It is very important to me that our family focus is on our Lord at Christmas. Last year I posted a few ideas that I gathered from here and there. This year I thought I'd post it earlier to maybe give you a few ideas of things to try in your home. I would love to hear your ideas as well!
1. The Christmas Story from Luke 2 - the obvious place to start! Allow young children to act out the Christmas story with a cheap and non-fragile nativity set. Our children get a great bang out of acting out the story with dad as the donkey. One family memorized a verse or two from Luke 2 before allowing the children to choose another figure in the nativity set to set out.
2. Christmas carols - Learn some of the stories behind the carols we sing. Start early in December in singing the carols as a family so that your children can participate in caroling later in the month.
3. Caroling - Hands down, caroling is my favorite Christmas activity (even beating all the great food!) Many churches carol to the elderly in the church, which is a great tradition. But it can also be fun to get together with just a few families and carol to some neighbors who may not have a church. Since the first year we were married, we've been getting together with some friends and we each choose a neighbor to sing to. Each year our neighbors, who never go to church ask if we are coming to sing. We began with no children but this year the children out number the adults, which I think adds to the fun, despite the hassle of getting in and out of car seats!
4. Messiah by Handel - We usually can't wait until December 1 to get the recording out! Actually Ed has been known to pull out the Messiah recording in July! I've heard of families that use the Messiah as a family devotional. They listen to a short portion then look up the Scripture that the music was based on. Show your children how the movement of the melody notes illustrate the words. For example, listen to the song "Every Valley" and notice how the notes move back and forth on the lyric "crooked" and then stay on a single pitch for the word "straight."
5. Jesse Tree - We have never done this but I like the idea of marking the days until Christmas with Scripture. The idea of a Jesse Tree is taken from "a branch shall come forth out of Jesse" and there is numerous devotionals online, such as this one and this one. They usually go through the prophecies about Christ and continue through his life and ministry with a Scripture reading for each day in December.
6. Service to others - I think the best way to fight the "gimmies" is to focus on the needs of others. I have great memories of serving Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army and I can recall twice that our family spent Christmas Eve holding a service at the rescue mission. It was amazing to me as a child that there were people who had no better place to go on Christmas Eve then the mission. As a youth, one of my favorite Christmas activities was delivering Angle Tree gifts to prisoner's children in Baltimore. Believe me, going with a group of country teens to inner city Baltimore is an adventure all it's own!
One year at our family gathering, my aunt gathered all the materials to put together school kits. We watched a short video showing the children who will receive the kits. All the children then helped to assemble the kits with soap, toothbrush, pencils, crayons, notebook, etc in a draw string bag. I thought it was an simple but good activity for the children to participate in doing something for others. And we parents weren't stuck with bringing home any more toys in our already crowded homes.
I know we don't think we need one more thing to do at Christmas. (Or maybe any other time of the year!) But prayerfully read Matthew 25. "When you do it to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me". We wonder sometimes how we can "give back" to our Lord, who gave so much for us. This chapter may hold the answer, though it may mean a re-evaluation of our priorities.
Of course, as a mother of young children, God's first priority for me is going to be in my home! I'm not talking of putting our children in day-care so that we can go out an serve others! There will be stages of life where our place is primarily going to be in the home, even if it means very little interaction with others. But I do believe the Lord will give us opportunities for serve as a family, if we are only willing. There is many needy, lonely, hopeless people that need to be shown God's love through God's people. It can be as simple as visiting an elderly neighbor or taking cookies to another busy mom. I am grateful that my husband has encouraged me to spend one night a month at a Bible study at our local detention center. I think he knows that I come home from that evening energized and encouraged from an evening studying the Word. Serving others is going to look different for each of us - but service isn't an option for the Christian.
7. Stories - Some books are holiday classics! I have to read A Christmas Carol by Dickens, at least the first and last chapter, each year! The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry is another classic. I also love the story of the Richest Family in Church. You may have other favorites. One family wraps up Christmas stories and each evening the children unwrap one book to read. One year when I was a child, we put all the titles of our Christmas books on little slips of paper and pulled out one each evening. We didn't have enough for each day of the month, but some evenings we didn't have time to read a story. Besides picture books and short stories, we read some of the special Christmas chapters in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was fun to contrast the Christmas in Farmer Boy with The Long Winter. Stories such as these, where children were delighted with one piece of peppermint candy or an orange are great reminders for children in our luxurious society.
You may be able to find some good stories at the library but, of course, use caution! It is important to me that stories do not portray a materialistic view of Christmas but instead focus on giving. We only own four Christmas books, so far, and I think they all fit this criteria. They are The Christmas Kitten by James Herriot, The Grinch that Stole Christmas by Dr Suess, The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen, and Miracle in a Shoe Box by Franklin Graham (which I can never read without tears!)
And one more thought on Christmas stories...many Christmas books add fictional characters to the Luke 2 story. When I taught Bible Released Time to public school students, I always had a student who wanted to add to the Biblical Christmas story with the stories they had been told of a little drummer boy or a small angle who got lost, etc. At times, I had a hard time convincing them that their story wasn't found in the Bible! These stories may be innocent but make sure that your child knows the truth of the Biblical account!
Do you have any favorite Christmas stories you could recommend? What Christmas traditions does your family enjoy to focus your attention on our Lord? I would love to hear them!