This is the last long post about our Christmas season. I have posted about the joy of being with family and the fun of elves and Santa. Here I want to recap how we try to keep the focus on Christ. I feel a little strange about the post for two reasons:
(1) Sometimes an effort to focus on The True Meaning of Christmas comes across as a judgment against all the other parts of Christmas. For the record, I am not someone who necessarily believes that our tinsel and lights and Santa distract from our focus on Christ. Quite the contrary, for us they are an absolute expression of joy, faith, generosity and love. While I respect the act of quiet contemplation and seek it out when I can, I think part of being a parent is finding God in the hustle and bustle. I love finding Him in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, especially when the kids and I are happily bustling around doing fun Christmassy things together. (This does not include shopping, which I do try to finish early.) Someday I will write a whole essay about this, but today is not the day!
(2) I worry that an explanation of how we try to keep the focus on Christ will come across as a “look what we do, we have it all together” kind of thing. I assure you we don’t. The reality is we are trying to get it together, and part of that process for us is learning what other people do. I have benefited tremendously from dialogue with friends (and other bloggers) about holiday traditions, which encourages me to continue that dialogue here.
With that in mind, here’s how we tried to keep the focus on Christ and how I am hoping to improve on our efforts next year!
We begin by framing the holiday as a big birthday celebration for Jesus. Our preschool makes this easy by throwing Jesus an actual birthday party, and a friend told us about a family tradition that we have adopted as our own: making the dessert at Christmas dinner a birthday cake for Christ. I forgot to make a picture of the birthday cake, but the reality is that no one ate ours this year anyway, since S coughed all over it as she was helping Jesus blow out his candles. In case you are wondering, yes, that did mean that I served Twix bars for dessert at Christmas dinner!
We have three nativities at our house. The one in the yard is from my childhood home. I asked Nana to bring it up because (1) she was looking to share it with someone (i.e. we didn’t take it and leave her yard bare!), and (2) it is a big, gaudy display of neon Jesus-spirit that just feels so right sitting in front of a home during the holidays.
(E had two funny reactions to this when Nana brought it to us. The first was asking if she could keep the three foot high Mary in her room as a nightlight. Already, she is finding comfort in the Virgin Mother, I suppose! The second was about a week before Christmas when she viewed all our lawn ornaments and noted that Jesus and Santa had completely burned out. This left all the adults within earshot humorously wondering – if Jesus and Santa were feeling that way, how the rest of us were supposed to make it through the rest of the holiday festivities?! : )
Anyway, here’s a photo of Mary, who did a quick detour into E’s room en route from the attic to the yard:
I would be comforted by this as a nightlight in my room as well, I think!
The other two nativities are inside the house: a breakable one that was my Grandmother’s and is displayed on a table that used to belong to her (and still smells like the perfume that she kept in the cabinet), and a cloth one that the kids can play with.
The cloth nativity set contained the Jesus that was offered a room in the Barbie Mansion. Innkeeper Barbie and her guests are pictured below.
note that several of the characters have either been knocked down amid the daily chaos that engulfs the Barbie mansion, or they are bowing before the Christ child...I prefer the latter interpretation
and a close-up…
I learned of another interesting tradition this year that I’m going to think about: leaving the nativity’s manger empty until Jesus appears in it Christmas morning. I love the idea of this, and we might do this with the more fancy nativity. However, I think I like having the one pictured above around for the kids to play with throughout the season.
During Advent, E also sang (like an angel) and bleated (while dressed as a sheep) in the church Christmas pageant. There are no pictures, as my husband was ill that evening and I had to choose between holding T, S and the camera. Fortunately, there was a wall of parents taking photos and I have already seen some I am planning to get copies of! But here’s a photo of E & S caroling with E’s church choir at a local nursing home, which was another activity that kept us in the spirit.
Note to caroling children: avert eyes from scantily clad lady on the TV in the background...yikes! Can someone please change the channel or turn off the TV?! By the way, E & S are the ones in the turquoise shirts absolutely fixated on the the television screen...oh well...
We also tried to keep the focus on giving with fun projects like:
– the kids making small treat bags for teachers and whatever friends we happened to encounter over the season. (I love this activity because the kids can actually do most of it themselves…I gave the kids a bag of Hershey kisses, a box of fold top sandwich bags and a spool of ribbon. They put three kisses in each bag and cut the ribbon. I tied the ribbon on the bags.)
– coloring pages…I printed out a whole batch of these and the kids spent several afternoons coloring pages that they gave to people for Christmas
– shopping for Angel tree gifts: the parenting Sunday school class at our church did this and we intentionally signed up to bring clothes for kids that were the same ages as ours. The kids were happy giving clothes (toys might have created more of an “but I want it” issue…we will tackle that soon, but for now we just wanted them to feel good about giving). Selecting kids the same ages meant our kids were able to really help pick things out (e.g. “I bet she would like this shirt because I think it’s pretty”)
– We also made sure to tell Santa that we were busy making cookies, etc. for him (in addition to telling him what we wanted).
Still, to keep it real, I’ll show this picture of the kids writing their letters to Santa…
(OK, I wrote this and just realized I don’t have any pictures of that…sorry! But we did write the letters!)
and I’ll end by mentioning an idea that I heard about for the first time just after Christmas, but am thinking about for next year. Here’s the link, and here’s the excerpt:
When my oldest was a baby, my Mother-in-Law gave us a beautiful wooden Advent cabinet with 25 tiny doors. This year, along with the gifties that Granny sends, there will be a note with an act of kindness to be carried out that day. Some will be strategically placed…like on the 10th when we’ll be joining my husband’s Rotary group to lay wreaths on gravesites at Arlington Cemetery. Or, on the 20th when we’ll be volunteering as a family to organize donations at the Salvation Army warehouse. But, others will be less grand…like picking up litter anytime you see it throughout the day. Or, feeding the birds
And there you have it— a simple plan for 25 days of serving, giving, and helping others.
Me talking again here…
I like the idea of this because of its active nature (with kids this young, we do better with active than contemplative acts of the spirit!) and because it can be mapped out in advance. Then each morning, you pull out a reminder of one way you can refocus the family during the season. I can already think of simple ones like making it a point to notice someone doing a good job that day and telling them you noticed…
I’d also like to try a “David tree” activity, but need to learn more about that. And I definitely want to do a better job with our advent wreath next year: setting aside a quiet time to really explain to the kids what each candle means.
OK, I just read back over this entry and know there is no way I can do all of that. The nice thing is that I have many months to figure it out!
I’ll leave you with one last photo:
The men of the house, clearly exhausted from all the festivities! (Yes, that's T asleep on the floor next to his dad, asleep on the couch!)
and a final Merry Christmas to all!
With that, it’s back to our regularly scheduled blog programming (with a few random belated posts about our Happy New Year to come at some point!)