"How do you celebrate Christmas?" This question is thrown at me quite a bit. Sometimes it comes from another parent in our church looking for a way to escape the ubiquitous commercialism and underwhelming cultural mythology around the so-called "winter holidays." Other times, I get it from an outraged fellow parent, totally baffled that my kids don't get all that excited about santa, cookies, or red-nosed reindeer. Around the Mabry house, we've got a few traditions that we've cobbled together to try and make the Advent season joyfully centered on Jesus, and full of great memories together. Here are five of them that we love...
- The Advent Jesse Tree I must admit... I REALLY love this tradition. A few years back, my lovely wife got an old, dead tree branch. She stuck in a pot, held in place by gravel. In the process of creating this Tim Burton-inspired shrub, I thought she was nuts. But when I asked her what she was doing, she politely informed me that she was making a Jesse Tree—a tree upon which our family hangs one ornament for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. These ornaments go with different stories in the Scriptures that lead up the coming of Jesus. Each night of December, we read from a great devotional book for each story, and then one of our children hangs the ornament of the day. It requires a little bit of preparation, but it's a favorite in the Mabry home.
- Tell the Story of Santa Claus "Wait, aren't you a Pastor?" Yes I am, so let me explain. There are two mistakes that can be made regarding Santa Claus and the excessive cultural accouterments that go along with him. One is to freak out about them, call them all evil, and shun them. Best way to make your kids want santa and forget Jesus is to give the fat man the mystique of the forbidden. Calm down, he's not that big of a deal. The other mistake is just as bad, which is the wholesale embrace of Santa and his crew, to the neglect of Jesus. Nope, the answer is neither and better than both of these. Tell them the story of Santa as a story. And, tell them something about the real St. Nicholas. Then, when you've done that, tell them how glad you are the Christmas isn't about a man in the sky who judges me for all the naughty things I've done by withholding certain gifts, but a God who came from Heaven despite my evil to give me the greatest gift of all. Do that, and Jesus will just look a whole lot cooler than Santa.
- Happy Birthday Jesus! On Christmas Day, we make a sweet breakfast treat, like cinnamon roles, stick a candle in them and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. This is an easy way for our littlest ones to see that these gifts and this day aren't about us, but Jesus. Once we're done singing, we take a moment to pray and thank God for sending us the best gift—Jesus.
- Gift Giving On Christmas Day, we try to let our children enjoy giving the gifts. This one is subtle, but it's important. Instead of ripping into their gifts to hunt for their hoped-for-goodie, we take Christmas morning slowly, allowing our kids to take from the pile of gifts, and give them to each other. Then, we open them one at a time, and celebrate with the person getting the gift. Why? Because God is a big giver, who gave us his biggest gift—Jesus. Jesus said it's better to give, then to get. If God delights to give us his Son Jesus, then we should delight to be good gift-givers too. Neither stingy nor materialistic, just good givers.
- Have Fun! Hey, God's is fun... really fun. He invented fun. Invent your own traditions with your family that make your heart delight in Jesus and in one another. Have fun with one another! Play games, enjoy the lights, sing some songs... these are all good things that, with good motives, can be great for you and yours.
So there you go. Now you know how we celebrate the Advent season. How do you?