Saturday, November 30, 2013

How the Day's are Celebrating Christmas

A couple weeks ago, I was at a local store and needed something from the Christmas section. We walked up and down all 4 aisles of Christmas decor. Amidst TONS of wrapping and ribbons and singing Snowmen and Santa faces, sat a lonely nativity. One small thing reflecting the true meaning of Christmas amidst a plethora of junk representing what Christmas has become in our nation. It makes my heart sad. This is what my kids are growing up surrounded with. We are not okay with that.

Collin and I have discussed how we would celebrate Christmas as a family before we even married. I have always loved Christmas and put so much thought into decorations and activities. I love the lights and the traditions and's my favorite time of the year! A few years ago I read a book called Treasuring God in our Traditions by Noel Piper (John Piper's wife). It has shaped the way I long to worship God through our traditions and caused me to really think about what and why we celebrate. Since then, Collin and I have been discussing and tossing around ideas about how to "do" Christmas in our home. Above all, we want Christ to be honored. We want the real meaning of Christmas to come alive in the hearts of our children. We believe that the true magic of Christmas is exciting all on its own. So here's what that's going to look like lived out in our home.

The Santa Situation
Let me start off by tackling a doozy. It seems that so many people have such strong opinions regarding Santa Claus. Please hear me when I say that we have nothing against Santa. And that jolly fat man is everywhere so there's no point in trying to hide him from our kids. Nor do we want to! The truth is that the real person of Saint Nicholas was a wealthy boy who was raised to love and fear the Lord. At a young age his parents died leaving him an orphan. He used his inheritance to give to the poor and needy, offering hope and joy in the good name of Christ. He became well-known throughout the lands for his generosity. I love the true story of St. Nicholas. And that is what we tell our kids. Before you gasp and decide we are crazy and depriving our children, hear me out. We tell our kids who Santa was (the Veggie Tales St. Nicholas movie helps with that) and talk about how he gave to people in need because he loved the Lord. We don't focus on the big fat man with a beard who comes down the chimney to bring gifts. Instead, we focus on why St. Nicholas gave in the first place - because Christ has done so much for him that his heart was overflowing with thankfulness.

We explain that Santa is a character based on his life but that one is real and one is pretend. This isn't a strange concept for them as they are surrounded by Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Spider-Man. This is the first year that we have had to have that conversation with Cayden. In years past, we never set up the idea that Santa would be coming to our home. He had read books with Santa in them and seen movies with him in them but he never anticipated him coming to our home because we never prepared him for that. All year long - and especially in December - Jesus is the one that we are preparing for and choosing to focus on - not Santa. Most parents promote their children's belief in Santa or even prompt their children with things like, "Be good or Santa won't bring you anything for Christmas" which creates the expectation that Santa is coming to bring them gifts. Our kids have no idea that he was even "supposed" to come to our house. Kyla Brooke still doesn't really get it. She sees Santa around and talks about him but she just says that he is "a very nice man". We tell her who he really was but it's hard to know how much she is actually absorbing at this age. Cayden is in Pre-K this year so he is surrounded by kids at school who are excited about Santa and I'm sure over the next few weeks at school he will be inundated with "Santa" talk. We wanted him to be prepared and to make sure that he didn't spill the beans to any of his friends - you just never know what might come out of their mouths! We explain that some kids believe that Santa is real and that it's their mom and dad's job to discuss with them the truth about Santa. In other words - KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!

I randomly happened upon a blog a couple of years ago (I cannot find it now!) and I loved it so much that I copied it and held onto it. Here is some of what she had to say about how they do Christmas relating to how they handle Santa.

There is so much about the Christmas many absolutely true things from many good, wondrous, mysterious, life-impacting, miraculous thoughts about Christmas right out of the Bible that we want to ingrain in the minds of our children during the holiday season that we simply don't have time to care about Santa, and quite frankly...the idea of Santa seems small and pales in comparison to everything else we want to bring to life for our children this Christmas.

We want their holiday season to be filled with longing...excitement and anticipation as we remember what it must have been like for the people of Israel to wait for the promised Messiah. We want to focus their hearts and minds on the fact that we are still waiting...right now, longing for the return of our King. He's coming back again!

We want the Christmas story and characters to come to life for them in all of its richness...the wise men, the shepherds...Mary, Joseph...the prophecies that were fulfilled, every last one of them and point them towards a faithful God who keeps His promises. He said He would come the first time and Christmas teaches us that God is faithful. Which means...He is going to come again.

We want to dive into scripture this month and learn about God's character...his love...his servant heart, and then ask the Lord to help us be more like Him.

A million incredible little time.

To be honest, we feel overwhelmed with how many truths we want to pass down to our kids (year round) but also every December. Trying to add in something like Santa seems silly to us. As a teacher, I find it harder to justify Santa. Our goal is to communicate to our kids during Christmas why we celebrate this holiday...what its true meaning is. As a teacher when I'm teaching anything else, I want my kids to learn. I would never try to teach them something complex and add in elements that were not true, or distracted them from the real things I wanted them to know. I wouldn't waste time teaching them things that I was claiming were "unimportant" when there are important things that do need to be taught and taught well in order for them to grasp what I'm trying to teach.

