Sometimes it's the small things that help us find Jesus during the Christmas season — a smile from a stranger, card from a loved one. But often parents need to be intentional. Here are activities that parents have done to help their families celebrate the birth of our Savior or draw closer together as a family:
The Gift of Scripture
Last year, I asked my immediate and extended family to select a Scripture that meant something to them during the course of the year. On Christmas morning, we all took turns reading our chosen verse or passage and sharing why it was important to us. We found that this was a way to include Jesus in the gift-giving, and it helped everyone grow a little closer to our Savior.
Stockings Filled With Love
After my grandmother died, my mother hung up a stocking at Christmastime to help our family honor her life. We put in love notes and cherished memories of her. After my father died, I did this same activity with my kids to help them with their grief. The very young had a concrete activity to do, and my older children were able to work through their feelings of loss.
Secret Santa Surprise
When my son, Tommy, was 10, I asked at bedtime, "Who in your class do you like the least?"
He looked surprised, but quickly answered, "That's easy" and told me a name.
"Then that is who we will pray for tonight," I said with a smile. He did not reciprocate my expression.
For the next two months, either at bedtime or while driving Tommy to school, I would pray for this least-liked classmate.
December came, and it was time for our family to choose a family that we could be a "secret Santa" to, so we could anonymously leave a little gift and note on someone's doorstep each of the 12 nights leading up to Christmas.
When I asked for suggestions, whose name should come out of Tommy's mouth but Mr. Least Liked! God had changed Tommy's heart and attitude toward this classmate.
"Find the baby Jesus" is a game that has been used in my husband's family for more than 30 years. My mother-in-law set up a Nativity scene in the kitchen on Dec. 1. Then she hid baby Jesus far from the kitchen. Her sons had to find the figurine. As Christmas approached, the figurine would be hidden in progressively closer locations — moving from the upstairs bedrooms to the kitchen itself.
The hiding spots became more challenging as her boys grew older. This simple game kept Jesus in the forefront of her sons' minds, and it is a tradition that my family continues today.
— Marybeth Mitcham
This past December, my kids and I made Christmas bingo cards. They chose fun activities, as well as some acts of service, to include on their cards. By the time the kids went back to school in January, they'd each earned a "bingo" and had a lot of fun. (Download a free bingo card and suggestions to try this yourself.)
— Diane Stark
Ideas for Serving Others This Christmas Season
We're called to humbly serve other people — not only the poor and sick, but our families, friends and neighbors, too. Sometimes, we're so busy, though, that it's hard to come up with ways to help others. Try these lists of quick ways you and your kids can serve people you know: 1) Serving siblings and close friends 2) Serving your family 3) Serving neighbors and your community. If you can't decide which ideas will work best, print them and cut them into slips. Put the slips of paper into a jar or hat and pull out an idea.
— T.F. Edwords
A Simple Celebration
There is so much to see and do at Christmas. To keep from being too busy, my husband and I developed a list of activities — from making cookies to ice skating — then each family member chose only one activity for the holidays. This list helped us deepen our relationship with our tweens because we weren't rushing around to so many activities. Instead, we were able to enjoy each other, and the season was a lot less hectic.
— Kim Adam
Keeping Your Thoughts on Christ
A walk through the Moyers' home in December reveals a variety of Nativity sets, both large and small, but not one contains a baby Jesus figure. Four-year-old Lydia Grace Moyer can tell you why. "Jesus is born on Christmas."
Not until the morning of Dec. 25 do the baby figures appear in their beds of straw. Lydia jumps out of bed and races downstairs to rush from one manger to another. As the preschooler hugs baby Jesus, welcoming Him to their home, her mother smiles. What better way to begin the day, focused on God's gift to the world?
We say we celebrate our Savior's birth on Christmas, but in our dash to make it the perfect holiday, we often lose sight of Jesus. The following simple, sometimes unusual suggestions will help you and your family focus your thoughts on Christ during this special time of year.
Create a Jesse tree. It's hard for children to wait for Christmas and harder still not to think about the presents they will get. Use an Advent Jesse tree and companion book to help them prepare their hearts for the true meaning of the season. These small evergreen trees are decorated with ornaments that symbolize stories from the Bible. Look online for a detailed description of ornaments that are often used.
Each day in December leading up to Christmas, your children can make or unwrap an ornament to hang on the tree while you read one of the 25 devotionals that trace God's redemptive plan from the beginning, long before Jesus was born. The readings culminate on Christmas with the birth of the new "shoot . . . from the stump of Jesse," as foretold in Isaiah 11:1.
Watch a Christmas play. Whether it's the Nativity story or an allegory such as "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a stage performance brings a story to life like no movie can. Children thrill to a real baby's cry or to Aslan's roar. If no live play is available, perform one. The children in my family always put on a rendition of Christ's birth as told in Luke 2.
Imitate the wise men. Buy only three presents for each child in remembrance of the Magi's gifts to the Christ child. These presents don't need to be expensive in order to be meaningful. To keep Christmas Day focused on Jesus, some families postpone their gift exchange to Epiphany on Jan. 6. By tradition, Epiphany recalls the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus and so reveal Him to the world as Lord and King.
Share Christmas joy. Spread Jesus' love by helping others and by lifting the spirits of those who might not see a reason to celebrate. Together as a family, visit a nursing home, serve meals at a mission or church, or pack and deliver Christmas baskets for food pantries. Make sure your children know you do this not to earn God's favor but to love Him by loving others.
These are just a few ideas to help you start your own family traditions. Use them to create times when you shut out the hustle and bustle of the holiday and focus on the "holy day" when love came down from heaven as a tiny baby to dwell among us.
— Tracy Crump
Age-Appropriate Christmas Activities
Try these fun-filled, age-appropriate activities that will direct children, and adults, back to the true meaning of the holiday, to celebrate Emmanuel, God who is with us.
- In order to avoid making Christmas a "don't touch holiday" for little ones, give them fun things they can touch.
- Move glass ornaments and lights up to higher branches on the Christmas tree, and help your child make fun decorations for the bottom.
- String pieces of colored tissue paper cut into squares onto shoestrings to hang as garland.
- Get out the glitter and make paper ornaments.
- Mold a nativity scene from clay dough and display in a prominent place. Tell the story of Christmas while you do this.
- Decorate cookies and build gingerbread houses together as a family.
- Help your little ones focus on others this season by making use of those Christmas cards received in the mail. Place the cards in a basket on the dinner table; taking turns each night drawing one out. Then pray together for that person or family.
- Also, start a family tradition by picking out a new holiday picture book to read each Christmas Eve. Some of my favorites are:
- 10 Minutes to Showtime, by Tricia Goyer
- The Crippled Lamb, by Max Lucado
- The Stable Where Jesus was Born, by Rhonda Gowler Greene
- The Christmas Rose, by William H. Hooks
- Ring in an international Christmas by assigning a country to each child. Besides reporting about how that country celebrates the holiday, he or she can prepare a seasonal dish to share, or demonstrate a song or folkdance. Then pray for the people of that culture so that they too might understand the meaning of God's love.
- This age group is old enough to bundle up and go caroling. During each visit allow for a few seasonal songs and readings from the scriptures proclaiming the birth of the newborn king. Besides visiting the neighbors, teens may want to stop by the local convalescent home, hospital, or homeless shelter.
- Many families choose to celebrate Advent – the days leading up to Christmas Day. There are fun Advent calendars on the market, some with doors that open and play songs, others that hide chocolate candies or other treats. Focus on the Family offers various Advent calendars, some free and some to purchase. To learn more about the free downloads, go to FocusOnTheFamily.com/Advent.
— Lynne Thompson