Two years ago I wrote a “Holiday Musings” article for Training for Triumph’s newsletter. It has a lot of the same ideals that you will find in this blog—in season and out of season! However, I want to share it with you this Christmas. I pray that you will be moved and encouraged by it.
by Donna Reish
I love Christmas! I love giving gifts to my children; I love lights and beautiful decorations; I love doing family activities over and over again every year; I love baking goodies and giving them away. I even have a verse to substantiate my desire to give good gifts to my kids at Christmas time: “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). I mean, God knows that even we mere mortals love to give good gifts to our kids!
Although all of the things in my “I love” list above are somewhat “unspiritual,” we have found through the years there are some common threads that we try to emphasize/do during the Christmas holiday—some to remember and ponder what Christ has done for us more fully; some to deepen our relationships with each other; some to show Christ’s love to the world. Allow me to give you a list of my holiday musings.
1. Think about, talk about, sing about, and remember the true reason for Christmas as a family throughout the month. We have found many things that help us focus on the birth of Christ more and more throughout December: singing carols together; reading Christmas picture books with the littles in the afternoons; collecting nativity scenes; reading from chapter books that emphasize the birth of Christ, such as Max Lucado’s Cosmic Christmas, Gene Edwards’ The Birth, and Marjorie Holmes’ Two From Galilee; going to community events that point us back to the reason for the season, such as Christmas plays, live nativities, walks through Bethlehem, Christmas cantatas, movies, and plays that emphasize the coming of the Savior.
2. Create family traditions. We have too many holiday traditions to list in just one short article, but research has born out the importance of traditions in building a child’s outlook on many things—and it is so obvious when you hear children talk and repeat that mantra: “We always…” There is something about being able to say that we always, or our family likes to… Two of our favorite traditions are decorating the house together and reading inspirational Christmas stories throughout the month of December.
Our older kids laugh until they cry as they give play-by-plays of each ornament making ordeal we have gone through. (Our tree is decorated with only home made ornaments—another tradition we have is that of making ornaments together.) Anyway, they have a joke of holding up the sample ornament (one that I bought that we were modeling after) and holding up one of ours and chiming, “Sample ornament; Reish ornament” over and over. Then they tell about the time I threw the cinnamon sticks across the room in a fit of Christmas stress as we tried to make the “ornaments in a minute” out of cinnamon sticks. Then we all laugh some more—and I try my best to keep from crying as I think about Christmases gone by—and wonder where the years have gone and long for just a day from a Christmas ten or fifteen years ago.
Traditions do not have to be elaborate or expensive. Some of ours (besides the decorating night and ornament making) are as simple as watching certain Christmas movies while we wrap gifts; eating shrimp alfredo while we watch White Christmas; reading about holiday traditions each morning; learning a new carol together each year (all the verses!); having the kids exchange their gifts with each other on Christmas Eve; reading inspirational stories each night before bed; reading one of the Gospels during the month of December; etc.
3. Think about Jesus’ entire life—his birth, life, death, and resurrection—not just his birth. Linking the Christmas story to the fact that without it we would have no hope of salvation is important, especially with younger children. Two ways that we do this include discussing, reading about, and singing about the names of Christ and what they mean throughout the month; and reading one of the Gospels—not just the Christmas story—during December. This helps us focus on our salvation even more. (Another thing we have done to focus on Jesus’ entire life is to listen to Focus on the Family’s radio theatre “The Luke Reports.” I will put links to some excellent resources throughout December, so check back frequently!)
4. Reach out to those less fortunate—and do so in a way that costs you and your children something. I know that doesn’t sound very “Christmasy”—good cheer and mistletoe and all (btw, I love mistletoe if the right “mistletoe-ee” is around!), but taking a can to a canned food drive or parents buying gifts for the children to leave at the angel tree are not sacrifices for our children—and do not do much to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas—and the true meaning of sacrificial giving.
When I speak of reaching out to those less fortunate, I am talking about giving up time (a few evenings or days?) and money (money with which a child could buy himself something). I’m talking about doing hard things. I’m talking about getting dirty, being inconvenienced, etc. I know that sounds strange, but honestly, what could we possibly do or give that would be too much for our Lord? Find true, meaningful service projects for your children—extensive time spent at a nursing home or group home caroling, making cookies with residents, reading to them, etc.; earning money to be used to give gifts to truly poor or forgotten people (like county home residents or the disabled); going out into the homes of people who never have a Christmas visitor; serving food at a soup kitchen; cleaning mattresses at a rescue mission. Focus on others more than ever before this Christmas—your children will thank you for it eventually. (For the new year, read the stories written by the author of Mandate for Mercy (also the founder of the Mercy Ship ministry) about how his mom made his family squeeze together in the car every week to pick up poor and desperate people to take them to church—and the impact this had on this man causing him to spend his life on the poor and desolate—this is the kind of reaching out we are purporting here.)