We don't "do the Santa thing" but what I hope we are doing is creating memories in our children's hearts. I pray December is a special time for them that is filled with truth, family, friends...sitting around the fire listening to true stories of mystery, wonder, goodness and grace. I pray they look back and remember our home filled with friends, families, neighbors...light and life.

I pray they remember times in front of the fire, or snuggled up on the couch as we listen to the very breath of God read in our living room.

In determining how Christmas would look in our home, we researched people older and wiser than us, who have older children and have been where we are now. Another blog that we came across was Jen Hatmaker's (have I ever mentioned how much I like her?!). She wrote a post titled The Christmas Conundrum where she writes much more eloquently (and hilariously I might add) about this very topic. You can read her entire post here (and I totally think you should) but here is an excerpt that I found especially meaningful.

There is no fake benefactor this year my kids can petition to get more stuff. Because honestly? For a five-year-old, how can Jesus compete with Santa? Our children don't have spiritual perspective; when faced with the choice of allegience, they have a baby in a manger, or they can get a jolly, twinkling, flying character who will bring them presents. This is going to be an easy choice for them. My friend Andrew, who identifies himself as a member of the "non-believer corner" put it this way: 

I always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me, but when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache.

As importantly, it sets this tone for Christmas: Be good and you'll get stuff, which becomes so deeply seeded, undoing that position is almost impossible. When we teach our children to understand Christmas through this lens, then tell them at nine-years-old: "Never mind! It's all fake! Oh, and stop being so selfish because Christmas is about Jesus"...we shouldn't be surprised when our kids stage a mutiny and ask to move in with Grandma. Young parents, this is so much easier to do right the first time rather than try to undo later. Give your kids the gift of a Christmas obsessed with Jesus - and no other - when they are little, and it will be their truth all their lives. 

Please do not take any of this to mean that we are judging you if you choose to do the Santa thing. This is just our personal decision for our family. By all means, put out your cookies and carrots and make your fake footprints around your fireplace - there is no judgment from us at all! Don't be afraid to invite us over for fear that we will frown at your Santa macrame hanging on the wall. It ain't gonna happen. We even have Santa in a few spots in our home. We aren't trying to avoid him - we are just choosing to focus on Jesus who we believe is the reason for Christmas. We are simply choosing to use Santa as another way to point back to Jesus. Every time we see Santa somewhere, we talk to the kids about who Saint Nicholas really was and why he gave to others. He's not what Christmas is about - he is a symbol of the season and that's how we view him.

Here is what we are doing in our home to celebrate Jesus this Season:

1- At dinner every night, we pray for the people who we received Christmas cards from that day.

2- We are celebrating Advent as a family. Advent is the four week period (starting tomorrow!) of expectant waiting and preparation of Christ's coming. It includes both His coming as a baby and His second glorious coming that we are anxiously awaiting! Here is what it looks like for our family with our 4 (almost 5) year old and our 2 year old. Every night, after bath time when the kids are in jammies and almost ready for bed, we will gather in the family room:

We start out with only the light of the Christmas tree, trying to shut out the chaos around us, and focus on what truly matters.

We pray asking God to prepare our hearts for worship and ask Him to give us hearts that truly long for His coming back to get us!

Next, we pull out our daily reading from our Advent calendar. My best friend Larissa and I saved up our toilet paper rolls a few years ago, got our craft supplies together, and made these babies. We found the idea online somewhere (sorry I don't remember where!).

We read the verses from that day. We start out with just a few verses and every night we add to the story. The kids enjoy the repetition and it helps it to really sink in. As we read the story, the kids act it out with their Little People nativity set. The kids love this set and play with it all the time. Sometimes they even nicely share Baby Jesus. Small victories.

Then we sing some Christmas Carols and this year we plan to recite Luke 2:8-20, the passage that we're going to memorize, as a family. That's it. No wrestling squirmy kids and worrying about someone sticking their fingers in a candle. This is what we've done the past couple of years - minus the scripture memory - and it has worked well. This year I expect KB will get even more into it and I'm eager to see how she responds and how much she "gets" it. This is just what we do - I encourage you to find what works with your family! We will adapt this, of course, as the kids get older and are able to grasp more.

