing applications a lot.
IDEA ON WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A HAPPY BIRTHDAY JEsUS PARTY
Back in the 90s what my parents did wsa fun and simple: a Christmas themed table cloth, a manger scene, and a Betty Crocker box cake, and some Juicy Juice. We did a Happy Birthday Jesus party lst year on Christmas morning at our apartment before we went to my parents’ house. Our son was two at the time, but he doesn’t like sweets and it was morning when we chose to do it. What we did instead was let him open his stocking stuffers from us and eat some of his yogurt bites (which to him is as wonderful as cake to the rest of us). We blew up balloons, put the manger scene on the table, and sang happy birthday next to a sign that I made in about 30 seconds on printer paper. No, he can’t read yet, but he probably gets that it signified something and that way he can see pictures and know what was going on there later when he can read. AFter that, my husband read a short summary of the Christmas story from Ethan’s precious moments Christmas treasury book. I may have led us in singing one of the songs in the book too-can’t remember. I felt it got off to a great start!
2) Songs-You can easily get hold of fun, upbeat renditions of Christmas songs that actually include Christ from Christian kids music , to Signing Time Christmas DVD, to Jars of Clay’s Little Drummer Boy song (for the teens, maybe). Putting a little thought into your playlist while you put up the tree can be an easy way to mix in some Christian with some secular holiday favorites.
3) Get creative and mix it up with your usual traditions-We were given some cookie cutters that included the usual gingerbread and snowmen, but also crosses, stars, and little mini chapels. You can talk to your kid about the shapes you’re making and talk about favorite Christmas stories, both secular and Biblical.
4)Go through light displays that also include Nativity themes-or visit a “living Nativity” some Churches do this for a free ministry. Some have plays and you can even pet the animals that are part of the Nativity scene. That is a VERY tangible and fun thing for young kids.
5)Get the Little People Nativity for young kids. They can act out what they’re learning.
6)Movies-Although I haven’t seen all that’s out there, or even many for that matter-depending on the age of your kids you can get a realistic or more cartoon, Veggie-Tale style story of Christmas and related principles. Make a fun family movie night of it and talk about what you watched. It might sound or feel dorky to plan it, especially a discussion part, but its important to getting your kids to learn and talk about it.
7)ADvent Wreath-My parents got an advent wreath in Germany when they lived there, and I think it’s a big tradition there. You light a candle and read a portion of the Christmas story on nights leading up to Christmas. It may not be flashy or seem as “fun” but it Is tangible and memorable-so that’s a lot of what you are going for here.
8)BAlance out the priorities of what you talk about in anticipation of Christmas. This is where some Christians who all want a meaningful Christmas get divided-Santa or no Santa? How much Santa? How hard do we try to make the kids believe Santa’s for Real? It’s a personal choice, but I will say I think the more you go on about Santa, the less time and priority there is for Christ-to me is as simple as that. I’ve worked with kids in daycare, therapy, and teaching settings and I’ve heard several kids equate Santa with God. Well, why not? If Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good and so does God, are they really all that different? Some 4 year olds and even 2nd graders have had some really strange theology going on in their heads because of the whole Santa-God confusion. My kids may even have that confusion just from all they hear about Santa outside the home. For various reasons, we just rean’t going to tell them Santa will get them gifts or be good, Santa’s watching. This post isn’t really about that, so if you’re curious you can comment or message me if you know me personally to ask.
What I will say, though, is this: the message of being good or bad to get something is in direct opposition to the message of Christmas-God’s son coming to give GRACE-an undeserved gift. Pushing both messages are kind of confusing and weird to us, and really just not worth our time. We have year-round plans in place for discipline and rewards. Don’t feel sorry for my kids-they will get presents. The tags will say “from mom and dad”, etc. They will know the gifts are being given to reflect that Christ received gifts and He is the ultimate Gift that we do not deserve. So our kids will not get more or less gifts at Christmas based on how they acted from October to December.
Also, they can watch all the Rudolph and Santa movies they want-I don’t care. We already own them, Ethan got them as gifts last year. Ethan wore a Santa apron to make Christmas cookies last year, which inluded Frosty (big fan of that guy-He makes no demands lol) and Santa. Just to show you I’m not so on the fringe of society that you can’t take my tips seriously.
