December is perhaps my favorite month of the year—at least, it was when I was a kid.
Christmas break meant no school—which meant all the time in the world to binge on video games, build elaborate forts with my brothers, and listen to A Very Special Christmas a thousand times on repeat.
There’s no end to the nostalgia the Christmas season brings, but very few of my memories have anything to do with Jesus.
I want my kids to love the Christmas season—except with a gospel-focus. To do that, there are 3 mistakes I plan to avoid this year and every year following.
Mistake #1: The Hurried Holiday
There’s nothing wrong with busyness in itself. Jesus’ ministry was incredibly busy at times—so busy his disciples didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6:31). We all face seasons of busyness.
The first Christmas was certainly busy—a city overcrowded with census registrants, a woman in full-term labor, and all Joseph could find was a dirty stable. Our holiday stresses usually pale in comparison to this.
The key question for us as parents is this: What motivates our busyness?
1. Do we stuff our schedules full because we are trying to please everyone? Do we feel the need to say yes to every party invite? Every gathering? Every visitor?
Don’t forget the example of Jesus. As the report about Him spread, “great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 15-16).
Jesus understood His servanthood wasn’t measured by how happy He made others around Him.
2. Do we focus on the wrong things while trying to be the perfect host/hostess? Do we drive ourselves crazy with unreasonably high standards—the perfectly clean house, the best food?
Don’t forget the story of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to His words. Martha was busy preparing food for her guests. When Martha got frustrated with Mary for not helping, Jesus gently corrected her:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Mary understood her hospitality wasn’t measured by the amenities she provided—and certainly not by her stress levels.
Instead, prioritize what’s important this Christmas season—and then schedule it.
When you’re looking at your days, determine what the most important things are and be sure they are on the schedule. Let the extra, lesser important things, fit in if you have time. What’s important this Christmas season?
- Extra time spent in prayer? Schedule it.
- Quality time with your kids? Schedule it.
- Christmas Eve service at your church? Schedule it.
- Extra time for Bible devotions with your kids? Schedule it.
- Visiting relatives you don’t often get to see? Schedule it.
- Serving the less fortunate? Schedule it.
Even if the activity seems informal (like spending time with your spouse or kids), block off time and don’t let other things rob you of time.
Also, take stock of some of the things that are likely to rob you of your attention, and make plans to avoid those things.
- Are you tempted to go overboard with holiday cooking? Have frozen meals ready to go for the month.
- Do you get sucked in by social media? Avoid the computer.
- Do you often attempt too many DIY Christmas projects? Limit yourself to the one you really want to do.
Mistake #2: A Miserly Mood
On average each person in America spends over $700 on gifts at Christmastime. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year.
How did Christmas become associated with such extravagant spending?
Leigh Eric Schmidt, professor of religion at Princeton, says in the early 1800s, Americans had the custom of exchanging mementos on New Year’s Day—usually small, modest, personal gifts. By the 1820s, businesses seeking to foster the budding consumer culture started advertising items as “Christmas presents,” piggybacking on this tradition. Gift-giving started to become the way middle-class Americans honored family relationships—and entrepreneurs knew how to capitalize on this.
As much as we might like to point the finger at greedy little kids for ruining the spirit of the holiday, the blame lies squarely with adults. Adults are the ones doing the buying. One survey found parents plan on spending an average of $271 per child at Christmas!
The spirit of greed at Christmas should be no small concern for Christian parents. A cursory glance at the four Gospels shows us Jesus talked more about the subject of riches than he did nearly anything else—even heaven or hell. Jesus was clearly concerned about the affect of greed on the heart (Luke 12:15-21).
Fighting the spirit of greed at Christmas takes intentionality, but there are some simple things you can do:
- Give your kids less—maybe nothing at all—and be okay with the disappointment. One year we decided not to give our kids any Christmas gifts, and it was one of the best Christmas mornings ever. Since their extended family gives them plenty at Christmas, we knew they wouldn’t be hurting for gifts. With no wrapped presents cluttering the living room and nothing to open Christmas morning, we found ways to celebrate Jesus’ birthday free of all the commercialism.
- Don’t make Christmas-getting lists. Make Christmas-giving lists. Don’t ask your child what he or she wants for Christmas (if you do give them gifts, just make note of the things they enjoy throughout the year and keep a list privately). Instead, sit down with your child to make a list of the things he or she wants to give others. These can be gifts from the whole family, gifts your child makes for others, or gifts they buy with their own money.
- Look at what Jesus says about giving, and then follow what He says. There are a lot of places in the Bible that speak about giving—and who we should be giving to (Proverbs 14:31; 19:17; Matthew 5:42; 6:1-4; Luke 12:33-34; 14:12-14; 1 John 3:17). Read these texts aloud to your kids and ask them, “Who do you think Jesus wants us to be sharing our wealth with?” (Hint: it has something to do with really poor people.) Consider putting out catalogues in your home of things your family can buy for the very poor (Compassion International and World Vision will send you printed catalogues for a donation.)
- Start a Christmas purging tradition. Get some empty boxes and start putting things into it you want to give away. Tell your children you want this to be the new tradition every Christmas, to experience the joy of giving to others and freeing yourselves of needless stuff. Encourage them to think of things to put in the boxes.
Mistake #3: Christ-less Customs
Christmas is, at its heart, meant to be about the birth of Jesus Christ. Most Christian families make a point to keep Christ in Christmas, but so many of us don’t know the good meanings behind the Christmas traditions we have.
What if each special thing we did, saw, or experienced at Christmas wasn’t just a nostalgic memento? What if we used each one of these things to remind our children about the person of Christ.
- Nativity – Take time to talk to your kids about the characters in your nativity set.
- Advent Calendars and Candles – The tradition of Advent calendars and candles date back a couple hundred years as a way of building up to the day of Christmas. Teach your kids about the tradition of the Advent wreath and put one up in your own home.
- Christmas Trees – There are many stories about the use of evergreen trees at Christmas. They were a picture of life amidst the cold of winter, the life of Christ that overcomes the bleakness of our lost world.
- Christmas Wreaths – Like the Christmas tree, the evergreen boughs of wreaths symbolize life amidst the darkness of winter, but the never-ending circle shape has been used by the church to symbolize eternal life.
- Christmas Lights – Trees used to be decorated with candles (the cause of many Christmas tree fires), and later with electric lights (thanks to Thomas Edison), to symbolize the symbolize the Star of Bethlehem or Christ Himself, the Light of the World.
For young children, as you decorate, do a little research on specific decorations you use and talk about how the church has historically used them to point to Christ.
For older children, tell them you want them to do a little investigative research online about a specific Christmas decoration and have them tell you all about it.