Written by Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

Singing Christmas carols, lighting the Christmas Tree, putting out the Christmas decorations, lighting the Advent candles, giving and receiving gifts, rejoicing in the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Christmas is such a special and magical time of year; filled with family traditions and warm memories.  But, it is also a busy and full time, where we can easily get swept up by all that we “have” to do, and miss out on truly celebrating the Reason that we celebrate at all.

Since adding children to our family, my hubby and I have become more aware of the importance of creating and keeping family traditions that are meaningful and point us toward Christ during the Christmas season.  I was so blessed to grow up in a wonderful Christian family where my parents helped my sisters and me to keep our focus on Jesus at Christmas time. They created traditions that I am looking forward to passing on to my children, as well as incorporating our own new traditions.

Family Traditions That Point Toward Christ

The Nativity

My family had a nativity scene growing up that was not the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but I have such fond memories of it.  The paint was chipped on the figures, and the stable was cardboard with hay glued to the roof that would become thinner and thinner with each passing year; it was obvious it was well loved.

Our nativity was not a “just look but don’t touch” kind of nativity.  My sisters and I loved to play the Christmas story by acting out with the figures.  We would take turns playing with the different characters, and instead of just being a decoration, the nativity was a special toy for us to play with.

I want my children to have the same experience, to be able to play and interact with our nativity scene so that it can become real to them, and not just something that just sits up on a shelf or the mantel.  We celebrate Christmas because Jesus came to us, to be where we are, to interact with people on a close and intimate level, and I want the figures that represent His birth to symbolize that  for my children.

Lighting the Christmas Tree

“Come on, ring those bells, Light the Christmas tree, Jesus is the king, Born for you and me. Come on, ring those bells, Everybody say, Jesus, we remember, This your birthday.” This is the song that we played on our record player (yes, record player) every year as we would decorate our family’s Christmas Tree.  It was a reminder to us that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

Now with my children, when we light our Christmas tree, I also want to talk about how Jesus came to earth to be the light of the world (John 1:9).  One of my favorite things to do at Christmas time is to sit in the dark and look at the beautifully decorated Christmas tree.  I want to teach my children that the same Light that we celebrate at Christmas shines through their lives as they live for Jesus.
Christmas Carols (in very easy arrangements)
Photo by Mykl Roventine

Christmas Carols

Who doesn’t love singing Christmas carols?  I love to hear the words about Jesus’ arrival on earth playing on the radio and in stores where otherwise His name would never be mentioned.

Children love music, and songs are a great way to teach them truths about God, the Bible, and the true meaning of Christmas. Too often, though, I think the words of the most beloved Christmas carols are so familar that we sing them and miss the true meaning of the words.

On Christmas morning my sisters and I were allowed to wake up my parents at a specified time by playing Christmas carols on the piano.  We would practice for weeks ahead of time, and then begin Christmas morning by playing songs that declared the arrival of Christ.  It was a great way to begin our Christmas celebration focusing on Him.

Teach Christmas carols about Jesus’ birth to your children and take the time to explain to them the words and what they mean.  Taking your children Christmas caroling is also an opportunity to share the good news about the birth of Jesus with others. My parents began a tradition of caroling on Christmas Eve after I had moved away to college, but I know that it is something that they look forward to every year.

The Christmas Story

Before we could open presents on Christmas morning, my family would always read the account of Jesus’ birth from the Bible;  and not just read it, but also act it out. It was usually just the five of us, my parents, my two sisters and I, but we would all get involved in the retelling of the story.

We would even get dressed up – we had a white sheet and a halo made of pipe cleaners for the angel Gabriel, towels on our head tied on with string transformed us into Mary and Joseph, and my mom’s purple robe became the outfit of one of the wise men. My dad played the part of honor as the donkey who Mary would ride to Bethlemham on, until we got to big to sit on his back any longer, of course.

It wasn’t always the most peaceful performance as my sisters and I would often argue over who got to be the angel or Mary, our favorite roles.  But, I treasure those memories almost more than any other Christmas tradition.

Of all of our traditions, I think that this one was the most important; reading and being involved in the Biblical account of Christ’s birth helped to keep us focused on Him. Even when I entered my teenage years and thought I was too “cool” to act out the story with my sisters and would roll my eyes and sit on the couch pretending I didn’t care, it was still my favorite part of Christmas day, because I knew that if Jesus had not come to earth as a baby, we would not be celebrating at all.

christmas tree 2004
Photo by Scott Feldstein

Giving Gifts

Giving and receiving gifts at Christmas is the major focus of our society today, so I believe that it is very important to keep Christ at the center of gift giving, and guard against getting swept up in the materialism and consumerism of our culture.

Another song that we played on our record player when I was growing up was “The Gift Goes On” by Sandi Patti as we handed out presents on Christmas morning.  The words, “And the gift goes on, The Father gave the Son, and the gift goes on, The Son gave the Spirit, and the gift goes on, The Spirit gives us life, and the gift goes on and on and on…” reminded us how God gave us the greatest gift in His Son.

This year, our family is implementing the three gifts idea, based on the gifts that Jesus received from the Magi.  We are looking forward to simplifying our gift giving, guarding against over-consumption, as well as teaching our children another aspect of the Christmas story in this way.

Birthday Cake for Jesus

Another new tradition that we are going to start with our family this year is making a birthday cake for Jesus.  My three year old daughter loves birthdays.  As we just celebrated birthdays for three of us this fall, and this was the first year that she could really remember and understand, birthdays are fresh on her mind. I read about this idea after Christmas last year, and thought it was such a great way to teach children that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday at Christmas that I knew it was a tradition I wanted to add to our family’s celebration.

Ultimately, as a family, we want to glorify God in all that we say and do, and this is just as true at Christmas time.  We want to keep and incorporate our family traditions that focus on Christ as the reason for Christmas, and create our own traditions that will add to our children’s experience of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday.

Beth wrote a great post about evaluating the symbols that we use at Christmas, and I think it is also important to take the same attitude toward our different Christmas family traditions and make sure that they are drawing us closer and pointing us to the One who is the reason that we celebrate, that He is the greatest celebration of all!

What traditions keep your family focused on Christ during the Christmas season?

Top photo by OakleyOriginals