Christmas Traditions to start
The real gift
December 2016 – Traditions can be a two-edged sword. They can hold a family together with a common experience everyone anticipates, or they can tear a family apart by being forced to rigidly observe something that appears to serve no purpose. Many families probably experience a little of both.
Traditions for each family are different and unique. This becomes obvious when families are connected by marriage. Perhaps one family always celebrates late on Christmas Eve, and the other must be together early Christmas morning. One does Elf on a Shelf, the other does the Kindness Elf.
In her book Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper says God is the original creator of tradition. (See below.) Piper writes how families can create new traditions that emphasize Christ above everything else.
During the Christmas season, these traditions take center stage in many homes. It is up to each Christian family to make sure their traditions do more than perpetuate the commercialization the holiday has become known for.
How can Christians, the true celebrators of Christmas, step away from the inflatable Santa and reindeer to press deep into the unimaginable reality of God taking on flesh?
When children think of celebrating Christmas, their first thought is predictably of gifts under the tree. But parents often want events and celebrations that draw the children’s minds away from shiny packages to the Gift in the stable.
Breanne Tull, mother of three, told AFA Journal, “Our family always goes to the Christmas Eve candlelight service. It is a great way to find quiet focus on Christ before a day of food and gifts. It sets the mood for Christmas Day and helps us set our minds on Jesus.”
Another family has found that fasting for one meal during a season of culinary excess helps center them on Who Christmas is all about. It also reminds them not everyone has full stomachs on this sacred day.
But celebrating Christmas can begin much earlier than Christmas Eve. Rebecca Davis, a writer for AFAJ and mother of two, uses The Advent Book every night in December (adventbook.com). It is a picture book with 25 doors, one to open every night in December before Christmas. It is written to help children retain and retell what they learn. By Christmas Day, children can tell the entire story using images from the book. Since it is a nightly tradition, it helps make the family intentional about keeping their minds on Christ.
In addition to reading about the Incarnation Event, families do well to read the story directly from Luke 2. Bert Harper, cohost of Exploring the Word on American Family Radio, said, “We act out the Christmas story with our grandchildren. I still have the privilege of playing the donkey that carries Mary to Bethlehem.”
The Christmas season is the busiest time of year for many families. For that reason alone, developing celebratory traditions that focus on Jesus keeps the meaning of Christmas clear and in the forefront of everyone’s heart.
Americans spent $6 billion dollars last year decorating their houses for Christmas. This is not a bad thing, but it may be a missed opportunity. Among the bright lights and inflatables, there is little attention on the Babe in the manger. There are many ways for families to use even something as simple as decorations to intentionally draw their attention and that of others to Jesus.
Anita Chamblee, mother of seven children and grandmother of nine, said, “We’ve done an Advent wreath for 22 years, and about 17 years ago we added a Jesse Tree.”
The Jesse Tree dates back to medieval times and is used to tell the entire story of the Bible. Typically, it consists of a branch placed in a pot and decorated with symbols signifying different biblical narratives. A fruit or apple can represent Adam’s fall, a rainbow the flood, a lamb Passover, a fish Jonah, and so on. Children can help create the symbols every night as parents walk them through the story until finally ending on a manger and a cross. For more about the Jesse Tree, visit rca.org/jessetree.
Other families decorate their mantels or walls with Christmas cards they received the previous year. Each family represented is prayed over all year. During the next December, the cards are returned to the senders with a message of how they were prayed for.
As with celebrations, decorations can be meaningful symbols or miserable distractions for turning the spotlight on Jesus. With thought and intentionality, every item on the wall, in the yard, or on the roof can drive viewers hearts toward Jesus.
“What do you want for Christmas?” The question is asked of every child in America for weeks leading up to Christmas. It is an innocent question, but it can also reinforce the idea that Christmas is only about receiving.
Many families, especially Christian families, are finding ways of taking the gift-giving aspect of Christmas and turning the emphasis on Christ.
“We always give three gifts for Christmas,” Kevin Robbins, father of two boys, told AFAJ. “We started it to cut out some of the commercialization of Christmas, and it points to the three gifts given by the Magi. It also reminds us of the Trinity.”
But giving can go further than family.
“When our children were young,” Debbie Fischer, AFAJ staff writer said, “We chose a family we loved and blessed them anonymously. Starting 10 days or so before Christmas, we snuck to the door of the family with a gift of food, snacks, treats, etc. We always made our deliveries so that the family would never know our identity.”
Other families do similar anonymous good deeds for a family in need.
The world will always commercialize Christmas. Unfortunately many Christian families have done the same for decades.
But in Colossians 3:17 Paul writes: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. …” That everything includes our celebration of Christmas.
Fortunately, there seems to be a move among believers to find creative ways to celebrate Christ in the season named for Him.
One mother told AFAJ, “We were blessed by another family’s tradition. They had a small box they filled all year with money, checks, and gift cards. During Christmas, they closed the box and gave it to a family in need. One year that was my family.” Could there be a better picture of a creative and meaningful Christmas tradition?