As 2011 comes to an end, we’re sharing helpful lists to help you save money, stay healthy, get organized, creatively repurpose, frugally gift-give, intentionally celebrate and more in our “11 Things for 2011” series throughout these holiday months.

Written by Erin Odom, Contributing Writer

As followers of Jesus, keeping Christ as the center of my family’s Christmas celebrations is key. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to decorate with snowmen, buy presents, throw parties, eat lots of (good!) food or even play Santa Claus (although my family doesn’t). But if we do all those things and forget Christ, what does that say to our children? And what does that say to the world? 

Over the past couple years, I’ve been gathering ideas on how my family can truly celebrate Christ during the season.

1. Decorate with Nativity Sets

When we first married, my husband and I started collecting nativity sets from different countries whenever we went on mission trips. Sometime today or tomorrow, we will bring out nativity sets from Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, China, Argentina, Israel–and a few from North America as well–and use them to teach our children the Christmas story and about how God calls us to spread the gospel of Jesus all over the world.

2. Serve Others as a Family

Whether you serve a meal at your local soup kitchen or sew dresses for impoverished girls, use this season as a springboard for serving those Jesus came to save throughout the year.

3. Deliver Treats with Scripture

What do homemade treats or baked goods have to do with celebrating Jesus? If your focus is making the treats a way to show Him to your neighbors, it could be a prime example of keeping Him center! One of my favorite memories from last Christmas was taking my then-2-year-old and 2-month-old girls all bundled up around our neighborhood and delivering banana bread on Christmas morning. We simply attached a card to each loaf with a Scripture proclaiming Christ’s birth.

4. Decorate a Jesse Tree

I had never  heard of a Jesse Tree until last Christmas! Basically, a Jesse Tree uses devotionals from throughout the entire Bible, starting with Creation and the Fall of man and ending with Jesus’s coming. After reading each daily devotional, you and your children can make ornaments representative of that day’s story to hang on a special tree. Last year, I subscribed to Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience, and received a wonderful free downloadable book of Jesse Tree devotionals and printables.

5. Count down the days with an Advent Calendar–or Wreath

Advent refers to a period of spiritual preparation in the season leading up to Christmas. Many families celebrate Advent with countdown calendars for each day of December–or with lighting a candle for each week leading up to December 25.

6. Keep Gift-Giving Simple

My family doesn’t think there is anything wrong with giving gifts at Christmas, but instead of lavishing our girls with any and every toy, we’ve decided to keep it at just 3 gifts–in representation of the 3 gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus. We are intentional about the types of gifts as well: They receive a want (like a new toy), a need (like an article of clothing) and a spiritual gift (like a new Bible). Another idea is to give gifts that give back to others.

7. Throw a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” Party

I’ve recently heard of families baking birthday cakes for Jesus to eat with Christmas dinner. Another option would be to throw a birthday party for Jesus. Invite all the neighborhood children and use it as an evangelistic outreach. 

8. Dramatize the Christmas Story

My college roommate’s family has always put on their own Christmas pageant. An alternate to this would be to watch someone else act it out. The last couple years my family has enjoyed a local “A Walk Through Bethlehem” outdoor live nativity.

9. Watch The Nativity Story

Some Christmas movies are cheesy. The Nativity Story isn’t. My husband and I have started watching it together on Christmas Eve while we’re wrapping presents.

10. Create a Paper Chain Garland

Richele, from Under the Golden Apple Tree, and her children decorate their tree with a homemade paper chain. Each chain contains one Scripture from the Christmas story, and they spend the days leading up to Christmas opening up and reading the verses. 

11. DON’T Do it All!

Last year, I tried to do it all. I was overly enthusiastic about the fact that my 2 year old could understand more of the Christmas story. But in trying so hard to keep Christ the center, I ended up stressing out and leaving Him out!

The result was a half-made Jesse Tree, an Advent calendar that remained unopened and scrambling to open up multiple Scripture chains several nights in a row when we realized we had missed a few. If you’re eager to incorporate some of these suggestions, pray about it and decide which ones best fit your family.

I think Jessalyn of Desiring Virtue said it so well here: “Trying to do too much during the holiday season, even good things, can result in a loss of the meditative spirit we are hoping to cultivate.”

Further Reading:

How does your family celebrate Christ at Christmas?


Top image by Matt Ryall