Traditions and Symbols

stockings hung on the fireplace

Christmas is a wonderful time to grow closer to family and friends. One way to do this is through family traditions and knowing more about the symbolism of the season. 

Traditions That Fit Your Family

I've always loved our Christmas traditions, but in the past, instead of using them as a framework for celebration, I used them to measure the value of Christmas — how "perfect" our family's holiday looked to others. I realized that our traditions were for our benefit, not others. Ideally, they should build up family members, focus on what Jesus did or model His love. So I took an inventory of our Christmas traditions to decide which ones to keep. As I did, I asked myself the following three questions:

  • Is the tradition Christ-centered? Traditions can help emphasize the meaning of Christmas year after year, beginning with young children and continuing as they grow. After all, what works for young children (a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" party) can be tweaked and used for older children (a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" cake).
  • Is the tradition fostering relationship? A good tradition will draw my children into deeper relationships with other family members. If children fight or complain all through an activity, or by the end of it we feel like saying, "Merry stinking Christmas," then that tradition isn't meeting the needs of our family.
  • Is the tradition building cherished memories? The joy of a tradition can leave an imprint of God's love in the memory of a child. Traditions focused on family become precious memories that our children can carry with them into adulthood.

—Catherine Grace

Over-the-Top Presents

My husband and I give our Christmas presents in different ways each year. One year, we didn't put them under the tree until the night before. Another, we used a coded number system on the gift tags. But then one Christmas we stopped because we thought our children were getting too old for these games.

That Christmas morning, I awoke to find our presents duct-taped to the walls and ceiling. Our son chose to continue our let's-have-fun-with-the-presents tradition and worked on it in the middle of the night. His younger sisters thought it was hilarious.

—Danielle Pitzer

Neighborhood Nativity

I love sharing a favorite Christmas tradition from my childhood with my own children — a neighborhood Nativity play. Each year we invite the neighborhood kids to join us in dressing as Bible characters from the story of Christ's birth: angels, animals, shepherds and kings. The oldest child narrates. Our annual production takes place in the front yard with an inflatable Nativity scene as the backdrop. After the play, we celebrate with a birthday cake for Jesus and a brunch with all the kids' families. I treasure sharing the Gospel with our children and neighbors.

— Jennifer Cook

Symbols of Christmas

Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, encourages parents to allow their children to help decorate for the celebration of Christ's birth.

"I love to involve children in the excitement of Jesus' coming," Sally says. "God's people waited for Him, and in Advent we're waiting, too. We're getting ready for Him; we’re preparing our homes and our hearts for Him."

Consider relating biblical symbolism and stories to items you use while decorating the tree. As you string the lights, you might remind your kids that Jesus is the Light of the World. The star on the top of the tree represents the star that led the wise men to where Jesus was born. Here are a few additional insights to share while decorating together:

  • Christmas tree - Evergreens don't lose their greenery. These trees can be symbolic of something that doesn't end and compared to eternal life.
  • Angel ornaments - God sent His choir of angels to proclaim the Good News to the shepherds.
  • Gifts - The greatest gift of all is Jesus Christ. God sent His only Son to pay the price for our sins.

— Andrea Gutierrez

The Stocking Tradition

As I stitched an angel design on a Christmas stocking for our newborn daughter, she slept peacefully in the bassinet. I wondered, "Would this stocking, filled with toys and goodies, diminish the meaning of Christmas?"

I prayed for guidance. My husband and I wanted to instill faith in our five children. We did not want our children to get caught up in material things. I grabbed my Bible, flipped the pages and started reading about Elizabeth and Zechariah. I read where Elizabeth's unborn baby leapt in her womb as she greeted Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and my own heart leapt with an idea.

If I wanted God's Holy Spirit to fill us, why not compare the filled stockings to how God fills our lives with good gifts? Months later, as Christmas approached, we prepared for a new tradition.

During Advent, we read about Elizabeth's joy at the upcoming birth of Jesus. We shared with our children how we wanted them to be filled with joy and that we had a new surprise in store for that year.

On Christmas Day, holding our stockings filled with fruits and treasures, we gathered around the tree. We asked everyone to share how the surprises we had carefully chosen reminded them of God's love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Becky held up a watch and said, "Look, my watch tells time. God loves me all the time!"

James pulled a toy car out of his stocking and said, "God goes with me in our car."

Sometimes we puzzled over how an item could help us think of God — especially when each child received the same gift. I remember laughing after the fourth banana was pulled from a stocking. Our creativity was definitely stretched on those! Yet the moments of laughter and sharing helped us keep God in our celebration.

Over the years, we kept the tradition, and as the children grew, the comments changed, adding more depth. Last Christmas we received a gift in return. Our daughter Darlene's fiancée joined in our Christmas stocking tradition. Darlene exclaimed, "I can hardly wait until we have children and celebrate this custom with our own family."

— Karen Whiting

"Traditions and Symbols" the compiled article first appeared on FocusOnTheFamily.com. "Traditions That Fit Your Family" first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Over-the-Top Presents" first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Symbols of Christmas" first appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Neighborhood Nativity" first appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "The Stocking Tradition" first appeared in the December 2004 edition of Focus on the Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.
"Traditions and Symbols," the compiled article © 2016 by Focus on the Family. "Traditions That Fit Your Family" © 2017 by Catherine Grace. "Over-the-Top Presents" © 2017 by Danielle Pitzer. "Symbols of Christmas" © 2009 by Focus on the Family. "The Stocking Tradition" © 2004 by Karen H. Whiting. "Neighborhood Nativity" © 2014 by Jennifer Cook. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: Christmas Activities

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