As my 3-year-old daughter tore through Christmas gifts, I was reminded that the world doesn't look to Jesus for its celebration of Christmas. We have Santa, trees and the ecstasy of unwrapping gifts. My daughter could give the Sunday-school answer about why we celebrate Christmas, but she wasn't excited about that. To achieve that kind of enthusiasm about Jesus, I realized, would take more intentional parenting.
As fathers, we must deliberately show our children that the holiday is about more than the presents under the tree. Here are some things I do to set the right tone for the Christmas season:
Talk about Jesus early and often
Scripture reminds us to talk about the teachings of God with our children constantly (Deuteronomy 6:7). My daughter tends to pepper me with questions before bedtime. I know she's often stalling, but when she's asking questions about Jesus, we take all the time she needs. I'm happy to speculate about whether Jesus can play soccer if it helps my daughter learn about His love. With a strong spiritual foundation, the observance of Christmas is truly something to celebrate.
Focus on experiences more than gifts
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, Americans estimated spending nearly $800 on Christmas gifts. But another study concluded that life experiences actually make people happier than material purchases. I can't tell you what I got for Christmas when I was 9, but I can vividly recall watching movies and looking at lights with my family on Christmas Eve.
Make giving a priority
Christmas provides a special opportunity to model for our kids how we can serve others. Every Christmas season, our family works together to give to someone in need — either through Operation Christmas Child (filling a shoebox with gifts for a child in another country) or Salvation Army Angel Tree (buying gifts for a child in our local community). Choosing a child who is about the same age as our daughter is a fantastic way for her to feel connected to the child.
If we want our children to truly experience Christ at Christmas, it's up to us as fathers to show them how — through our words and actions.