Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas Traditions

We have had a wonderfully busy weekend enjoying activities unique to the Christmas season. Friday we went to Atlanta to enjoy the final dress rehearsal of the Nutcracker at the fabulous Fox Theater. This was the trio's first experience with a live play or ballet...and they did a terrific job. They were taken with the sights and sounds. Thank you, Storey & Mrs. Thompson for the tickets!

Saturday morning we went to the Christmas Parade in downtown Atlanta. It was our third consecutive year of attending with Grandmother & Granddaddy. A Christmas tradition indeed!

I have been very cognizant this year of the fact that the children comprehend most of what is going on around them and have distinct memories of similar events in the past. I want to be very intentional about how we are spending our time this Christmas, mindful that we are shaping their childhood memories of this holiday.

Santa will certainly visit our home, but we are trying to counteract the overwhelming "gift" emphasis surrounding the holiday with a focus in our home on the gift of Jesus. Here are a few of the intentional things we are doing to make this holiday about Christ, not just commercialism:

1. An advent calendar that has the nativity as its focus. Each morning after breakfast, our "leader of the day" gets to do the honors of opening the box and placing the daily magnet into the nativity scene. We then talk about how many more days until Jesus' birthday, as opposed to "when Santa comes."

2. Most of my Christmas decorations are focused on angels, wisemen and the nativity. I have a few snowmen and one singing Santa, but for the most part the historical, Biblical aspects are what we display.

3. I have two nativity scenes that are completely child safe. They are displayed at levels where the children can access them easily and play with them. The two scenes that are in our family room are missing the baby Jesus. He will appear on Christmas morning. I read this tradition somewhere a couple of years ago and loved it. It is another "anticipation" tradition that keeps Christ as the center of the celebration, not just waiting for Santa to bring stuff. (I do have a question for those of you who also do this. How do you explain how the baby gets there? One of the boys asked me this morning if Santa was going to bring baby Jesus and I did not know what to say. I sidestepped it this morning, but am wondering what others say. I know I will be asked again.)

4. Santa brings each child three gifts. This is a way to honor the three gifts the wisemen brought and frankly, it is accountability for me to keep my excitement about the "stuff" under control. I must confess this is really much harder than it seems, especially at this age where they like little simple things. A trip to Target is a battle for me to keep this promise because I get sucked into the lure of the bright, shiny, adorable sale items. I don't count stocking stuffers as part of the three gifts. Nor do I count the two gifts from Daddy and me. This one is clearly as much about keeping my focus pure as it is theirs.

5. We go visit Santa only one very special time. We are just instituting this rule this year. We have been invited to three different 'breakfast with Santa' events and I just think it is too much and too confusing to explain why he looks different and why we are having to re-tell him what we want. We also hope that by de-emphasizing the big guy a bit, Christmas will still remain magical for them after they get a little older and learn more about who is wearing the red suit.

6. On Christmas day we have a birthday cake and sing for baby Jesus.

We also do seasonal, non-religious things: the Nutcracker, decorating gingerbread houses, parades, Christmas caroling, riding the Pink Pig, looking at light displays, selecting and decorating our tree. I am not opposed to the widespread secular holiday celebrations. Frankly, I love the lights, sounds, smells, emotions of Christmas. I just want to be intentional about keeping it all in perspective.

Despite all this, my children are still typical three year olds. There is still plenty of chatter about Santa and all the stuff we want, want, want. :-)

I'd love to hear your ideas. What are you doing to emphasize Christ in Christmas?

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot about the Jesse tree. I had intended to do it this year, but have not made the ornaments yet. The devotions start today, so maybe there is still time...I guess I know what we are doing post-nap this afternoon!


Lori said...

A thought about how to tell them how the baby gets there. You could tell them that the baby is in a safe place right now and we will put him in the manger on Christmas. That the empty manger reminds us to be excited about waiting for Jesus to come. I always thought about doing that with my son, but didn't.

Veronica Scott said...

I remember my parents doing this when I was growing up. I was always told, Jesus will be there when it is his birthday. It was something I always looked forward to, even more than the gifts. I now do the same thing, I don't put baby Jesus out until Christmas. Another idea to do with your kids, look at Christian bookstores got Santa and the Christ child. It is a book that puts Santa and Baby Jesus together. I highly recommend it for everyone.

