When I was nine or ten years old, the most desired item on my Christmas list was a Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. It was a lab kit that you could make all kinds of jello molds shaped like spiders, worms and all kinds of unappetizing things that kids can't get enough of. Now being, by far, the most mischievous child my parents produced, I spent much of my time searching out the place my mom hid our Christmas presents. This particular year, she went with hiding them under her bed (c’mon mom, you gotta try a little harder than that). After I spent a few minutes sifting through what was surely gifts for my older brother and sister, I saw it.
My Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. And I couldn’t believe it!
My parents are generous givers but by nine years old, I had learned that there was no guarantee of receiving what you had on your Christmas List. But this year I had, and of course I was too excited not to share. I ran to my older bother and told him what I had done and what I had seen. Once I had gone, he went to my mother and told HER what I had done and seen. My mother took this as an opportunity to teach her young daughter a lesson and without saying a word, returned the food lab and let me discover this on my own when come Christmas morning I had nothing to make jello in the shapes of spiders and worms.
I am sure many people can say the same but, growing up there were some years of plenty and some years of less when it came to the number of gifts under the tree. And you know what? To this day, there are only a handful of presents that I remember.
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” -Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
Keeping Christmas special in a culture that teaches us it is better to receive than to give and that more is never enough, is a challenge. So how do we keep Christmas special in an over-commercialized society?
Give Christmas back to Jesus
There are so many things vying for attention during the Christmas season. Between mom stressing over out of town guest, parents stressing over how to pay for gifts, Santa and those reindeer and Elves on shelves, there are no shortage of distractions. Give all of Christmas back to Jesus. Not part of it. All of it. Make time to celebrate with your children and family the birth of Jesus. Make a point to talk about and obsess over the fact that Christ came to the earth in the form of an infant to save us all. Be passionate about this and stop to think about two scared teenagers who traveled a considerable distance on a donkey to give birth in a smelly, dirty stable to a baby who would grow up to redeem us from our sins.
Turn off the TV and stick to family favorite Christmas movies
We generally only allow our kids to watch approved movies. When they watch cartoons on regular TV, they are bombarded with an endless barrage of crazy toys on commercials that they are convinced they need. Literally year round I was hearing, “I want this! I need this! Can I get this for Christmas?!” Once we cut out TV with the commercials, the constant comments of “I want! I want!” were significantly reduced. It is a difficult task of raising children who are grateful for what they have, it is even more difficult when we put things in front of them they don’t need. We have a long list of Christmas movies that we regularly watch in our family. Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, The Small One (a story about the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem), the old claymation Rudolf, Lord of The Rings (For adults only at this point. I have no idea how or why we started watching this at Christmas but we snuggle up with the lights off, a fire in the fire place and enjoy watching goblins, orcs, hobbits and all of the amazing Christian symbolism that J.R. R. Tolkien’s beautiful mind gave us) and last but not least, my personal favorite, The Muppets Christmas Carol. It doesn’t get much better than a bunch of sarcastic puppets telling a great story.
Or better yet, turn off TV and read books together
My Mother is a Reading Specialist and she has a knack for finding the most amazing books. There are several that I read as a kid that are still popular today:
- The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett
- The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
- Bear Stays Up For Christmas, by Karma Wilson
- Letters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R Tolkien
And of course, by far the best Christmas story happens in the book of Matthew and Luke.
Celebrate Advent as a family
Growing up in the church, I remember the Advent wreath at the front of the sanctuary with four candles that someone would light every Sunday while reading a scripture verse. At the end of the service my sister and I would get to blow out the candles (blowing out candles and drinking the left over grape juice after communion were perks of being the Pastor’s kids). We get Advent from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming," it is the time for preparing for the coming of Christ and I can’t think of a better way to teach children and family about the birth of Jesus than inviting Advent into our homes. The advent calendars counting down to Christmas filled with chocolates are great but if you are looking for something more substantial, LifeWay.com has an article- 6 Ideas for Celebrating Advent as a Family, you can download a free Advent Family Guide that includes family activities, weekly devotionals and daily readings.
Create your own family traditions
Today with free WiFi, tablets and smartphones, it has never been easier to jump online and peruse the hundreds of websites and blogs filled with family friendly Holiday ideas. Do some good old fashioned research and find some ideas that fit your family. Some of my favorite traditions with my family are making Christmas cookies for our neighbors (that the kids decorate themselves...which make for some interesting looking cookies, who knew Christmas trees could be orange and purple?), my oldest daughters and I make a large batch of homemade cinnamon rolls to enjoy on Christmas morning, Maryland has several great places to see Christmas lights from the comfort of your car (adding some hot apple cider sounds even better). This year I want to try a hot cocoa party, where we get all bundled up, stay up late and drink hot cocoa, look at the stars and just spend time together.
In the end, the key to making Christmas special instead of commercial is time and a little preparation- take extra time to slow down this Christmas to really connect and make memories with family, friends and the community around you.