Pounds of turkey have been consumed and are still to be eaten in who knows what kind of concoction. Christmas songs are probably playing around the house. Black Friday shoppers are still sleeping and will arise in time for dinner. Plans to decorate your home with lights and newly purchased or cut trees are in process of being executed. It’s Christmas again. For many of us, this is the holiday that we most look forward to celebrating.
But in this culture it’s become increasingly difficult to keep Christ the center of Christmas. Materialistic desires abound. Focus on gifts and holiday gatherings take our mind off of the significance of this day/season. In an increasingly hostile nation, displays focusing on the Christ of Christmas are under fire, especially if they are on public property. But trying to strip Jesus from Christmas will never work. Why? Because of who this holiday is about.
So how do we keep Christ the center of Christmas in our home? There are no magic formulas. What it takes is an intentional fortitude on the part of mom and dad to plan activities and moments that point to Jesus Christ during this month. We’ve taken an excerpt from a FamilyLife Today program from November 28, 2011, where Dennis and Barbara shared some of the things they did as they raised their six children to capture their kids’ minds and help them keep Christ the center of Christmas in their home.
Barbara, you really had an agenda for about a four-week period between the end of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was to capture the kids’ imagination and point them in a spiritual direction.
Barbara: Absolutely. I did not want Christmas in our house to be four weeks of “What I’m going to get?” and “What I get to open?” and “What’s in it for me?” We worked really hard to focus on the real reason for Christmas and to talk about that. We also helped the kids think about what they could give and what they could do for others.
Dennis: What Barbara’s talking about, being focused on what you’re giving another person, was even implemented on Christmas morning when we exchanged presents. Instead of going and picking the present that’s addressed to you, you’d go pick a present that you had given —
Barbara: Yes, that you’d gotten for somebody else.
Dennis: And hand-deliver it. And then that person opened that present.
Barbara: And then it was their turn to to give.
Dennis: Right. And so it was focused on not “What am I receiving?” but —
Barbara: “What am I giving?”
Dennis: Again, it’s back to the spiritual significance that Christ came and dwelt among us. And that really is God’s greatest gift to us.
What were some of the things that you did to try to tone down the noise of the culture and turn up the spiritual emphasis of the holiday?
Barbara: In addition to the whole gift-giving thing … I really worked at playing hymns about Christmas, songs that talk about Christ and Him coming to earth. We didn’t play very many “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman” secular kinds of songs around the Christmas holiday.
And then we always made a big deal of putting out the Nativity scene. I wanted that to be the focal point for our kids, more important than decorating the tree. We always put it in a prominent place so that it was kind of the center. Even though the tree was larger, the Nativity was in a more important place.
Dennis: On Christmas Eve we’d have the special meal that the girls and I prepared. It started out to kind of be a one-man show with a little group of toddlers hanging around, but as the girls became young ladies, they really helped with that Christmas Eve dinner.
We turned it into a feast. At the end of the feast, we’d read about the coming of Christ and His birth in Bethlehem. I always thought that was really important, to open the Bible and begin to read the story about the Savior and who began to seek Him out — the wise men, the shepherds — and talk about that as a family.
You were talking about a Nativity scene. A few years back FamilyLife put together a Christmas resource [with a Nativity] designed for families. In the last few months, you’ve been involved in a project here, Barbara, to give that resource a little bit of a makeover. What was the objective behind the new version of What God Wants for Christmas®?
Barbara: Well, a couple of things. There’s a portion of a poem to read for each character in the Nativity scene, and it talks about who that character is, what that character’s place was in the grand scheme of things, and it tells the story of the Nativity in a creative way.
And in the new updated version there’s an audio CD that has the poem, and it’s sort of acted out — I guess that would be the best way to say it — with different voices playing the different parts of the characters in the Nativity. So you can do this as a family, but then the kids can listen to the story over and over again on their own.
Because moms are busy, and I know moms are busy because I remember how crazy it was for me at Christmas to try to pull off anything that was meaningful. I had a zillion things going on all the time. And as much as I wanted to do things that were meaningful, it was always a challenge to get it into the schedule, to get everybody together, and to plow through and do it. So I’m excited about the CD because if all else fails and you can’t sit down and read the book, your kids can listen to it. They can hear the story of the Nativity.
How would you use What God Wants for Christmas if you had toddlers and teenagers running around the same house together?
Barbara: I would probably have my older kids read the story, and I would probably be refereeing the younger ones as they anxiously wait to open the boxes (the resource includes packages for the kids to open, in conjunction with the story). This is a resource that a family with wide age ranges of kids can use because it’s designed for younger kids to understand, but the words and the poem are intriguing enough that teenagers will be fascinated to listen to it because it’s not a little kid’s story. It’s a grown-up story.
Dennis: I just want to take some of the pressure off of moms and dads or grandparents who may be listening and thinking about implementing this into their Christmas tradition. Reduce your expectations, especially if the children are under the age of 5 or 6. I just remember that some of these traditions that we did were absolute chaos.
Barbara: It was not Norman Rockwell.
Dennis: It wasn’t. There weren’t all these children sitting with their hands in their laps, smiling wonderfully as you read the story and as you pulled the figurines out. I mean, they may be throwing the figurines at each other, or arguing, or fighting over who gets to open the box.
Barbara: Probably arguing and fighting over whose turn it is.
Dennis: Yes. No doubt about it. I would just say, it doesn’t have to be perfect. To execute this, you just need to do it. You just need to keep pressing into it. And when there’s spilled hot chocolate, or tea, or whatever you have as you read this, don’t worry about it. Just keep a sense of humor and keep moving.
What are some things you’ve done in your family that have helped keep your focus on CHRIST during Christmas?