One way we try to keep Jesus at the center of Christmas is as simple as reading the Christmas story on Christmas morning from Luke 2. We began this when our oldest were young, with the thought that we would do this every year. That is in fact what has come to pass. Even as our children have gotten older, there’s still that excitement about opening presents on Christmas day. We’re not trying to discourage that. But they know, have come to expect, and actually encourage the reading of Luke 2 before we do anything. Nothing gets opened until we’ve met and read.
That’s just a reminder to us all that this day is about Jesus. It’s not a formal thing and we don’t pre-decide who will read it. We simply pile onto a bed, pull out a Bible, and read. Typically there’s a simple prayer as we finish, giving thanks for Jesus’ birth and for how the history of mankind changed on that day. This is VERY simple and something anybody could do. It’s not profound on the surface, but it some ways it’s very profound.
Growing up in my family, we eagerly waited for Christmas morning so the presents could finally be opened. My daddy would first open his Bible to Luke and read the Christmas story to us, before any of the gifts were taken from under the tree. Later, the grandchildren took turns reading the familiar passage of the birth of Jesus before a single package was opened. Some years they assigned roles, gathered up towels and scraps of cloth for costumes and even an old rocking horse to act out the journey to Bethlehem.
Now the grandchildren are grown up and there are no more babies for the role of Jesus. Still someone is chosen to read the story. Year after year the time for gift giving remains focused on the perfect gift from God, His Son, our Savior. Even after half a century, this tradition has remained.
Last year, we were aware of a family who had experienced a season of great hardship. We chose to be a "secret angel" to them, secretly leaving them gifts periodically throughout the month of December. A short note with either a scripture verse or an encouraging word would accompany each gift. The gifts were minimal in cost. We would go late at night and leave the gifts on their front door steps.
Family Christmas PJ's
This has little to do with keeping Jesus at the center---but it does build a family tradition and unity.
On Christmas Eve, my daughter and I like to do the "Drive Through Difference” in a couple of places around town. This is where you pay for the person behind you in line. We give the person taking our order a Christmas card or note with a Bible verse on it to put in their food order bag. As we pull away from the line we always like to peek and see the reactions of the other drivers…Priceless! This year we are going to include an invitation to our Christmas Eve service, don’t know why we haven’t thought of that before.
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree…. I love all things Christmas- the music, the sweets, the trees, the lights, the cold, Santa, movies, if its anything Christmas I love it! One of my most favorite things to do with my family is decorate our tree.
Somewhere along the way it became an “event”. Each year since birth, each of my children receive a new ornament. I always try to find an ornament that represents something of meaning to them during that year- a favorite toy, maybe a special trip they went on, a favorite activity or occasion, or even their favorite after school snack. One year Michael got an ice cream cone ornament because, I kid you not, he ate ice cream every single day after school! The senior year of high school has become the “Santa” ornament year because after 18 years, I just was out of ideas when Devin was a senior. So the tree goes up and as a family we gather. Each child has their box of ornaments and they take turns putting them on -one by one- it takes a while.
There is, on occasion, a teenager who would rather "be done already", but we make it fun and it's not optional.
I love to sit back and watch- it just fills my heart with joy. I love having all my kids in one place together. But this year in particular- the tree is more cherished than ever. I get teary-eyed thinking about it. I realized as I looked at my tree that it tells a story- the story of the last 23 years of our lives. From the “Our First Christmas” ornament after we were married to the sweet ones that belonged to my grandparents that are now with Jesus to the cute ones my neighbor painted in memory of the pets we loved and lost, and all things in between it tells the story that God has written into this family. I am blessed beyond words with my husband and kids and our tree represents years of love and joy and trials and pain, but it’s all beautiful. Gods grace and mercy toward me are amazing and I am forever grateful that he didn’t give me what I deserved; he gave me the gift of his son. Although holidays look different as our kids get older, and this is the last year my oldest child’s ornaments will hang on this tree, it symbolizes a new beginning in our family as we add a daughter next spring. My Christmas tree represents the life of my family- and God’s Christmas tree- first shaped as a manger and then a cross-represents the life everlasting through Christ!