3. We are doing fun activities everyday in December to countdown the coming of our Savior!

I got this idea from someone online and I cannot remember who or I would give credit. Everyday in December, Cayden (and this year I'm sure sister will want to help) picks an ornament off the little tree in the playroom. I got the ornaments from here. There is one for each day leading up to the 25th. On the back, I have written a fun activity that we will be doing that day. Some days we do them in the evening as a family, some days we do them during the day. Some days we do very simple things - a small craft or a coloring page. Some days we do a bigger craft, we bake something, or we go somewhere. Here is what we have planned this year:

Day 1 - We are officially in the countdown to Jesus' Birthday! Celebrate with a yummy treat from La Madeleine's! (We will already be there for a friends birthday party so it worked out good)
Day 2 - Read When You Take a Mouse to the Movies and string popcorn to decorate the playroom tree.
Day 3 - Head on over to play with friends and celebrate your best bud's birthday!
Day 4 - Decorate a felt Christmas tree! (Pinterest)
Day 5 - Bake chocolate peanut clusters to take to friends at the nursing home
Day 6 - Go deliver goodies to Wanda (a family friend) at the nursing home. Be sure to wish her a Merry Christmas!
Day 7 - Get ready for a fun-filled day with friends! (We are going to a Christmas Tree farm that has tons of activities for kids and then we are going out to our local Christmas tree lighting ceremony where there will be fireworks)
Day 8 - Help mommy make peppermint bark and while it's hardening, read The Legend of the Candy Cane
Day 9 - Make peppermint play dough and create the nativity scene with nativity cookie cutters.
Day 10 - Paint nativity handprint animals (Pinterest)
Day 11 - Deliver your teachers their Christmas gifts at school - be sure to tell them Merry Christmas!
Day 12 - Color Ms. Jennifer a picture (a friend who is battling cancer) and then deliver her dinner tonight!
Day 13 - Head on over to Bethlehem Revisited - be sure to say hello to the camels, donkey, Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus!
Day 14 - Get ready for a fun date with DeeDee and Pawpaw! (My parents are taking the kids to see Frosty the Snowman at a local kids theatre)
Day 15 - Finish up our nativity handprint animals
Day 16 - Meet friends for a Christmas program!
Day 17 - It's time for a family game night! Mommy and Daddy have gathered some fun games and yummy treats for a SWEET night together!
Day 18 - S'mores after dinner tonight!
Day 19 - Get ready for a fun night with daddy! (AKA - mommy has a girls only work Christmas party!)
Day 20 - Get ready for a fun Christmas party at DeeDee and Pawpaw's!
Day 21 - Go look under your bed for the golden ticket to this activity (got the idea here)
Day 22 - Sing Christmas Carols as we travel to celebrate Christmas!
Day 23 - Enjoy a fun surprise with your cousins today! (We're taking them all to see Frozen)
Day 24 - Recite the Christmas story to GG and Papa and present your shepherds pouches before the King tonight!
Day 25 - Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and remember Him as you celebrate today!

4. As far as gifts go, we have adopted the idea that each child gets 3 gifts - just like Jesus - and they get a stocking. One of those gifts will be a gift of time. We have also decided to incorporate Shepherd's Pouches this year into our worship. I first heard about the idea of Shepherd's Pouches in Treasuring God in our Traditions. Noel explains the Shepherd's Pouch way more elegantly than I ever could so I will let her fill you in from pages 86 in her book:

It may be easy for us to forget that this is Jesus’ birthday. That usually means gifts to the birthday person. Children especially will think it normal that Jesus should receive something for his birthday. We’ll need to talk with them about what it means to give a gift to Jesus since we can’t put it in his hand. One of the unusual things about Jesus is that when we give a gift to him, other people benefit. “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40)

If you decide early in the Advent season where your gift is going, you can be praying for the recipient throughout the season. Your prayer becomes an added gift to the family with special needs, the Christian relief agency, the local ministry, the missionary, or whomever you have chosen.

Money isn’t the only thing we can give, but for the moment, let’s think about financial gifts. How might you decide on the amount? One possibility is to determine what percentage of your total gift expenditures will be set aside for Jesus. Another is to give him your December coffee break money or some other regular expenditure.

What about our children? Some years I have offered “wages” for special jobs or even for regular chores during December, with the understanding that this money is being earned for Jesus’ gift.

Shepherd’s Pouch
The children at our house have had a simple drawstring bag—a shepherd’s pouch, we call it—in which to collect Jesus’ gift throughout December. On Christmas Eve, during a special family worship time, the children lay their pouches beside the manger of our special nativity scene. We speak to them then of giving their gifts to Jesus, as the shepherds came, giving Jesus worship and wonder.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. . . . And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.    ( L u k e   2 :   1 5 - 2 0 )

I found these burlap pouches at Hobby Lobby for $1.99 each and I think they will work well as our shepherd's pouches. They're pretty plain jane but that's what I was looking for - I wanted these to represent how we thankfully, humbly, and servant heartedly should be giving back to Jesus what belongs to Him.

I'm excited to be incorporating this into our worship and celebration this year. I have been looking through the Compassion International Catalog and the Gospel for Asia Catalog, excited about what the kids might choose to buy to bless someone. Our prayer is that the Lord will grow in the hearts of our children a sense of giving back to others what He has so graciously blessed us with.

Just as Jen Hatmaker says in her blog, "I so want my kids to marvel that Jesus came, just like God said he would, and he split history in two, forever transforming the concepts of hope and peace and salvation." We want Christ to be honored in our home everyday, and especially at Christmas. I would LOVE to hear how you are choosing to celebrate our Savior's birth and bring the truth of Christmas to life in your home. I think we can grow and learn so much from one another so please feel free to shoot me an email and we can bounce ideas off one another!


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