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Ten timeless Christmas traditions

By Bill and Nancie Carmichael

Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year, and for those of us who know the real meaning of Christmas, it can be the best time ever as we gather with our families. But it can also be very stressful. In our enthusiasm to celebrate, it’s easy to get caught up in frenzied activities that leave us frazzled and exhausted. In our desire to give the best gifts to our loved ones, we can overextend ourselves financially. Christmas may also remind us of loved ones we have lost, or remind us of broken or strained relationships.

It’s important to keep the “main thing the main thing” — to be reminded that, more than anything, Christmas is a time to reflect on God’s gift of His precious Son Jesus to us. It is a time to give, not to get. It is not only a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but, in His honor, to celebrate each other. It is a time to build family togetherness and to create memories. When parents are intentional about the traditions we form and keep, it can help demonstrate to our children (and to all of us) what Christmas is all about.

Here are some tried-and-true suggestions of Christmas traditions. Consider how you can tailor these to your children so that they are age-appropriate and meaningful to everyone.

1. Celebrate 12 days of Christmas. This does not have to be elaborate. The idea is to have a plan for 12 days of Scripture reading. Look up the verses in Isaiah that tell of the coming of the Messiah, and the verses from the Gospels that tell of the birth of Jesus. Put them on small cards or pieces of paper. Give your little ones short, easy-to-read verses or help them read their verses. Before or after dinner each night light the candles at the dinner table and take time to read some of the cards, and then have a special dessert or treat to share. Emphasize the historical reality of the birth of our Lord and remind your children during the 12 days (it could also be seven days, or even three) that Christmas is all about Jesus, the best Gift ever.

2. Organize a Christmas Eve Scripture reading. Now that our children are older and come home for the holidays, we do an extended reading on Christmas Eve. We have a tradition of seafood (clam chowder, shrimp and steamed clams) every Christmas Eve. But before dinner, we have a sheet of paper on each plate at the table with a portion of the Christmas story on it and each person takes turns reading their portion of the story. We also sing a Christmas carol and have a time of prayer and thanksgiving before our meal.

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3. Do something for somebody else. Some of our best Christmas memories as a family are when we decided to give Christmas to another family that was in need. Together with our children we bought gifts and prepared a special Christmas dinner (one year even a tree and lights) for a family. Our children were deeply moved watching the mother weep and seeing the wide-eyed excitement in the eyes of the children. Needless to say, it did more for us as a family than the family we were ministering to. One of our extended family members makes it a practice to work in a city’s soup kitchen during the holidays. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV). It is humbling and so true that when we give, we receive.

4. Go Christmas caroling together. If your church group does this, go with them as a family. If not, do it yourself or find another family or two that will do it with you. A family we know makes this a not-to-be-missed annual tradition. Friends ahead of time scout out the community to see who would benefit by some caroling. Shut-ins and people in rest homes love to hear the traditional Christmas carols sung, especially by families with small children.

5. Make Christmas ornaments together. Handcrafted ornaments are a good way to personalize Christmas and make lasting memories. Visit a craft store for some ideas and personalize your ornaments with glitter and other features. When we take out our Christmas ornaments to decorate our tree, the ornaments we made with our children when they were small somehow are more special than the beautiful color-coordinated ones. Now that our grandchildren are adding to the tradition, they love seeing what their father made when he was their age.

6. Do a missions project as a family. Sometimes we think that anything we do for missions needs to be a church-organized event. It’s wonderful to participate with the church in missions, but why not take on a project as a family? Check with your pastor or missions secretary (read the missionary newsletters on the bulletin board) to see if there is a particular need or project you can adopt as a family. When I was a child, we lived near some large oak trees that had big bunches of mistletoe among their branches. My brother and I climbed into these trees and cut some of the mistletoe. We wrapped it in small bunches with ribbon, put them in a box and went door-to-door selling mistletoe for 25 cents a bunch. Within a week, we made more than $100 — a lot of money in those days! Maybe you don’t have time to accompany your children door-to-door, but perhaps you could hold a garage sale and designate the proceeds toward your missions project. Or decide as a family to cut the gift-buying budget and give the funds saved to a missions or benevolence project.

7. Celebrate with music. What would Christmas be without carols, without Handel’s Messiah, without French horns? One of our traditions as a family was to go together to a musical event. For years, Portland First Assembly put on a “Singing Christmas Tree” at the Portland, Ore., Civic Auditorium. It was a fabulous event, recognized by the entire community. Many churches sponsor programs like this that you can go to as a family. Also, fill your home with music. There are many wonderful CDs and tapes that add atmosphere and joy, reminding us of the wonderful gift of Jesus.

8. Hold Christmas Communion. Our church offers Christmas Eve Communion. It is not a service, but several of the elders volunteer their time on Christmas Eve to be at church. The church is open for several hours on a drop-in basis. When you walk in, worship music is playing in the background. Each family sits together quietly, then motions to an elder when ready to partake of Communion as a family. The elder serves. It is a wonderful and deeply spiritual moment. If your church does not offer this, you can do it yourself at home. Communion is a sacrament that can be incorporated into your annual Christmas traditions.

9. Organize a game night. As we indicated earlier, Christmas is a time to be together as a family. It’s a time to break from routines like watching the news, taking phone calls or reading the paper. It’s time to put a fire in the fireplace and break out a puzzle or a game. If the snow cooperates, put on your parkas and get out the sled with hot chocolate later. Whatever activity you choose, Christmas is a time to be together and let your family know you are there 100 percent … not just physically, but emotionally and mentally.

10. De-stress Christmas. Instead of adding more activities — as wonderful as they are — try deleting some activities, especially those that seem to be draining the joy from your celebration. Most of the holiday stress comes from inside us. We think we have to have things just so — the perfect gift, perfect decorations, spectacular Christmas programs, the not-predictable newsletter. Trying to do it all just right can be overwhelming and exhausting. Be intentional about bringing “peace” into your home and into your lives. Simple pleasures really are the best — a night at home with homemade soup and music playing in the background. Refuse to be caught up in unrealistic expectations and frenzied activities.

Jesus came so you could have joy. Welcome Him into your home and your family life and experience His joy and peace as never before.

Bill and Nancie Carmichael are founding publishers of Christian Parenting Today magazine.

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