Mindy said...

This is great! I think I will adopt a couple of them.
One being the 3 gifts. That is is so easy to get caught up in the commercialism and "huge" Christmases that the world promotes and I really don't want that for my girls.
Second -- I think I will take the baby Jesus' out of our nativity too. Great idea.
I am doing a Jesse Tree with my girls for our advent calendar this year as well as the advent house that we have that counts down the days. We also put baby Jesus in our advent calendar door on Christmas morning and let the girls put him in the manger. HE is te best gift!!!!
Thanks for this. I will be back to read more about other's ideas!

Steph said...

Wonderful ideas! My two are 13 and 11 now, and from their very first chirstmas we did the 3 presents from Santa.
Just last year I bought an interactive nativity at Wal-mart, of all places, and they loved it! Each night there is a reading and then they get to add a piece to the nativity. They were such neat items, I bought one for my sisters children and one for my brother-in-law's son.

Robin said...

I enjoy your blog so much. I have three grown daughters and we started the three gift thing when they were about 12,10, and 4. It was hard att first for the older girls but it began to be a joyful thing for them to look forward to. It really eased up the budget and helped to celebrate like the wise men! Merry Christmas..Robin Brookshire, Dothan, Alabama

Fran said...

You are a wise woman! And I couldn't agree more with everything you said and are doing.
We should all keep the Christmas season in check and not get too caught up in the gifts. Its so easy to do as they get older and I wish I would have started this sooner. But, its never too late!

Merry Christmas~

L said...

Been checking out your blog for a while, I think this is my first comment. I believe we may live in the same "general" area...I love your ideas, use some of them also...I have just gotten a great Advent Countdown for children and adults alike that is a little different than any I have seen. If you would like a copy, send me an email and I will attach it to you. We are starting it this year with our 3 girls (6,4 and 8months - although she has no clue what is going on) Libby

Keri Ann said...

First of all, I admire you for sticking to the limited number of presents! That's something I should be doing, but haven't been able to commit to yet. In an effort to keep our children from expecting a contstant stream of toys, we buy very little throughout the year. Therefore, I find myself wanting to "catch up" with lots of fun stuff at Christmas. Bad, bad idea, I know...

As for the baby Jesus, we also keep him set apart from the nativity set until Christmas. Last year and this year, I've just told my oldest (same age as your trio) that he's not a part of the scene because everyone is waiting for his big arrival on his birthday. On Christmas morning, we'll just get him out of the living room cabinet (no more humble than a stable, I suppose!) and place him in the scene before the first gift is opened.

We've decided to go the route of "pretending" about Santa Claus. That is, we've made it clear that Santa isn't real (though the 3-year-old REALLY wants to believe that he is), but that we can have fun pretending about him. We explained to her who the original Santa Claus was (St. Nick), and how he exemplified the generous spirit of God. My husband and I were talking today and realized that we can also emphasize that while St. Nicholas was kind and generous (and Santa claims to bring toys to every child in the world in one night), he could only help a small number of people. God, on the other hand, really DOES love and care for every person on earth, can be everywhere at all times, and always wants to hear our "requests," not just at Christmas time.

Like you, I enjoy many of the secular aspects of the holiday, and believe God delights in us enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, as long as we keep Jesus at the heart of things. You may want to check out Lisa Whelchel's "The ADVENTure of Christmas," which provides moms with wonderful ways to bring different aspects of the season back to the Real Meaning.

Sorry if I rambled here! :-)

iPau said...

