We’ve never had to teach our kids to like Christmas carols—they have always loved them.
We love to saturate our house with music throughout the year, but during the month of December, Christmas songs fill the atmosphere. We even enjoy a lot of the secular carols that dominate the radio in December—we love rockin’ around the Christmas tree with Brenda Lee, learning what Christmas means to Stevie Wonder, and dreaming of a white Christmas with Bing Crosby.
But the carols that really grab our hearts are those that celebrate the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Christ.
Several years ago we were visiting relatives around Thanksgiving and got to talking about what we wanted to do as a family to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We wanted to come up with something creative and memorable, and when we remembered how much our kids love Christmas songs, we thought perhaps we could use music to instruct them about Jesus.
So that’s exactly what we did. Here’s a simple step-by-step approach you can use with your kids. Read all the steps below before you start.
Step 1: Gather Your Kids Together
Find a cozy place together as a family. Pick a room in the house that is best decorated with Christmas cheer. For us, it was in front of a fully-lit Christmas tree with all the lights off.
Step 2: Sing!
Pick one song for the night and sing your heart out!
Do what best works for your family…
- Do you have CDs or playlists with these songs? Use those.
- Do you like to sing a cappella? Do that.
- Does someone in your family know how to play an accompanying instrument well? Do that.
(You may want to leave the singing until the end. If you have kids like ours who turn into distracted singing monsters for hours after they hear a song, you might want to save the singing until later.)
Step 3: Tell the Story of the Carol
Every Christmas carol comes with a story of how it was written. Before the lesson, look up any information you can about the carol and then share the story with your children.
By doing this we remind our kids about our spiritual heritage—those in the church who have loved these songs for many generations.
Step 4: Read the Scriptures
For each song, choose a Bible passage that fits the message of the Christmas carol.
Most carols stem from passages about the incarnation or birth of Christ. You don’t need to read a lot—perhaps only a verse or two. Here are several you can choose from:
- Luke 1:26-38 (the angel Gabriel visits Mary to foretell Jesus’ birth)
- Matthew 1:18-25 (Joseph is told about the conception of Christ)
- Philippians 2:5-7 (the incarnation of Christ)
- Luke 2:1-20 (the story of Jesus’ birth)
- Matthew 2:1-18 (the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ family’s flight to Egypt—though this didn’t happen at Jesus’ birth, it is often associated with certain Christmas songs)
Step 5: Explain and Discuss the Scripture
Talk briefly about what each passage is about.
Ask your children questions to get them thinking about the story:
- Can you tell me what just happened in this story? Tell me in your own words.
- Talk about important terms the story brought up (Immanuel, Bethlehem, manger, shepherd, Savior, etc.).
- How would you feel if this happened to you?
- Ask why: why was Jesus born when, where, how, and to whom He was?
- Talk about how it relates to specific lines of the song you sang (you may want to have printed lyrics handy to help you with this).
Step 6: Pray
Finish your discussion with prayer. Try to involve your kids however you can.
Step 7: Sing Again!
Encourage your kids to sing their hearts out! Give them space to dance or move around if they want.
Give Your Kids the Stories Behind the Music
Every song has a story—a story of how it was written or how it was sung among those who first heard and loved it.
Christmas carols are no different. In addition to being packed with theological meaning, the stories behind each carol are filled with fascinating insights for God’s people.
Over the last couple years I’ve been learning the stories behind some of the most beloved Christmas carols I know by heart. As I share those stories with my kids, as I share the profound theology of those songs, and as we sing them day in and day out in our home, slowly but surely I notice a change in the hearts of my kids.
We shared samples of these with our readers in the past, but this year we’ve released a full family devotional: The Stories Behind the Music. You can buy a softcover, full-color edition, or if you want to save some money, just purchase a digital, full-color copy of the book.
The devotional contains the stories behind 15 classic Christmas carols, and each lesson contains:
- A story about how the carol was written
- Lyrics to the carol
- A scripture reading
- An explanation of the Bible passage
- Discussion questions for the family
- A short prayer
- Sheet music for each carol
- A craft that can be completed together as a family
I pray this Christmas season, as you teach through music, your kids become more and more drawn to the child in the manger, just as C.S. Lewis wrote, “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”