After the long tis-the-season marathon of Christmas, my husband and I have often sat in the carnage of wrapping paper and cookie crumbs, wondering if our kids heard anything, caught any piece of the message of Jesus. We often feel like we’re playing tug-of-war with the meaning of the season:
Pull: Christmas is about how Jesus came to save us.
Tug: But, oooh, look: shiny lights! Cookies to bake!
Pull: Focus on Jesus! Just sit still while we read Matthew 1–2.
Tug: You made it! You can finally open the gifts!
Christmas is about Jesus humbling himself to come as a baby to bring about man’s redemption. What better time of the year to tell the story of Christ’s grace in our lives than at Christmas? But how can our children hear us amidst all the other noises clamoring for their attention?
Christmas looks different in every family. With that in mind, here are a few principles to get you started thinking about how to make the gospel shine brightest for your kids in this season.
1. Use Concrete Reminders
Kids are hands-on. The more they can touch, see, feel, and experience the story of the gospel, the more it becomes real to them and the more they connect it to Christmas.
Our family eats dinner by candlelight for the month leading up to Christmas. On December 1, we light a single candle. The next night, we light two candles. We add another candle each night, even if all we’re eating is grilled-cheese sandwiches. Honestly, sometimes I think the more humble the dinner, the more crumbs on the table, the more spills and human-ness of our family interaction, the more the candles highlight the beautiful mess that Jesus came to make whole.
By the morning of December 25, my table looks like it might go up in flames with all those candles! However, this is a strong, tangible reminder of how the world has gone from darkness to light thanks to the arrival of Jesus. Even the youngest of minds can comprehend the difference between dark and light. Plus, it’s magic: eating by candlelight gives the tingles, the coziness, that elusive moment of wonder we so often seek at holidays. As we eat, my husband reads us a devotion or story that reveals our need for Jesus.
2. Build on Existing Traditions
What traditions do we already have in place as a family that our kids are familiar with? We landed on birthdays, which, in a large family, are extremely special. The whole day centers around that kid—every meal, every activity. Likewise on the day we celebrate Christ’s birth, it’s only natural that all the preparation, all the focus, would be on him.
When our kids have a birthday, we greet them with singing and then we have a big breakfast. So on Christmas morning, I fix a huge breakfast in honor of Jesus. We light all of the candles and we sing Happy Birthday. Just like the anticipation builds for our kids’ birthdays for weeks, sometimes months in advance—making lists and dreaming—so the anticipation for Christmas builds all month long.
3. Give Generously
Instead of exchanging gifts at Christmas, our family takes the money we would have spent on each other, and we give it to Jesus in the form of gifts or donations. My husband and I give the kids a set amount and we discuss how to spend it. We’ve had all month to pray, to research, and to learn about various charitable organizations. I’m always surprised by the stories that grab my kids’ attention and pull at their heartstrings. Usually, we end up dividing our gifts among several choices . . . and I make the kids do the math!
We give the money right there at the table amidst the dripping syrup and bacon crumbs. We let the kids get involved with writing the check, clicking “Send Payment,” or dropping it in the offering basket at church. We want them to have a strong sense of ownership in this gift-giving. They are making a sacrifice, denying themselves, in order to give. And as our pastor, Matt Mason, says, “Generosity demonstrates that the gospel story is sinking in.”
Cancelling Christmas gifts may not be the way you choose to be generous. My intent here is not to shine a light on our choice, but to inspire you to consider your approach to gifts in your own family. It’s all in how you explain it, how you speak of your intentions. The point is the choice to sacrificially give in the name of Jesus.
4. Stay Faithful
After reading the previous point, you may be wondering, Does this mean our kids don’t get anything at Christmas? No.
We would never want our family’s practice to reflect negatively on another family’s desire to give gifts as their expression of love for Jesus. We have extended family members we delight in shopping for, and we receive gifts from them with joy. And yes, my youngest son has figured out this nuance and made a Christmas wish-list for Gran and Pops this year. Ahem. He may not fully grasp the message yet. But, Lord willing, he will.
And that, weary mamas and papas, is the point. No matter how you shape the message, how you celebrate the holiday, how many gifts you give, how many advent wreaths you light, keep singing the song of Jesus, the song of gospel, grace, and redemption. Because He who is faithful to save us is also faithful to honor our feeble attempts to speak truth, to shed light, and to disciple our children.
So stay the course, parents! Keep telling the story of Jesus. Do not grow weary in tying those gospel strings to every tradition and taking advantage of every teachable moment during the holidays.
Hope is near.