Several months ago, a friend of mine asked that I devote a column to putting more Christ into Christmas. What a great topic! Over the years I've added a number of traditions to our family Christmas to remind myself and my children what we are really celebrating at Christmas. In fact, as I listed them, I came up with eleven to share with you this month! They are listed for you below.
If your way of keeping Christ in Christmas is not listed, please share it in the comments section. I would love to read about it!
1. Observe Advent. One year my church observed the Advent with the lighting of the candles and a special reading. I was intrigued! It took me a few years to find the kind of Advent wreath I wanted. Here it is; it's ceramic. The traditional greenery wreaths are also beautiful. An Advent wreath will have five candles. A candle will be lit each of the four Sundays before Christmas and also on Christmas Eve. Advent is about preparing our hearts for the Christ in Christmas. For more information, follow this link from the Rev. Mark D. Roberts' website: http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/adventguide.htm
2. Hang a stocking for Jesus. I have a small blue and gold stocking to hang with our individual stockings. This stocking collects the change from our pockets and any other money that any family member would like to give to Jesus. On the Sunday before Christmas, we take the stocking to church and quietly empty it into the offering plate as our gift to Jesus. (It's small enough to fit into my purse.) If you want to have a stocking for Jesus, be sure to have a sturdy nail and a sturdy stocking. The first year we observed this tradition, the stocking's loop broke under the weight of our coins, sending the stocking crashing to the hearth! Warning: those cute stocking hangers that sit on a mantle or shelf will tip and fall under the weight of a coin-filled stocking.
3. Donate gifts to someone in need. Just as the wise men brought gifts to Jesus, we can give gifts to needy children. You can find "Giving Trees" in stores and restaurants in your community. You just choose a tag that lists things the recipient would like, buy as many of those items as possible, and return them with the tag attached. You might choose to bless a missionary from your church with a monetary gift or gift box. You might participate in Operation Christmas Child by filling a shoebox with small gift items. If your budget is lean, you might chip in with another family or
with a Sunday school class to put together a bundle of gifts to bless the recipient. This is an important way to teach your children that Christmas is not all about receiving.
4. Find picture books that tell the Christmas story from different viewpoints. Authors have gotten very creative with the Christmas story. It's been told from everyone's perspective, including the innkeeper and the angels! These tellings make the story fresh and give us new thoughts to ponder. My daughter especially loved the story about the cranky innkeeper who was changed when he saw the baby Jesus.
5. Display a nativity/creche in your home. As a child, I watched Mom set up this nativity scene
with awe. As an adult, setting up this scene (passed down to me by Mom a few years ago) still fills me with awe. I know some people hide the Christ child until Christmas morning. Some have the wise men "travel" through the house and arrive at the scene later on. I have a fear of losing these breakable figures, so I haven't done that, but if the idea appeals to you, go for it! I also have a glass nativity, a wooden nativity that little hands can't break, and a few miniature ones that are tree ornaments.
6. Visit a live nativity and/or a walk through Bethlehem. This more than anything brings the reality of God's sacrifice home to me. We are fortunate to live in an area where a number of churches set up live nativities, and at least one re-creates the village of Bethlehem. We sign the census, visit the "vendors" who tell us about their wares and whisper about the Christ child, and avoid the stern and suspicious centurion guards tofinally slip into the stable and see Mary, Joseph, and the baby.
7. Hang meaningful ornaments. I'm fond of candy, snowflake, and snowman ornaments as well as ornaments that feature animals. They are cute and make me smile. However, to keep Christ in Christmas, I also hang some ornaments based on the Christmas story: wisemen, shepherds, angels, and one special baby Jesus ornament. To remind us why Jesus was born, I also have some beaded cross ornaments that we made ourselves.
8. Watch Charlie Brown Christmas. I've seen this little cartoon Christmas show more than 40 times, but it always gets to me. How often in a children's program does a character recite scripture? It's very touching and end with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."
9. Send Christmas cards with a spiritual theme, or with a special verse written inside. Share your joy in Christ with your family and friends.
10. Attend a Christmas Eve church service. If there isn't one, hold family devotions by candlelight before going to bed.
11. Make a birthday cake for Jesus. You're planning to have desserts on Christmas anyway, right? Make one a birthday cake for Jesus. Light a candle and sing a song. If you don't know the "Happy Birthday, Jesus" song, the traditional Happy Birthday song will do. Children love a birthday, and this will remind them on Christmas Day that Christmas is about Christ!
Those are my traditions. What are yours?