I can still remember a day when my oldest daughter was around four-years-old and we asked her what Christmas was all about. We expected her to say “Jesus”, and instead she said “Presents!” Up until that moment, we thought we had been doing a pretty good job of keeping the focus on Christ. That is the day I started really evaluating how we spent our time in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. At the same time, we took a hard look at how much we were focusing on gifts and began actively seeking a solution.
In those early days, we would take our children caroling with our church friends, read a few picture books about Jesus, and bake cookies. On Christmas Eve we would go to a church service, and on Christmas Day we would open gifts first thing when we woke up, and then prepare and eat a big meal. Right before the meal, we would read the Christmas story and we would conclude our meal with a birthday cake for Jesus. Some of those traditions have carried over to this day, but some have gone by the wayside.
One of the things that brought confusion to our holidays was the merging of two very different family traditions. When my husband found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real, he was furious at his parents for lying to him all those years. They stopped including Santa in their Christmas celebrations when he was fairly young. My family hung stockings and put out cookies for Santa, and then we got up super early in the morning to sit at the top of the stairs and wait until Mom and Dad said it was okay to come down. We came downstairs to piles of gifts and the unwrapping took several hours. I can remember still doing all of those things when I was thirteen-years-old.
When we started having children, I was fairly easily convinced to disown Santa, but I still wanted my children to “sit on the steps in anticipation.” I wanted gifts to be first thing in the morning with stockings and piles of gifts. The two different approaches just confused our children. If you are married, the most important thing you can do to help keep your family’s focus on Christ during Christmas is to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page.
The most significant solution we found to focus our Christmas on Christ can really be summed up in one word. Advent. I fought against the idea of Advent for a while because I really didn’t think it fit with my Protestant Evangelical background. But in my search for a better way to celebrate Christmas I kept running into references to Advent and I began to wonder what could possibly be wrong with spending a few minutes each night reading Scriptures with my kids and singing. I started looking for a great Advent schedule for children and ended up writing my own*. I added crafts, recipes, and songs for each Scripture and pretty soon Advent began to take over our homeschool day in the month of December.
We are not anticipating the advent of Christ’s birth; as that happened 2000 years ago. We are celebrating the advent of Christ’s birth; but also eagerly anticipating His Second Advent. The word advent means “coming” or “arrival.” We pray Maranatha, which means Come Quickly, Lord Jesus. As a family, we begin to get excited about what God has done in the past and about what God will do in the future. The effect of this excitement carries over into every Christmas activity we experience. Our focus on Christ during Christmas has greatly benefited from an Advent style celebration. We were talking about Jesus and celebrating his Advent all day and all month long!
Besides adding Advent, we also took a hard look at the decorations we used and began deliberately seeking decorations which would keep our focus on Christ. We began purchasing children’s nativities and still try to buy one new play-worthy nativity each year. We found a nativity Advent calendar, wallhangings, and candle holders that celebrated Jesus. We started two collections which we try to add to each year: children’s books that accurately portray the Christmas story and Christmas music that celebrates Christ.
Another change we made was in the order and style of our Christmas day celebration. By the time Christmas day arrives, my children have heard me talk about Jesus’ birth every day for nearly 30 days. Still, if we start off the day with piles of presents it could undo much of that hard work. After much deliberation, we decided to limit our gift-giving to just three gifts per child. You have no idea how hard it was to give up those stockings and piles! We also decided that we would give each child one thing they needed (usually clothing), one thing they wanted (a toy), and something to read. This has cut down on the amount of time we spend unwrapping gifts and also given us a chance to demonstrate to our children that we don’t want our focus to be on the gifts only. We still celebrate with gifts because Jesus was the ultimate gift, but we keep it simple and symbolic.
Now the focus of our Christmas day celebration is on preparing a meal fit for a king’s birthday and celebrating with cake and the reading of the story and singing of carols. The bulk of our time is spent in those pursuits. It is a wonderful culmination of our Advent celebration of the entire month.
Put into the proper context, the holiday has become a joyful celebration of Christ and powerful tool to share our faith with our children.
Amy Blevins lives in Southern California with her husband and six children where they enjoy hiking, reading, and generally being outside as much as possible. Besides homeschooling, Amy blogs at Bow of Bronze.
*If you would like to get a free copy of my Advent schedule for families, you can download it at Bow of Bronze.