A few 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
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
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 "In our family, we… "
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.
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
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
4. Reach out to
those less fortunate—and do so in a way that costs you and your children
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
Yes, those strangers who are watching "bad" things on 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
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, founder of Passing the Baton, and current president of Summit Ministries (as of 2012), 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!
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
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