Well, technically it is Christmas Eve but the holiday event is here.
Throughout today many of us will be finalizing the details, finishing shopping, packing into cars to travel to family, and preparing food for the Christmas celebration.
Tonight there will be mini-celebrations with early presents, Christmas jammies, Christmas Eve services, special Christmas movies, milk with cookies, and jittery boys and girls as they go to bed in anticipation of Santa and the wonderful treasures he is bringing to them.
During this time of year, there is the great tension many of us feel, particularly if we are parents. We want to provide a fun and bountiful Christmas for our children, but we also want to preserve the heart and meaning of Christmas with Christ’s birth. How do we create a Christmas experience that is Christ-centered and not driven by consumerism?
Here are 5 ways to create a Christ-focused Christmas experience.
Nativity Countdown calendar
When I was growing up we counted down the days of December toward Christmas a couple different ways. We would make a calendar and place cotton balls on each day leading up to December 25th where there was a picture of Santa, or a present, or a Christmas tree. When I married my wife, her family had a fun tradition when she was growing up that provided the same effect while keeping the attention on Jesus.
Her family had collectively made a calendar out of felt that had a manger. Below the manger was a pocket for each day that contained a character from the manger scene. So, each day of December one of the kids would choose the character of the pocket of the corresponding date and place it in the manger scene. The characters included shepherds, wise men, sheep, cows, angels, and the young family. There were also stars and trees to help fill in the scene (and take some of the dates).
The culmination of the experience was on Christmas Eve one of the children would pull baby Jesus out of the pocket and place him in the manger scene, completing the image. This allowed a daily experience for the kids to build up to Jesus being placed in his manger, which also keeps the event of his birth in the forefront of their minds.
Meet a Need
Right after Thanksgiving, they show up. With their bells and their buckets, the Salvation Army sets up outside of stores all across the country reminding all of us to make a little space in our hearts for those who are less fortunate.
The challenge of Christmas, particularly with young children, is to keep it from becoming only about them and the anticipated toys they will receive. Central to Christmas is the birth of Jesus, but also the reason he was born: to provide for us an answer to our greatest need.
The Christmas season is a time where we become aware of those who are going without, those who do not have the blessings and opportunities we have, or who are going through hard times. In your community, I am sure there are toy drives, soup kitchens, coat roundups, and food drives you can be part of. Take time out of your busy schedule (because I know you are busy) and be intentional about committing time for others. You will not only be part of providing something for someone else, but you will also be a living expression of Christ coming to provide for us and preserving part of our heart for the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas Eve Service
One of my favorite traditions of Christmas is the candlelight service. Gathering with our faith community for what seems like the calm before the storm and enjoying Christmas songs together, a presentation of Jesus’ birth, and the whole sanctuary lit by everyone’s candles.
What I have always enjoyed about these moments over the years is the peace and tranquility I have experienced at these times. With a whole congregation singing Silent Night holding candles and taking a deep breath together to remember a baby born in obscurity to a young couple and a gathering of shepherds. It was their calm after the storm that provided an answer to our storms of life.
Read the Christmas story
Twas the Night Before Christmas has been one of my favorite Christmas traditions from the time I was little. For me, it has captured the magic and wonder of the holiday in a succinct way. It would fill my little head with wonderous ideas about Santa sneaking into my home and leaving me little wonders.
So, where does Jesus’ story fit? Does it not capture the wonder of Christmas, or contain the mystery and excitement of the season?
What we have done with our boys is add the reading of the Jesus story from the Bible. We have pulled the passages from the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ birth, and we read that story on Christmas morning. When the boys are up and excited, they gather their filled stockings in front of them, sit on the floor, and we read through the story of Jesus’ birth and how he was the greatest gift we could ever receive. We do this before we open any presents to set the tone of the day.
In order to keep the focus of the season on Jesus and why we celebrate, we have to be intentional. I don’t believe we have to choose between Santa and Jesus, the sleigh and manger, or presents and presence.
With a little work and purpose, we can create a Christmas experience that will be Christ-centered and focused on the reason for the season. However you keep Christmas, allow yourself the time and attention you need, and your family needs, to stay focused on why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Keep the joy, the wonder, the magic, the peace, the hope, and the excitement we have all come to enjoy without losing our minds.