5. Reach out to your relatives. Yes, those strangers who are watching television the whole family get together while puffing away on their cigarettes. Teach your children to go to family get togethers to serve—not to judge. Start out teaching your children about this concept of serving relatives with a Bible study (ahead of time) on “being great in God’s kingdom by serving” and “doing for others asking nothing in return” and “being a light by your good works.” Then, if it is true, tell your children that you have been more concerned about yourself than you have of others at past family get togethers. And that you want your entire family to change all of that. That you want to “do your good works that others would glorify your father in heaven.” Discuss ways that you can do this during this holiday season: working harder to make good dishes to the gatherings (no lentil casserole, please—bless these people with fat and sugar!); helping with young cousins; encouraging grandparents; helping to set up and take down; being kind to each other as an example of family unity to those who might not have any idea what that looks like. (Note: Because I always get asked this, I will put a caveat here—I am not talking about reaching out to relatives in any way that would put your children in danger. We recommend that your children never be left with non-Christians and never be put in situations in which they could be harmed.)
6. Really talk to others this holiday season. Your ministry of bringing your relatives to Christ will begin not with your family’s judgment of them, but with your interest and concern for their lives in general. Jeff Myers, leadership specialist and founder of Passing the Baton, gives the following list of things to discuss this year with relatives young and old. Some are one-on-one types of discussions while others would work well for group discussions**:
Express thanks to someone in the room for something they did for you.
"I'm thankful for..." Finish the sentence.
If you could have the attention of the whole world for 30 seconds, what would you say?
One thing I'm thankful for about our country.
What is the key to success in life? Why do you say that?
Tell about a lesson you learned the hard way.
What are some ways life is different now than in the old days?
Tell a story of a decision your ancestors made that changed the direction of their lives-and yours.
Tell about a lesson you learned by watching someone else.
"A person I would like to honor publicly is..."
"Time and money aside, I would rather be..."
Tell about an experience that changed you for the better.
Tell a story about something that started out bad but had a happy ending.
"My first hero was _________."
Tell about a time when you showed courage.
Describe a teacher who had a significant influence on your life.
Tell about an invention that made your life easier.
"The most admired public figure when I was growing up was ____." Tell a story.
Tell about a memorable event in your life.
"A famous person I've met is _____." Tell about the experience.
"I got in so much trouble..." Tell the story!
**Note: These are good to print off and use as dinner discussion for your immediate family, too!
6. Express genuine gratefulness to God and others. December is a month to really display the quality of gratefulness—and to teach your children to do so too. Not just mere ”thank-you’s”—but sincere thanksgiving to God for His Son and for others for everything they do for us. Teaching children to say thank-you, write thank-you notes, etc. is a start. However, gratefulness begins with the realization that everything good we have comes from the hand of God. That we are nothing without Him. And that He knows what we need more than we do. It is deepened when we give up materialism—the idea that we have to have this or that in order to be happy—and focus instead on the good things God has done for us. Thoughts on materialism would require an entire article in itself, but when we have to have things to make us happy, when our mood and outlook change as a result of getting more and more, or when we cannot be happy in whatever situation we are in (materially speaking), we are probably steeped in materialism. Praying through this, sharing with our family the importance of giving up our ideas that we somehow deserve this or that, focusing on gratefulness for all that God has done for us outside the material things we are lacking—these are ways to feel and exhibit true gratefulness.
7. Spend quality time reaching into your children’s hearts. That’s a tough one, huh? I mean, the busiest time of the year, and we have to add another thing to the list. I remember vividly eighteen years ago when I had five kids ten and under. I still had younger siblings at home who would come and spend a lot of Christmas week with us. I made four Christmas dinners in a row for various relatives. I got up early in the morning to make home baked bread and rolls and went to bed late at night to get the overnight breakfast casseroles in the oven. I get tired just thinking about it. I was trying to serve others, but found myself distanced from my kids by the time the holiday week was over. I can remember looking at Joshua, then ten, one evening after the relatives had all left, and calling him over to ”sit in Mommy’s rainbow” (my bent legs as I lay on the sofa)—and he seemed so far away. I had been with him all week—I was usually with my older kids all the time as they did not have any older siblings to take them anywhere like my littles now have! However, I felt so far from him. I had let the busy-ness of Christmas keep me from those I love the most. Now I have to remind myself that one more home made goody or one more shopping day is not worth distancing myself from my children. Stay close. It’s Christmas!
This Christmas I pray that all of us can ”keep Christmas” in a way that glorifies God and teaches our children deep Christmas truths.
*Copyright TFT 2008