In last week’s post, I touched on Advent and mentioned that in addition to practicing it on a congregational level at church, my family has some of its own Advent traditions. These traditions were established by my parents throughout my childhood to help our family focus on Christ during the Christmas season.
Don’t worry, I don’t see these traditions as required or prescriptive at all. Christian families create all sorts of ways to accomplish the same goal, and there’s no one perfect formula of activities. My point in sharing these examples is just to say that I think we do have to take intentional and purposeful steps to avoid getting swept into the current of how the world does Christmas (i.e. stressed, materialistic, me-centered). We have to fight to create that Christ-centered focus for our families because it certainly won’t just passively happen on its own. And this swimming in a different direction should flow naturally from a desire to glorify God in our homes over the holidays, and not in a legalistic or self-righteous way.
A relatively new parent myself, I’ve been thinking about how to create this kind of environment throughout the entire Christmas season. Because regardless of how special a tradition it may be to attend a Christmas Eve service each year, I’ll have implicitly communicated to my kid what Christmas is really about if only one hour is spent encountering Jesus through a church service but the other 24 days and 23 hours are spent obsessing about shopping and parties and decorating.
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with presents and parties and decorating. Our family had plenty of other fun family Christmas traditions that were not explicitly Christ-centered (baking, nativity scene safaris in the dark, family Olympics, etc.). Those types of traditions are important in their own way, but for the sake of this post I’m focusing on the ones that helped remind everyone in my family of the truest and best reason to celebrate Christmas.
- Advent wreath
Our church had an Advent wreath with the candles for corporate worship, but my mom maintained one at home too. In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, we would take some time after dinner together to light the candles, listen to my mom or dad read from an Advent devotional, then sing some Christmas hymns. In our younger years, my younger brother and I would fight over who got to light and blow out the candles, but despite that distraction, the regular times of family devotions were a good way to continue refocusing our perspectives on the true meaning of Christmas throughout December.
These days, we are doing an abbreviated version with my daughter where we just light the candles and sing a couple songs. It is neat to continue a tradition from my childhood with her, but most importantly we pray she will someday know the Jesus in the songs we sing.
- “Jesus tree”
Most years we would decorate our tree with the normal assortment of ornaments. But some years we would do a “Jesus tree.” It started one year when my mom got the idea to have us decorate Christmas balls with all the various names of Jesus throughout the Bible (Christ, Lamb, Lion, LORD, Prince of Peace, etc.) and use only those to decorate the tree. It definitely helped to drive home the truth of Christmas when the only decorations on the tree (the focal point of most people’s Christmas decor) are the names of Jesus.
- minimal or no presents
I honestly don’t know what “getting the mother lode at Christmas” feels or looks like because I’ve never personally experienced it. Sure, we got presents at Christmas and I don’t remember ever feeling unsatisfied after getting what I got, but we never gave nor received an extravagant avalanche of gifts. One year the rule was that each present we gifted could cost no more than $5. Other years we’d do a secret Santa so we were only buying a gift for one person. In recent years we’ve done away with gifts altogether! The point was never to be Puritanical or ascetic, but to be purposeful in fighting against the current of materialism that dominates Christmas for the rest of the world.
Of course, as a young child I was definitely more excited about presents than Jesus or Advent or any of that, but as I look back over the totality of my childhood Christmas experiences, I can truthfully say that the holiday really wasn’t about the presents. I’m thankful that my parents elevated what was important so that even while we enjoyed things like gift-giving, it wasn’t the main takeaway from the season.
- family reading of the biblical story of Christmas
This is kind of a classic one, but on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we would sit and listen to my dad read the account of the birth of Christ from one or a couple of the gospels. The same verses were heard in church, but there’s something special about taking your own time as a family to read and reflect on the amazing true story of God reaching out to humanity by emptying and humbling Himself to be born in human flesh.
So what are some of your Christmas traditions? How do you go about making a few of them meaningful and Christ-focused?