9)If you do choose to do Santa or Elf on the Shelf (which I’m sorry, but in my opinion is adding yet another distraction from Christ-and just more thing you have to keep up with as busy parents, but hey that’s just me..)then at least try to balance and make if meaningful rather than just a threat that the lifeless doll you bought at Wal-Mart for $20 is creepily judging them. Maybe just make it a reminder or a funny prank to find in the morning or something. (You have all seen the pictures of what those elves are up to at night, right? I mean the clean pictures! You can even make the kids do some kind of Scripture scavenger hunt or find the baby Jesus with the Elf having the note with clues…I don’t know. We aren’t doing Santa, so we sure as heck ain’t doing the dang Elf haha I’m just trying to throw some ideas out there! As far as Santa, you could again go historical and discuss St. Nicholas and what he did for the poor, and that he was a follower of Christ. I can go for that, personally. If you want to tell your kid Santa is bringing their gifts, though, you can discuss St. Nick and get creative in tying that all in with Christ in a way that isn’t confusing. You get to come up with that part yourself .
10) Do your own simple research and find the meaning that people forget in origins of Some Christmas traditions-leave the pagan ones alone (e.g., Christmas trees-but hey, I love trees.) For example, the 12 days of Christmas has roots in the earlier persecuted church symbols so they could celebrate Christ without it always being overt if in danger. Some of those things may be reserved for as your kids get older, but there can always be pieces they can understand more and more of each year. The point is to try and be intentional. If you have a piano or some other instruments in the family, make that something you all do after supper here and there throughout the season and discuss the origin of the songs. My dad read historical stuff to add meaning to holidays. There’s gotta be intention or your holidays WILL just look like a JcPenny commercial. Maybe that sounds wonderful to you because your gatherings look more like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but aim higher. Maybe putting all the pressure off the ONE day in the year when all the aunts, uncles, unresolved anger, and alcohol are all present. (Just going off Christmas Vacation Movie again there. ;)) It is your family-you make the holidays teachable in the way you see fit. I feel like some kind of Christmas Cheerleader here…
11) Decorations and signs-Visuals are great reminders and bring up the curiosity in children. We bought a Santa (gasp! yes a Santa) bowing at baby Jesus’ cradle not because we are big Santa people- if you read above, you know we aren’t-but because I think its a good reminder of what Christmas is about. We have talked about making ornaments with images that correlate to different prophecies that foretold Christ’s birth because that reminds us as well as kids, hopefully, that there was such a desperate need for Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection. We are so blessed because it is already here, but there was a longing for the King before Christ’s coming as an infant. It is also a great way to discuss (with older kids) how they could know Christ as indeed the Son of God (followed up by more fulfilled prophecies on the first Easter, of course.) We haven’t made this yet, but I wanted to mention that idea as well. Perhaps using those symbols in an advent calendar with little treats would also be nice.
12)I also mentioned somewhere else that you could have the kids find the baby Jesus for the manger scene, but since it was in the middle of talking about the Elf, I thought I’d mention it here. Some families do thi and I’m borrowing the idea-you basically do not put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas Day so the kids anticipate and then see the tangible reminder that Christmas means “Christ is born.” A scavenger hunt would also be fun.
13)Don’t forget to connect the Christmas and EAster stories for kids and teens. If you just talk about baby Jesus rather than that Baby’s reason for coming- well, they may just forget the whole reason was He came and not give it a thought the entire Christmas season.
14)The thing that actually comes most quickly to people’s minds when thinking of a meangingful Christmas is probably doing things for the less fortunate. I think that is a good thing to do year-round and honestly I think you can even focus solely on this and ignore the part about Christ coming to redeem our souls-the physically poor as well. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good way to have a meaningful Christmas season, though! First of all, it is just nice to do obviously, and second of all it culd be a good witnessing opportunity. Finally, I think all of us in the family can benefit from the reminder that not only should we be grateful for what he gives us and to be good stewards of those provisions, but also we should remember that where there is physical need in teh world for food, clothes, etc., we have a spiritual need. Those deeper meangings are best understood by the preteen and teenaged children in your families, but kids of all ages can participate in acts of service for others.
I want us to also have meaningful Easters and my husband and I have also discussed celebrating Passover in a Messianic (Christian) fashion as well. I’ve been to a Messianic Jewish Seder, or Passover Meal, and they definitely have tangible ways to commemorate what God has done for His people-Jewish and Gentile-and seeing the symbolism that points to Christ is really something worth experiencing. The Jewish customs surrounding Passover are really good at helping children understand the meanings. So hopefully I can write about those sometime.