December is here! If your house is anything like ours, it can be hard to tell the difference between the Most Wonderful Time of The Year and The Most Hectic, Frenzied, Commercialized, Stressed-Out, “I Don’t Have Time To Shop So I’m Just Gonna’ Just Slap A Damn Bow On That Box Of Triscuits And Call It A Dirty Santa Gift” Time of The Year.
Not long after Thanksgiving, the Little People nativity scene makes its appearance beneath the Christmas tree in our house. There, the little cherub-faced Baby Jesus sleeps while Mary and Joseph gaze upon his brilliance. Animals and wise men quietly stand guard.
However, as Christmas draws nearer, gifts and other trinkets take up precious real estate, gentrifying the neighborhood around our Fraser fir. By the time December 25th rolls around, Jesus and his family have been pushed off the tree skirt and are forced to dodge dust bunnies and dry pine needles as they warm themselves by the heater vent.
Sadly, all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays has our hearts looking very much like the scene beneath our tree.
Over the past few years, our family has adopted a few traditions to help refocus on the reason for the season. My wife suggested I share these in a blog in case others of you are feeling like you’re drifting of course. I wish I could say these are a cure-all, but they are not. Our kids still make Christmas lists and compare their holiday haul with the gift inventory of each of their friends. Gabby and I still buy gifts that will quickly be forgotten, and stress about stuff that doesn’t really matter (i.e. what design should we use for our Christmas cards?!?!?! And remember… the wrong choice could live on forever in a memory book!) Still, even a 5-degree turn toward the direction of Bethlehem is a good start.
So, in an effort to encourage our online community, we invite you to try these ideas that have helped us, and offer suggestions of your own. We’re all in this together.
1. The “Jesus Gift”
We keep a gift-wrapped shoebox in our house all year and call it the Jesus Gift. Each time we do something for someone else (make a donation, random act of kindness, service project, etc) we write it on a slip of paper and drop it in the box. As much as I would like to say we’re consistent with this, we aren’t. There is a fair amount of last-minute box stuffing on Christmas Eve as we try and remember some of the good deeds we’ve done. Still, The Jesus Gift always the first gift under the tree, and the last gift to be opened. Once all of the other presents have been unwrapped (and the kids aren’t as distracted), we open the special box, pass around slips of paper, and have each person read off the gifts we gave Jesus throughout the year. It’s a good reminder, and a good setup for the next idea…
2. Be Jesus for Others on Christmas Day
Christmas is not MY birthday for cryin’ out loud, so we figure the least we could do is find some way to serve the Baby Jesus on December 25th. In all honesty, it can be a bit of a chore to get the kids out of the house, but after a few years, they are now into the spirit of Christmas Day giving, especially if we let them pick what we do. Some options we’ve done:
- Fill a dozen envelopes with cash, write an anonymous Christmas message on them, and hand them out to people who have to work on Christmas (think nursing homes, gas stations, hospitals, movie theaters, Waffle House, etc.)
- Take a bunch of snacks and goodies and hand them out in hospital waiting rooms and lounges.
- Make Christmas cards for veterans and spend time with some of our forgotten heroes at the local VA hospital. It’s humbling to hear their stories and share moments together.
- Buy warm socks, scarves, and coats and deliver them to those living on the street. Every city has it’s own “tent city” areas, and your local shelter or church will often know where it is.
3. Make A Jesse Tree
According to my hardcore Wikipedia research, the Jesse Tree was originally a tree decorated with visual symbols to teach people Biblical stories before literacy was widespread. Today, the Jesse Tree is an advent activity, where each day you can read a brief story from the Bible that relates to Jesus’ heritage. The first year we did it, we just put a bunch of green tape on the wall in the shape of a tree, then we got this book that included tear-out pages with a colorful symbol on one side and a short story on the back. Each morning during breakfast, we’d read the story, then the kids would “hang” the paper cutout on the tree. Since then, we laminated the pages, made a tree out of a couple planks of pallet wood and some leftover jute rope, and still used the green tape to make “leaves” to hold it all together. There are plenty of free, downloadable stories and cutouts online for different ages. So check ‘em out and let us know which ones you like!
4. 3 Wise Men Gifts
We often say, “If three gifts was good enough for the Savior of the World, it’s good enough for our little snot factories!” So now our kids know that Santa only brings three gifts, because that’s what Jesus got. Sure, we still over-indulge with trinkets in the stocking (school supplies, underwear, candy, tiny cars, etc) and an “experience gift” from us, which is usually a family outing or quick road trip somewhere, but the connection helps.
5. Repurpose That #$^#%@! Elf on the Shelf
This is a new one for us this year. When Ruby the Elf first came into our home, we never realized what a pain in the donkey she could be. And frankly, some days she’s just really lazy and forgets to move overnight. So this year we’re taking a suggestion from the HowDoesShe blog and having our elf bring suggestions for random acts of kindness we can do every day for Advent. She has a printable list of ideas you can cut out. We’re hoping the change of pace can rekindle our excitement for Ruby. Though what will probably happen is our kids will get suspicious at the sudden change of pace that the elf is not only watching their behavior, but also suggesting they improve themselves. Even if they realize Ruby and the parents are in cahoots, I think we win either way.
6. Share in the 25 Characters of the Christmas Story
We have mad love for our friends Josh and Christi Straub. Their life’s work is to help build strong marriages and strong families, and they are really good at it. Now, just in time for the holidays, they have introduced an activity you can do with small kids. It’s free, and it’s awesome. Every day, they introduce a new character of the Christmas story, discuss their character traits and provide a life lesson. If you want to go all out, there are also daily activities that relate to each character that parents and kids can do together, as well as morning prayers and bedtime questions, making it a comprehensive experience with lots of reinforcement. Download it here.
7. Take Part in the Advent Conspiracy
Advent Conspiracy was started by five pastors who decided to make Christmas a revolutionary event by encouraging their faith communities to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. They realized that much of the $450 Billion Americans spend on Christmas gifts every year is essentially wasted (can you remember even two gifts you received last year?) So, in lieu of gifts, they encourage people to donate money in the name of loved ones during the Christmas season. So, rather than trading $50 gift cards with the adults in my extended family, we make donations to causes that remind us of them or they are passionate about, and then we all go out and enjoy a nice dinner together. It’s much more fun and much more meaningful. There are great videos and resources here.
We hope these are helpful for you, and would love to hear your ideas and traditions to help feel closer to Jesus this season. Please share in the comments section below.
Peace to you and yours this spirit-filled Christmas season!
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