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Traditions: Old and New Ways to Celebrate Christmas

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Lit Christmas tree next to a fireplace with six Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle
Enjoy family traditions or come up with activities that can become traditions to draw your family closer together during the Christmas season

Christmas is a wonderful time to grow closer to family and friends. One way to do this is through enjoying family activities and traditions together.  A tradition is anything that your family does each year. They might be passed down from ancestors or made up on the spur of the moment. Regardless, these activities are meant to help people of all ages enjoy each other and the season.

Toddler-Friendly Tree

My husband and I put unbreakable ornaments on the tree when our kids were toddlers. We wanted the tree to be a symbol of the peace of Christ, so we made sure our interactions with the toddlers were peaceful. We didn’t block off the tree or scold our children to leave it alone. When my daughter pulled off the little stuffed-bear ornaments multiple times, I smiled and put them back up again.

© 2020 by Amber Bulk

Christmas Stargazing

We took advantage of the darkness one December evening and went outside with our children—ages 4, 14 and 16—for star viewing. My oldest shared his telescope with his siblings, who took turns searching for the brightest star. We named it the Christmas Star, took turns admiring its beauty and talked about the star at Jesus’ birth. It was a peaceful Christmas moment as we huddled near one another, looking up in quiet awe.

© 2020 by Carrie Nelson

An Unfinished Present

One year I learned that even a Christmas gone awry is still a time for celebration. That year I tried to paint sets of peg dolls for my children for Christmas. Even though I worked into the wee hours night after night, I finished only eight of the 20 that I had planned to make. I thought the kids would be disappointed, but they had a more exciting time watching me paint the remaining dolls. Remembering that experience has helped take the pressure off of having the “perfect” Christmas experience.

© 2020 by Cassi Griesbach

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.

© 2017 by 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.

© 2017 by 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.

© 2014 by 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.

© 2009 by Focus on the Family; written by 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.”

© 2004 by Karen H. Whiting

Updating Our Traditions

My kids enjoyed our family’s Christmas traditions when they were younger, but as they reached their late tween years, these traditions no longer seemed quite as fun to them. My husband and I decided that it was time for a change because we wanted our children to enjoy celebrating Christ’s birth. We adjusted our traditions so our kids could take more responsibility and play a larger role in them.

New Christmas ornaments. Instead of buying ornaments for each child, I gave my kids a budget and let them purchase their own ornaments. Sometimes my kids spent weeks hunting for the perfect ornament that represented something from the past year.

Christmas cards and letters. Instead of picking one family photo for our Christmas card, I had my kids choose a few favorite photos from the past year. They also wrote their own section for the family letter. (All with parental veto power, of course.)

Christmas tree. Instead of an exclusive family trip to the Christmas tree lot, we let our kids invite friends to traipse along to choose our tree. Afterward, we hosted a decorating party that included hot chocolate and treats.

Gifts for the needy. Instead of choosing a Christmas service project for the family, my husband and I allowed our children to pick someone or an organization to bless, such as Samaritan’s Purse or The Salvation Army. They earned money doing odd jobs or recycling to pay for their personal project.

I knew that these traditions would need to be readjusted again as my kids grew older, but these small changes demonstrated that I recognized their growing maturity.

© 2015 by Marian Fritzemeier

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