As much as I care for them, they are not the first items to come down from the attic after Thanksgiving. That right is reserved for the nativity scene. I have several of those also and they go in the most prominent locations of our home. Jesus's birth is why we are celebrating Christmas. These little scenes throughout my house are reminders of the ultimate gift from God.
When the Christmas season hits, which for me in the retail world is right after Halloween ends, I immediately turn into a take charge, CEO-mom of all things Christmas. It involves detailed lists in hidden places with pseudonyms for list titles, always looking in stores with an eye for who I can mark off the list, and checking all the sales flyers and circulars for the latest and greatest. I start looking at the myriad of magazines for inspiration on decorating my house and making creative and wonderful goodies for friends and neighbors. And then there’s the Christmas card…
Sometime between the disappointment of my house not looking perfect and the exhaustion that comes from family life during the holidays with four children, I remember the baby in the manger and how simple and dirty and beautiful it all is. Thankfully, it stops me in my tracks and reminds me that not one single thing has to be done to celebrate the season. He is coming whether we have everyone’s gift ready or not, whether the house gets decorated or not, whether my friends and neighbors feel loved or not. As I realize that Christmas is not about what I need to do, rather about the most amazing and glorious moment in the world’s history, then my heart moves from dread to worship. Hallelujah! It’s at this point that Jesus enters our family Christmas celebration. We fight daily to keep Him there, and I do mean fight. It is a battle, albeit a worthy one.
· We begin to remind our children that, despite what they think, they don’t have a right to receive wonderful and extravagant gifts for Christmas. They receive 3 gifts to remind them of the gifts brought to Jesus.
· We pray a lot for our “angel tree” gift recipient—almost every time we pray together as a family we pray for him/her.
· We put the lights on our tree as a reminder of the most wonderful light that invades not only the darkness of the world but the darkness of our own hearts.
· We focus on gifting others and try to stay away from the “what do you want for Christmas” question.
· On Christmas Eve, in addition to worshiping with my extended family at a beloved Christmas Eve service, we read the story of Jesus birth from the Bible right before bed.
Now, don’t be too impressed with this list. It’s always a work in process and we’re so forgetful and easily enticed. As soon as we remember Jesus, we tend to forget. I’ve learned to not despise the disappointments of less than perfect decorations, disappointed children and Christmas cards that sometimes never get done. It’s in these grace-filled moments that God redirects my affections from the trimmings to the truth and my heart, therefore, becomes ready for the king.
Baking cookies is always a long anticipated and expected tradition at the Cook house during the holidays.
I also have a homemade nativity calendar made of flannel pieces. Each piece helps to tell the Christmas story. Every evening we read a short Bible passage and put up a representative piece. On Christmas Eve we put up the greatest and final piece - Baby Jesus!
At Christmas we have lots of traditions like most families. We watch the same movies, eat the same foods, etc. However, my favorite tradition is on Christmas Eve when we sit down to eat French Onion soup. Then we each write ourselves a short private letter sharing what we would like our life to look like by the following Christmas. Mostly we write what we would like God to work in us the next year. Then we seal it up in an envelope. As the mom, I collect each sealed letter and put it in a drawer. Then we all go on to a Christmas Eve service. The following year, I pull out the letters and pass them out for each of us to read what we wrote. Some people share what they wrote and others don't. But the sharing time is an opening to grow a little closer together as a family and to give a glimpse into each other's hearts. Usually the experience is that we've made progress in the area we wrote about , but so far it seems like we haven't made as much progress as we would like :). It may be because we forget what we wrote. Perhaps this year I will encourage us all to think of a way to remind ourselves about our desires so perhaps we can pray about it more... Who knows?!?!
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." Luke 2:7
I love the manger scene that I set up every Christmas. I spent several years looking for just the right figurines. Once I found them, my Dad made the stable for me so it is especially dear to my heart. When I set it up each year, I drape moss over the stable and situate all the figurines just so. When I’m done, it looks so warm and cozy, just like the picture I have in my mind of how that night must have looked. A smiling mother and father, a baby all bundled up in warm cloth, lying in a beautifully rustic manger with sweet clean animals all around. Such a beautiful scene… it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
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