I am a confessed Christmas addict. Last year on the day before Halloween, I noticed the maintenance crew hired by our Homeowner’s Association putting up Christmas lights on the trees at the entrance to our subdivision. I’m sure they do it so early because the weather is still good, but yes, the day before Halloween. I drove by, saw what they were doing, and I squealed. I actually squealed. And then I realized, “Oh my gosh. I’m THAT person.”
While Christmas is a beloved holiday and tradition for many, with lots of warm and fuzzy memories, Christmas wasn’t always what it is today. Christmas has gone through a lot of changes over the years. In fact, history.com calls Christmas “both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon.”
Really? How did the birth of Jesus Christ turn into a cultural and commercial phenomenon? If you find yourself wondering the same thing, and wondering how to bring Christ back into Christmas, you’ve come to the right place.
Before I share ideas with you on making Christmas a Christ-centered celebration, though, I want to mention something very important: I’m not talking about adding anything to what you’re already doing. Chances are, you’re already crazy busy during December. The ideas I will share can change what you already do. They can simplify or replace what you already do. They aren’t meant to add more for you to do.
Don’t get stressed out.
Being the Christmas addict I am, I went to a Christmas class several years ago given by my church women’s group. Because: Christmas. *squeal* The first activity was about time.
The speaker gave us worksheets and asked us to write down everything we do on a daily basis. (You might actually want to do this right now if you are overwhelmed, busy, or stressed at Christmastime.) She asked us to write down our regular routines–grocery shopping, laundry, taking care of kids, paying bills. Then she asked us to write down the other things that come up periodically that we have to squeeze into our regular routines–sick kids, a friend needing help, dishwasher breaking.
Then she dropped the bomb. She asked us how much free time we had left. (“None,” of course!) Then she asked what we’d like to do for ourselves, our families, and neighbors/community for Christmas– bake cookies for the school choir performance, make gifts for neighbors, go Christmas shopping, make gingerbread houses, decorate the house, decorate the tree, etc. She asked where and how we were going to squeeze those things into our already-tight schedules.
It was then that I decided what I would keep in my Christmas routine and what I would get rid of. Christmas is joyful.
Here’s My Trick
After this class, I actually created a 2-month plan so that I could do as much as possible in October and November. What is worth keeping, what can be substituted or simplified, and what can I do without? I started making gingerbread houses in October and putting them (disassembled) in the freezer. Neighbor gifts that I could make ahead of time like soups in a jar or non-food gifts I could buy months ahead of time. I wrote Christmas cards here and there over the course of several weeks in November. Rather than do things that required a lot of work on my part for simpler things. (Refrigerated cinnamon rolls are still cinnamon rolls.) Our advent calendar went from activity-based (“make and decorate cookies today”) to a simple scripture to read each night as a family.
Consider your must-haves for Christmas, and then re-evaluate the rest. Make an actual plan –set aside time on your calendar– to do what is most important to you at Christmastime so you don’t get overloaded. Do as much as you can early.
Then, to bring Christ into your Christmas, ask yourself two questions:
#1 What’s Our Environment?
What’s around you? What kind of Christmas decor does your family see around the house every day that helps them know Christmas is a Christ-centered celebration? What may be distracting them? Or you?
#2 What’s My Focus?
What’s YOUR focus at Christmastime? Not your kids’ focus– yours. Your focus rubs off on them. Kids see and do the things you focus on. If Elf on the Shelf (more commonly called “The Damn Elf on the Shelf”, near as I can tell) is your primary focus, it will be theirs. If being good so Santa brings them presents they’ve earned through their behavior is your focus, it will be theirs. There are a million fun, adorable, blog-post-worthy things you can do with or for your family. Not all of it is worth your time, and not all of it is worth your focus. Choose what is most important to you, what will bring Christ into Christmas, and don’t worry about the rest.
Here are three ways to bring Christ into Christmas.
I think the simplest way to bring Christ into Christmas is with nativities. If you have kiddos who touch everything or tend to break things, get kid-friendly ones. When my kids were small, I had several nativities they could play with. I kept them together on a coffee table at their height.
Here are some of my favorite kid-friendly nativities:
- kid-friendly nativity blocks (pictured; I LOVE these, and they make great, inexpensive gifts, too!)
- wood nativity puzzle
- Fisher Price has a very popular Little People Nativity
- nativity twisty puzzles
- nativity masks
- nesting nativity
Nativities can also be on your Christmas tree! There are lots of DIY, kid-friendly nativity ornament ideas on Pinterest, or pre-made for purchase . Here are a few of my favorite nativity ornaments (both DIY and purchased):
- German lace nativity ornaments (extra bonus: unbreakable!)
- Holy Land olive wood nativity ornaments
- clothespin nativity ornament (DIY)
- popsicle stick nativity ornament (DIY)
- names of Christ ornaments (DIY)
Creating your own nativities with your kids can’t help but reinforce that Christ is the center of Christmas.
