Christmas

Focusing on CHRISTmas

I’m off on a quick trip to sunny Arizona for an extended family party. Only a few days left ’til Christmas! In case you  missed my guest post over at The Things I Love, here are some of the traditions our family does to try and remember Christ at this season. Hope your holiday hasn’t been too stressful and that you’ve been able to take a few moments and remember the reason we celebrate. God bless and Merry Christmas!

Christmas morning in my home growing up was pretty much like the running of the bulls. We would wake up around 5am, and wait for hours for our parents to FINALLY wake up. Once they gave the o.k. we all charged full speed ahead (mind you I grew up with 10 brothers and sisters, you would not want to get in the way of that) and burst into the front room to find our individual mountain of presents. And mountains they were. We never had a lot of money growing up, but you sure wouldn’t know that by the number of presents we each had. Anything and everything that could be wrapped and considered a gift, was. I mean ANYTHING. It was not uncommon to open a package of socks on Christmas morning. Or underwear. You remember the kind that had the days of the week on them? So if you wore them two days in a row and were sitting real ladylike on the couch your brother would yell “Hey! it’s not Monday, it’s Tuesday!” Ya. those kind. Got ’em for Christmas. I even remember wrapping deodorant for my dad. And shaving cream. I’m sure he was super excited to open those presents. And the time my sister wrapped up two rocks? That was awesome.

Anyway. When I had my first child I was sooo excited to have our “first Christmas” together. I envisioned the mountains of gifts and the glow on his little cheeks. Then I realized, wait a sec, he’s only two months old. He will eat the paper, choke and ruin everything. Christmas morning came and went and he didn’t even know it was Christmas! So rude. It finally dawned on me that maybe Christmas wasn’t really about the presents… I mean, he seemed to be ok without getting anything. Or at least without REALIZING he got anything.

As the years passed (he’s a whopping five years old now) I started to have a different vision of Christmas in my mind. It started with a trip that my husband and I took to China. He had a three-week legal training in Beijing and I tagged along. We’d been to Mexico and the Bahamas before and thought we kind of knew what to expect as far as poverty. Not even close. I’ll never forget the day we rode in the car of this INSANE driver weaving in and out of traffic, slamming on the brakes every few minutes, and multiple heart failures later, dropping us off in this remote village in the middle of who knows where, pointing to some trees at the top of a hill and saying “wall”. “I pick you up later”. And walking away. We were looking at each other praying that the Great Wall was really on the other side of those trees. And I had to pee! A nice little lady who was living inside some pieces of stacked up wood let me use her toilet. She pulled aside a curtain and pointed to a hole in the dirt. Yup. THAT is poverty. No tv. No plumbing. No refrigerator. No washing machine. So…I started picturing the holiday’s volunteering at soup kitchen’s, taking cookies to the widows and building a well for children in Africa. I envisioned teenagers who would rather give Christmas to children in need than to want the latest electronic device for themselves. So maybe that will never be reality, but it’s something to shoot for. I started to realize that MY attitude and beliefs about Christmas would essentially determine what their attitudes and beliefs would be.

My husband and I discussed ways we could encourage them to appreciate all the things they’ve been blessed with and not just be spoiled rotten kids. We figured we’d start by donating to charities ourselves. Once our son was old enough to write we started having him write the checks to UNICEF and LDS Charities. When natural disasters strike such as Japan last year, we donate a little to help. We don’t have a lot of money, but we choose to reserve a certain percentage of our income to help others. We hope that this will teach our children that helping others is important and that everything we have is a gift from God and not really ours.

So, I started to think about ways I could teach my children that Christmas is really about Jesus and the miracle he gave us rather than gifts and presents and me me me. Don’t get me wrong, I love presents as much as the next person, but let’s face it, at the end of the day I am the one who has to put away all that junk day after day, so really more is less. That was our first decision. Limiting gifts. I think one or two well chosen gifts is enough for a child to enjoy the excitement of Christmas without becoming a spoiled *you know what* and building an ever-increasing list of Christmas demands.

The next step was thinking of ways we could make each day leading up to Christmas feel special. I came across this article that shared the meaning of Christmas traditions and thought it would be fun to link all of these traditions back to Jesus. I also found a great downloadable book from Discovering the Scriptures that shares a Christmas tradition, story and/or activity for the 25 days of Christmas and a scripture countdown chain. We are going to go through this book together this year.
Next we let our extended families know that rather than adult gift exchanges as we’ve done in years past we would prefer to either work together to provide service for someone or we would like to use the money we would have spent on a uselessthoughtful gift for them and buy something to help others in need. Last year we purchased some vaccinations from Unicef in lieu of a family member’s gift. It felt good. Another great organization for holiday gift giving is Heifer where you can purchase a farm animal (among other things) to provide food for a village. There are dozens of good causes, just pick one and support it!
We also want to perform some kind of service for others. My children are not soup kitchen age yet, but they CAN go to a nursing home and sing Christmas carols. We can choose a family in need to give money or gifts to. They can drop a few coins in the Salvation Army bucket. They can write a letter to or visit someone who is lonely. There are many small ways that even small children can show others they care. One thing I want to do this year is to create little kits to hand out to the homeless people we see downtown. Rather than ignore their pleas for help as we pass by pretending we don’t notice, we can provide them with a small backpack of food and essential supplies.
Lastly, I tried to think of ways we could remember Jesus on Christmas day. On Christmas Eve we do the traditional nativity and reading from the bible but Christmas day has always been about Santa Claus. This year we decided that the gifts under the tree were family gifts. The gifts in the stocking would be from Santa. And we saved all the “thankful” notes that we wrote in the month of November, are going to wrap them up in a box with a note “from Jesus”. On Christmas morning we will open the gift and read all the things that Jesus has blessed us with.
These are just a few ways our family is trying to come closer to Christ this Christmas season. What things do you do to make Him part of your Christmas celebrations?

What are the things you do with your family to remember Jesus this season?

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