Each year we have been molding our family values and trying different things. I learn a lot about what I want to do and not do by looking at other families around me and looking back at what I grew up with. I look to scripture when it comes to this Christmas season and what we are really celebrating and I have also read this book that has some good stuff in it too. My husband and I talk regularly about what we want to teach our children about Christmas and what we want our focus as a family to be.
In the past our Christmas time has been focused more on presents, stress, and expectations... it definitely was not focused on Christ and his birthday. I thought, well I know Christmas is about Jesus but that's about where it stopped. Things started changing when Evelyn was born and we started thinking about what we wanted to teach our kids. We knew we didn't want a huge gift extravaganza and we knew we wanted to focus on the Real reason for the season but the how is the hard part.... so here's some ideas we have done/are doing and some that we want to do as our kids get older and can sit still and pay attention for longer than a nanosecond.
1.) We have decided to steer clear from the whole Santa gig. I know, I know but hear me out... we don't want anything to compete with the true reason of Christmas and that was baby Jesus in a manger. period.
*I know my daughter and there's no way baby Jesus could compete with a fun loving, magic, guy in a red suit who flies a sleigh and has magic reindeer and elves and who gives you whatever your heart desires. No way. It's hard enough for me not to get distracted with all the allures of this world let alone my 3 year old who does not have a spiritual perspective.
*On another point I really wonder if young children can understand the difference between the make believe magic of Santa Clause whom they can't see and the realness of the awesome miracle performing person of Jesus whom they also can't "see". We have seen this in simple things like our daughter comparing the miracles of Jesus and the fairy godmother in Cinderella.(and yes we are definitely taking those in mind and re-thinking what we let her watch and read)
*I don't want to lie to my children and either have to tell them later or have them figure it out on their own and then deal with the possibility of them questioning other things I have told them were true...like God and Jesus. We are trying to teach them to have faith and I don't want to muddy the water for them.
*Right now Evelyn doesn't totally get who Santa Clause is and when she see's a picture she calls him the snowman guy (don't ask me where that came from!) She hasn't really asked much about who the guy in the red suit is... we've watched a Veggie Tales movie about St.Nicholas and we have started telling Evelyn the story from history about the man who loved God and what God did through him to bless others. We told her how people today like to pretend that he brings presents. ( don't worry I also have been teaching her about not going around bursting her little friends bubbles and telling them he's not real)... but if you are a well meaning cashier at Hobby Lobby and ask my kids whats Santa bringing them don't be surprised with the blank stare they give you while trying to figure out what in the world your talking about.
2.) Advent calendar, so this is new to me but I am tweaking it and trying to decide how it will best fit our family. Last year I made this stocking one and put different things in it along with a bible verse that tied Christmas together. I put little toys, candy, family activities, etc. This year I decided to only put fun family activities/outing in each stocking and we have been trying to go through this e-book we got after someone I know recommend it. It's been pretty good. In the e-book they have a different ornament you can make each day but since I am definitely not together enough to get a craft done everyday and dinner on the table, we have only done a few of them. It helps to have a guide for the Christmas story and the tips help make it understandable for my toddler. I see the calendar really helping Evelyn get the idea of looking forward to it as we move to each new stocking everyday and we get closer and closer to the last one. In the future I think I would also like to do a Jesse Tree, I am still looking into it cause I don't personally know anyone who does this but it looks really great. Maybe next year Evelyn would be able to get it.
Some of the family activity ideas I have put in our calendar are:
- get a Christmas tree
- decorate our tree
- sing Christmas carols as a family
- watch a Christmas movie
- bake cookies together
- go up north and play in snow
- make cinnamon ornaments
- family walk to look at Christmas lights
- have hot chocolate together
- family game night
- pick out family Samaritans purse gift
- read the Christmas story in Children's bible
- bake treats for friends/family
3.) Presents/ Giving: OK so this is a tough one that we don't know what the "perfect" balance for our family is yet (or probably ever will). The only thing I do know is Christmas is Jesus's birthday not mine or my kids. Stopping to really reflect on the humbleness of God in a dirty manger, come to die I cant fathom that the best way for us to spend the season is buying a bunch of stuff for ourselves. It's only been a few years of God really working in our family (still got a long way to go) and showing us that Christ came to GIVE to those in the most desperate NEED. He came for the lost and in Matthew 25:40 He tells us how we give to Him (by giving to those in need) 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’'
So that being said...we have definitely tried to scale back our gift giving but it's easy to get carried away in the lure of stuff . Last year the girls each got 1 present and a stocking from us BUT one of those gives may or may not of been a trampoline and I kinda bought so muh it wouldn't all fit in their stocking. But hey were getting there! It's hard to change your way of thinking that we all need stuff to make us happy. This year I kept racking my brain to think of something to get the girls and I realized I was just feeling like I needed to get them something but they have so much already! I ended up just getting a few things for each of their stockings and thats it. (Evelyn- movie, hairbows, devotional book, fun bath color tablets, fun toothbrush ) (Zoe-movie, music cd, hair bows, little hair brush, toothbrush)
The influences in our children's lives (us, family members, media, friends etc.) are who steer our kids towads thinking they need presents and should expect them. I realized the other day Evelyn hasn't once asked for something for Christmas, she doesn 't seem to expect presents and definitely doesn't think it's her job to tell us what she wants us to buy her (yet! but I plan on trying really hard to fight against that cultural expectation! )
So instead of spending a bunch of money on ourselves or other family members who have so much, this year we have made nice homemade gifts for our family members and are giving what we would have spent on presents to the least of these. In the past couple years we have tried doing a couple things... two years ago we gave water in our families names and gave each of them an ornament we bought that the proceeds went to providing water. Last year everything we bought for families and friends went towards helping someone else through either an adoption fundraiser of jewelry or t-shirts or organizations that help provide income opportunities for women in Uganda like 31 bits.
There are so many ways to give and so many hurting throughout the world it's just a matter of where you feel God leading your family. We desperately want to teach our girls about giving like Christ gave. Giving because we have been given so much.
4.) Service- I want to be serving in our community and I especially want to be doing it during the holidays but to be quite honest I don't know where or what. I get anxious thinking about going to try and help somewhere and having my girls cry, throw tantrums, or make someone else feel bad. Having young children I have a hard time figuring out how to do it. We have gotten food to deliver to a food bank but that was more of a drop off and leave. We prepared a shoe box for operation Christmas child but quite honestly I really struggle with getting out into the community and doing. If anyone with young kids has any advice please pass it my way. I know this is an area I struggle and I need to focus on. I don't think making excuses and saying later will be better because these are the things we want to be fostering in our kids now.
5.)- Family time- With all the extra free time we have had not running around like crazy trying to buy the perfect gifts or overloading with extra stuff we have been trying to just enjoy spending time together. The advent calendar has helped encourage this as we play games, go on walks, sing carols, read stories, drink hot chocolate, go on short trips to the snow, and just slowing down. Stress and business is definitely not what we want to take over during this sweet Christmas time.
So I guess that is it. I wrote this out to remember where are family is this year and also I know getting glimpses into other peoples family lives gives me ideas and challenges things I do and want to do, so maybe it does that for someone else.
Also here's some blog posts that I was encouraged and challenged by this year.
Convictions and what to do with 'em
Christmas vs. Christmastime
The Christmas Conundrum
10 ways to celebrate Christmas morning regardless of whats under the tree
When Christmas Gets Radical: Whose Birthday Is It Really?
Invasion of Light