I’m kind of the nativity queen–I think it could be termed an addiction–so I even have this nativity banner for my mantle. There are lots of ways to focus on the birth of Christ through simple decorations.
Another great way to bring Christ into your Christmas celebrations is through activities that are Christ-centered. You can find great books and suggestions out there, including this 12-Day Activity Book, to help you focus on Christ at Christmas.
Again, if the thought of adding activities to your Christmas to-do list is overwhelming, keep in mind that you don’t need to ADD TO what you are already doing. You can always replace something, exchanging something good for something better (or best!).
I’ve seen some wonderful family activities that bring Christ into Christmas:
- A family I know has a “picnic on the road to Bethlehem” on Christmas Eve. They put cheese, nuts, dried fruit, smoked fish, crackers, etc., in a picnic basket. They spread out a blanket to eat their Bethlehem Picnic on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, then read Luke 2.
- Another family I know spends Christmas Eve taking plates of cookies to people who have to work on Christmas Eve (firemen, doctors and nurses in the ER, etc.). Service is an excellent Christ-centered activity.
- I adore this Little Lamb of Bethlehem It comes with a lamb and a booklet with service ideas and suggested activities.
- Have a family night to talk about the symbols of Christmas. Kids especially can easily overlook why Christmas is full of lights and stars. Many adults don’t know the symbolism behind holly or candy canes. There are several great sources out there for learning about the symbols of Christmas, including this one.
- Nativity plays on Christmas Eve are another common tradition that obviously focuses on Christ. Give each kid a part and a simple dress-up costume.
- We all have favorite Christmas movies, but making sure the actual Christmas story is included is an important way to keep Christ in your Christmas. My very favorite is this sweet little 5-minute movie called “Luke 2“.
3. Advent Calendars
Advent calendars are so fun! Especially as a kid, it’s just so much fun to count down to when you get presents! It’s so exciting. With lists for Santa and cookies for Santa and all the hubbub around receiving gifts, though, it’s easy to lose focus on Christ, the real gift. Unfortunately, Christmas can very easily become a rather self-centered holiday, when the actual point of the whole thing is selflessness.
There are so many different types of advent calendars that make counting down to Christmas fun. So why not have a Christ-themed advent calendar? Instead of a countdown to presents, it becomes more of a countdown to Jesus’ birth.
I love these ideas:
- One of my favorite Christ-themed advent calendars is a felt banner called Journey to Bethlehem. A friend of mine uses it–her family moves Mary and Joseph one step closer to Bethlehem each day. I wish I had a picture of it, but you can see one here.
- This Stone Journey to Bethlehem is the same idea (but probably easier to make).
- Even a simple one like this dry-erase Nativity Countdown to Christmas reinforces Christ as the reason for the season.
- A really beautiful way to make Christ your focus and to create a more selfless, service-oriented atmosphere is The Manger Filled with Hay advent. You’ll need a good-sized “manger.” Something like this. You’ll also need some hay or straw. On December 1, put out the manger without hay. Each day, each person in the family should do a service or help someone else. When they do, they can place a piece of hay or straw in the manger so that when Jesus is born on Christmas, it will be a soft place for Him to lie.
- I love advents with little boxes or drawers. So adorable. Several years ago, I went through the scriptures to find events in the life of Christ that taught us a lesson or showed us an example. I put those scripture references (usually just a few verses) on little papers in the advent drawers, along with little pictures I printed out that represent each scripture or story. We read a scripture each night and stick the little picture on a Christmas tree I printed out on 8.5×11 paper. It’s simple and it’s Christ-focused. It looks very similar to this neat 25 Days of Christ.
- For little kids, a sticker nativity helps kids create the nativity scene by placing a sticker each day.
My kids aren’t so little any more, but they’ve grown up with a Christ-centered Christmas. Yes, we still get excited about presents, and we still make gingerbread houses, and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is a staple. But our home is filled with nativities, countdowns to the birth of Christ, hymns about Christ’s birth and mission, and ornaments that are meaningful and symbolic.
Whether you are starting new traditions because you’re a new family or you would like to have some better traditions that focus more on the Savior, think about simple, do-able, meaningful ways to do it. Christmas can be a magical, beautiful time without being bogged down by distractions from its real purpose and meaning.
Jennifer Wise is a wife and a mom of three. She is a Christmas addict and collects both nativity sets and Christmas ornaments. Jennifer loves traveling, the beach, new recipes, laughing, creativity, and homemade guacamole, but not always in that order. She holds a B.A. degree in Humanities and loves what the arts do for the soul. Jennifer is an occasional American Sign Language interpreter for the Deaf, and she currently teaches an early morning scripture class to a fantastic group of high school students. She is a Heritage Makers consultant, passionate about the power of photos and memories when they are recorded and preserved, so she blogs about it every week at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com. She is also the #familyhistoryfriday contributor at www.livegrowgive.org where she writes about family, photos, stories, and connections.