Does the phrase “family Christmas list” motivate you? Or does creating fun and faith activities sound overwhelming? Making memories can be a lot of work, and much of it tends to fall on Mom. So you may be tempted to think, Is it worth it?
One young mom told me, with tears in her eyes, “My babies are 1 and 3, and we’re barely surviving. Making a bunch of memories feels so overwhelming!” I reassured her that I had tackled very few activities when I was sleep-deprived and chasing toddlers. At that stage in life, I chose just a few Christmas traditions and spent the rest of my waking hours keeping my toddlers safe and fed, as well as stopping them from ripping ornaments off the tree.
Traditions can offer comforting memories that our kids often carry with them for the rest of their lives. I vividly remember singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” in the wooden pew at my grammy’s church and eating the crusty cinnamon rolls Mom made the next morning.
As my own kids have grown older, I’ve chosen to find ways to remember the Christmas season with them. When we slow down to celebrate, we are showing our family that our faith matters—and that they matter.
One activity my family and I intentionally do happens directly after Thanksgiving. We create a family Christmas activity list. I love this tradition because it can grow and change with our family.
We are strategic about the activities we pick, choosing the ones that our family loves or that help us focus on Christ. No need to spend hours snipping out paper snowflakes if no one enjoys it!
While our list changes every year, I like to pull from a few categories: food, service, activities and faith.
Many of my most precious memories involve food. I’ve realized it’s not a waste of my time as a mom to labor over dough and spices and flavors. Delicious food makes the day special for my loved ones. Here are a few ways my family and I have celebrated Christmas with food, and you can, too:
Make a traditional shepherd’s feast. This meal can take many forms, but the key is to keep the food simple and eat what the shepherds would have eaten. Bread, cheese, fruit, nuts and olives are a great start. Sometimes we’ve placed a blanket on the floor in the living room so we can enjoy this meal picnic-style.
Enjoy a fancy candlelit dinner. We break out the fine china and crisp linens for a fancy meal the week before Christmas. My family loves it.
Celebrate a unique Christmas Eve. My family likes to eat appetizers on Christmas Eve, but we have friends who enjoy other menu items such as Chinese takeout or baked ham. It’s fun to involve the family in coming up with unique and festive menus, such as enjoying the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Create a Christmas breakfast tradition. Ours is blueberry-lemon coffee cake, brown sugar bacon, berries, quiche and hash browns.
Go Christmas caroling. Visit an assisted living center or walk your neighborhood while belting out Christmas favorites. My family and I have found that people, especially those who are older, adore this classic activity.
Make cards. We surprise our mail carriers and sanitation truck drivers with homemade Christmas cards accompanied by cookies or a tip.
Bless your server with a generous tip. One family I know puts spare change in a jar throughout the year, and then the week before Christmas they eat pancakes at a breakfast restaurant and leave a gigantic tip for the waitress or waiter.
Go St. Nicholas Day candy caning. We think of a family who needs a little Christmas love, and we sneak over to their house and decorate their front lawn with wrapped candy canes poked into the lawn. Then we leave a gift certificate at the door, ring the doorbell, and sprint out of sight.
Time is the glue that holds families together. As a task-oriented person, I sometimes find it difficult to stop and play, yet simple activities mean so much to my kids. Here are some of our favorites activities that may be fun for your family of faith, too:
Complete a Christmas puzzle. We have found this to be a great activity especially if we have company, such as grandparents, visiting over the holidays.
Have a Christmas movie night. Whether we select Christmas classics or new releases, our family loves getting cozy and sharing a large bowl of popcorn.
Sleep by the tree. A family slumber party by the Christmas tree is a tradition our kids love year after year.
Craft a construction paper Christmas chain. This is so simple, but it’s always a hit with my kids.
Hide a special ornament in the tree on Christmas Eve. My husband’s family always hunted for a baby Jesus figurine on Christmas morning. The person who finds the ornament or figurine can open the first present.
Listen to favorite Christmas music together. We love Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” and Handel’s Messiah.
When my son was 3, he said, “Mom! I know why God put a star in the sky at Christmas!”
“Why, buddy?” I asked, brimming with pride.
“Because,” he said, “He wanted to tell everyone that Santa was coming!”
Needless to say, that was deflating. I realized I had some work to do to get the focus of Christmas shifted back to the birth of our Lord. Here are our favorite fun and faith activities that remind us of God’s great love for us in Jesus:
Observe Advent. Make an Advent wreath and light the candles each Sunday evening at dinner. Find directions at FocusOnTheFamily.com/Wreath. You also can download a free Advent calendar at FocusOnTheFamily.com/Advent.
Read through favorite Christian books. My family likes One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham and Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide. Few things we’ve done have been more meaningful than our daily ritual of reading Christ-centered books. Then we have a special reading time on Christmas Eve as we go through the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke. (Find other books at “How to Find Great Books to Read to Your Kids” or listen to the Adventures in Odyssey: Countdown to Christmas Advent Collection)
Give a gift to Jesus. Have everyone in the family contribute money, even if it’s just a small amount. Then decide together where to donate your gift. We remind our kids, as we give to Compassion International, that Jesus said the way we treat the least of these is the way we are treating Him.
Have a birthday party for Jesus. I found this to be a great way for my toddlers to understand what we are celebrating at Christmas.
Your Christmas activities list
As you gather to create your family’s Christmas activity list, remember that Jesus is more important than your list, and so is your family. You may not accomplish all of the things on your list, and that’s OK. The goal isn’t to check them off. It’s to fix your eyes on Jesus and to enjoy family togetherness with the hope of creating lasting memories.
With all these ideas, you might not know where to begin. My husband and I start our Christmas planning with prayer. God knows our family, our schedule and the kind of year we’ve had. He longs to help us shepherd our children. I ask Him what to let go of and what to include so my family will see Jesus more clearly this season. So far, it’s worked for me. I know it can work for your family, too!