I’ve read for some months now your blog and I must said that it makes me so happy to be able to sometimes read the beautiful stories about your family and how everyday you teach them something about God.
I’m 21 years old, I’m still at Uni and I don’t have kids, but I pretty much share your way of seeing things, I even have to admit that reading about your faith sometimes makes me think about my own.
This time I decide to leave a comment for the first time because a lot of the things you put on your list are the same that family and I practice (even now that we’re not kids anymore).
I have two brothers (25 and 20, I’m the only girl) and we are pretty pretty close, even now that my big brother is married , we hang out at least once a week and we talk in the phone everyday and in this time of the year we all remember how great we spent Christmas since we were little children.
I’m not from the U.S (as you might notice for my bad writing) and the tradition of putting baby Jesus in the nativity is a common tradition here. Every year before dinner one of us was chosen to put baby Jesus in the nativity and after that, each of us would sing to Him. This year my oldest nephew (he’s only 1 year and 7 months :P) will be the one who is going to do it. From all the traditions this is the one that remains more with me.
When we were a little bit older we started to go to 10 p.m Mass (Christmas dinner here is at 12).
We all help mom to do the dinner and other stuff.
We also only received 3 presents each from Santa but I like the fact that you made with that a connection with the wisemen (In Spain and Latin America, the wisemen (not Santa) are the ones who bring presents to children in January 6th).

I’m sorry I can’t give any new ideas for you.

Best wishes,

JP's MOM said...

Great post...We also keep baby Jesus separate although my 6 and 3 year olds have never asked how he gets there. I guess because that is how we have always done it.

One of my favorite things was the fisher price's little people nativity. My kids love it and love it year round!

My 6 year old decided to collect different nativities last year, so he has them set up all over his room as well as playroom.

Another great tradition is to have your children choose some of their own toys to give away before Christmas.

We also enjoy reading the Christmas story by the twinkling lights on the tree on Christmas eve.

The birthday cake is also so fun, but I have the kids choose the flavor and bake it together with me.

I hope some of those ideas help ya.

keri said...

these are great traditions. we just started our jesse tree this year...we actually used the same websites that you linked to and ella and i painted wooden circles of the pictures. i changed a few of them though and got other ideas from other sites. anyway, i love this new tradition and how it helps our kids see God's redemptive plan throughout scripture...and how it leads us to the coming of Christ.

Alice said...

Here is what we do with our Nativity scene. I put the "barn" part out on the table and let it stand empty for a few days. Then as it gets closer to Christmas, each night we put one new figure in and then talk about their/its place in the Christmas story. (I actually bought another similar set so we could have extra animals, and one of the sets had a beautiful camel and an angel that the original set didn't.) By Christmas Eve, all of the figures are in--then that evening, they get to put the Baby Jesus in. Then we light candles and sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. Our two little girls (ages 4 & 2) LOVE this.

Lizz said...

Thanks for sharing. I've been thinking about this as well as my oldest recently turned three. She is obviously more aware of her surrounding and it makes me want to make sure that when she thinks of Christmas, Jesus comes to mind before Santa. Enjoy the season!

Lizz said...

Thanks for sharing. I've been thinking about this as well as my oldest recently turned three. She is obviously more aware of her surrounding and it makes me want to make sure that when she thinks of Christmas, Jesus comes to mind before Santa. Enjoy the season!

Room for Grace said...

Thanks for the link to the Jesse tree. I want to do it this year, but am a bit stressed that we are already behind!
One thing new we are going to do this year is have a family gift to help somone monthly through Compassion International. My 7 year old has been asking to do this ever since we came home from China in the spring. We hope the kids will see what a blessing it is to enter into another's life and help as we can. This will be our small gift to Jesus. My son wants a pen pal, so hopefully this will fill that wish as well.
Thanks for the great ideas!

Amber said...

we started the jesse tree this year with our 2 1/2 year old and 15 month old. i love it! it is so much fun! it was definitely work shopping for/making the ornaments, but totally worth it. they are a bit young, but i'm looking forward to this tradition year after year.

K & K said...

We are recent newlyweds starting our blog and I love reading yours!
A blog-technical question:

how do you imbed hyperlinks into your blog that come out as whichever words you wish?

Sarah said...

I just posted some ideas, so hop on over to my blog and take a read. I always enjoy reading your posts:)

Mandi said...

Oh, I just knew I could count on you for a thoughtful post on this subject!!!

Our foster son (who hopefully will be our adopted son soon) is only 9 1/2 months old but this is something that has been weighing on my mind lately with Christmas quickly approaching. I always want our celebrations/traditions to have meaning and purpose and for them to focus on the birth of our Savior.

I've had mixed feelings about Santa but feel I am beginning to get some clarity...thank you for sharing your ideas and for the Jesus is Better than Santa poem.