It’s Christmas time, but unfortunately it’s all too easy to lose focus on Christ even though we’re supposed to be celebrating his birth. This season can bring both stresses and joys, and it also can bring many opportunities for family discipleship.
Here are my “Twelve Ways of Christmas.” Consider including a few of these into your Christmas season—and enjoy the gifts that come from family discipleship.
1. Value family joy and unity more than getting the right gifts! The Christmas holidays are a stressful time of year. Moms especially can plan too much: Every person has to have just the right gift. Every neighbor has to get cookies. Every inch of the house—inside and out—needs decorating… etc. In the stress, something always goes wrong. When you plan too much and there is an atmosphere full of anxiety, it affects the whole family. Your children are watching you get upset during the very weeks you’re wanting to highlight the joy of God’s Incarnation. God says, “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened ox where there is hatred” (Proverbs 15:17). So, pay attention to your time and financial budgets and try to stick to them. Build margin into your schedule now. Your joyful example will be powerful to your children.
2. Create and reinforce your fun family traditions. Traditions bind hearts together. Young children enjoy looking forward to the routines. In our family, I took the kids out to get hot chocolate and look at Christmas lights while my wife finished wrapping the presents. We have one special Christmas album that we play. We would also bring out the crèche or manger scene one person at a time as a type of Advent calendar to build anticipation. At our Christmas Eve gathering with friends, the young kids would dress up and reenact the birth of Jesus.
3. Use the Advent Wreath and readings. Many families are rediscovering the value of Advent. During the lead-up to Christmas day, we are reminded of the redemptive story and how God’s people had to wait for his advent or “coming.” As a people we are still living by his promises while we await his second advent. Whether on Sundays only or during the week also, use the Advent candles and a devotional to teach your children.
4. Learn a Christmas hymn. An easy way to learn theology is through music. The words stay with us, teach us, and sometimes prompt questions. If you fill your home with Christmas hymns, then your children are learning great truths about the faith without even realizing it. I have nothing against children’s Christmas musicals, but it is even better to supplement that music with rich hymns. Try to memorize all the verses to just one hymn. This ties into to the devotional idea. Joy to the World is a fun one. Print all four verses and see if your family can memorize it during Advent.
5. Give a gift to Christians in other countries. Unfortunately, Christmas can be all about receiving presents. Yet Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. Organizations like Voice of the Martyrs and Samaritan’s Purse all have ways you can give to families around the world to relieve suffering. Include the children in this. Have them sacrifice something. Set a goal, put a jar on the counter, and start putting aside some money. Sacrifice is as good for our children as it is for their parents!
6. Consider doing some outreach. For years our small group would go Christmas caroling in our neighborhood and also invite neighbors to an open house. Another friend had an evangelistic cookie swap. Or we would give our neighbors a pumpkin bread with a nice Christmas booklet. Be sure to enlist your children to help you. We want them to know that because Christ loves us, we love others with the gospel.
7. Raise Ebenezer stones. These “stones of remembrance” were raised in the Old Testament to remind God’s people of a special intervention in their lives. Similarly, you can review the past year and think of God’s special interventions in your family. To remember them in later years, write then in your Bible, or make an ornament to remind you. Then decorating the tree becomes a celebration of God’s faithfulness to your family.
8. Think about the Santa dilemma. Though not at the heart of the gospel, each family will need to think about how they will handle this issue. I have written about how we handled it here. The basic rule was that we will never lie to our children – ever. And we want to have lots of fun with the season.
9. Study the Incarnation. If your children are older, use this time of year to study what exactly the Incarnation is and why it’s important. Use your favorite theology book or a good online resource to research this topic more thoroughly so that everyone learns about the mystery of the Incarnation.
10. Read the Christmas story on Christmas Eve and thank the Savior for coming to earth. This may seem like a basic one, but maybe it has been difficult for you to take spiritual leadership in your home. It’s never too late to start! I have made suggestions about how to have short family devotions in The Disciple-Making Parent. Even if you are the grandparent host, you can say something like, “It would mean a lot to me if we read the Christmas story. I have it right here.” That’s also something a wife could ask her husband who is tentative about taking spiritual leadership.
11. Go to church. With Christmas falling on Sunday in some years, you might be tempted to skip church in favor of your Christmas morning traditions. Don’t! By prioritizing church you are sending a powerful message to your children. You can figure out a workaround. Have presents later in the day or the night before. Tell out-of-town company that you’ll meet them in the afternoon or—even better—invite them to church. They will respect you for your priorities.
12. Prepare for both Christmas and post-Christmas teaching opportunities. No doubt there will be many stresses at Christmas. Our family had the crazy aunt who lived by herself and missed her mouth when she put on her lipstick. But it gave us a chance to teach our children to love the “unlovely.” Or, after Christmas day, there will be plenty of chances to deal with disagreements over sharing toys. Don’t be surprised. Expect and look forward to these character training opportunities.
Again, do not feel you should do all of these steps. Pick several that your family can implement this year.
Better a few with joy than many with stress.
Christmas, even with all its various challenges for families, presents a wonderful time to build lasting memories and focus on the Savior.