It seems that as soon as a few snowflakes come wafting down, carols start oozing from mall speakers and stores start salivating.
But it’s getting a bit much. Don’t you agree? Think of the actual Christmas story: Jesus is born in unwelcoming circumstances and placed in a trough (where the barn yard animals normally eat). He is born into a faithful working class family with smelly animals competing for space–and they’re miles and miles from home. The humble environment is how/where God chooses to reveal himself. And then fast forward 2000 years to our consumer culture. Imagine someone came to your birthday party with gifts… for themselves! and never looked you in the eye! “Happy birthday to… me?”
Okay, enough of that: Time to get positive!
Every year Christmas threatens to overwhelm us. The simplicity is eclipsed by a distracted extravagance we can’t afford. So here are 18 ideas to help make Advent and Christmas simpler and deeper for you and your family. And just to be clear, I’ve borrowed many of these ideas from friends and some from www.wearethatfamily.com. So I can’t really take credit. I do enjoy making commentary though. I pass these along for your enjoyment and blessing!
For those of you with young ones, keep in mind that these kinds of daily practices in the home are incredibly significant in the faith development of children.
1. Advent Calendars. “Advent” means “coming” and is the 4-week lead up to Jesus’ birth—wise men travelling and all that. It’s about anticipation. So get Advent Calendars for your kids. They have little flaps that you open and help you count down to December 25. Try to get ones that are faith-themed. Stars Wars calendars that have chocolates in them are not Advent Calendars. Sorry.
2. Advent Wreath. This is fun. Get an Advent Wreath. Basically it’s a wreath that lays horizontal with spaces for four candles around the outside. Each week one burns. Week 1 is hope; week 2 is peace; week 3 is joy; and week 4 is love. Light each candle for the corresponding week. There’s a cumulative effect). Maybe do it during dinner or in the evening. Or whenever! Just be safe. Then on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning you light a white candle in the middle: The Christ Candle. This is a very popular one.
3. Calendar Slash. Okay, by this time you’re into the swing of it: You’ve made plans and set up get-togethers with friends. Now look at your crazy December, get a marker, and slash off at least 2 of those events! Protect your time and family! You may disappoint some people but that’s okay. Plus, if some meaningful opportunity comes up you don’t want to be so busy that you have to say there’s no room in the Inn of your life.
4. Hand Made. Make a hand-made ornament for your tree. A great family event in the age of pre-made.
5. Tree Talk. When decorating the tree, talk about what things mean—lights because Jesus is the “light of the world;” an angel on top because of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was pregnant; a star on top recalling the star over Bethlehem.
6. Nativity Scene. Close to Christmas set up a Nativity Scene. It’s all about the story!
7. Baking for Others. Bake (or buy—don’t feel guilty!) cookies or some other treat and take them to someone who could use a pick-me-up. Maybe it’s someone who’s from your church who is homebound, or maybe a friend or family member. If you can’t think of someone, ask!
8. Caroling. We usually think of caroling as some big production. It doesn’t need to be. Put on warm jackets, get two carols that express the essence of the season and head to the neighbours’ houses with whoever is at home. If you want to get fancy, invite some friends. Go to a few places on your street; or go to a totally different neighbourhood just to mix it up. You don’t have to overdo it. Just spend a minute per house and don’t feel pressure to do the whole neighbourhood. Then go home and have hot chocolate!
9. Movie Night. If your kids are old enough, or if you don’t have any, rent/watch “The Nativity Story.” Movie nights are great. If you want to do something extra, have popcorn and then make some extra to make into strings for your tree as a reminder of the experience.
10. Simplify. This may be hard because social and family pressure is at play here—plus, a lot of family tradition. Simplify the gluttony of gift-giving. Have some honest chats with people and decide to buy less for less people. I’m sure you’re a great gift-giver, but remember that there’s a lot more garbage after Christmas (and it’s not all wrapping); and also that it’s Jesus’ birthday, not yours.
11. Three Gifts. Want a way to think more clearly and creatively about gift-giving for those close to you? Why not follow the example of the 3 wise men and their gifts to baby Jesus of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Give a gift of gold (which is the fun/flashy gift). The frankincense gift is a spiritual gift (like a devotional, or CD of faith-based music, or something to help them grow in their faith). The myrrh gift is something they need (like clothes or whatever).
12. Gift to God. As a family why not give a gift to God? Talk about what God might want, and then do it.
13. Invite. Despite the flashing lights and pomp, Christmas can be very sad for many people—especially those who have lost a loved one the past year or suffered any other difficulty. Seek one of these folks out and just invite them over for dinner one night. Or perhaps a visit one afternoon. You’ll find that in blessing someone else, you’re actually getting blessed in return.
14. Generosity. Pay attention to drives that try to help those who struggle. Pay attention to your church as most have “white gift” Sundays for food banks, or mitten tree Sundays and stuff like that. Talk to each other about why you’re doing it. (Westminster’s schedule will be up on the website by Nov 18th!)
15. Shop early. For whatever shopping you need to do, do it early. I know every year we talk about this and struggle to do it. But if you don’t have to run around like a chicken with your head cut off in the days leading up to Christmas, I bet you’ll be better able to enter it’s holiness.
16. Birthday Cake. Bake/buy a birthday cake for Jesus! After all, it’s his day. Have it as a part of your dinner on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Light the candles, sing the song!
17. Worship. Worship is the heartbeat. Go to church on Sundays and Christmas Eve–inject your life with healing praise and time to intentionally reflect on the meaning of it all. That’s Christmas 101.
18. Hide and Seek. If you have kids (or maybe even if you don’t!), on Christmas morning why not have a fun game where someone hides the Jesus from your Nativity Scene and then the rest have to find him. After you do so, you can open gifts knowing that the true gift has already been found.