Jeannie with her family. (Courtesy of the author)
I was pushing my cart through the décor section in Target when my toddler spotted the Christmas section across the way and exclaimed, “Look Mom, it’s a Christmas tree.” Had he not been buckled in, he may have ejected himself with enthusiasm. I wasn’t surprised that my little guy was excited to see the beautifully lit tree. What did surprise me was the answer he gave when I responded and asked, “You’re right buddy. That is a Christmas tree! Do you remember what Christmas is about?” Without hesitation he responded, “Yes! Santa brings us presents!”
This may be just the answer some parents expect to hear, because don’t most children think Christmas is about Santa giving them most of the things they want because they’ve been mostly good for most of the year? Isn’t that the Christmas story our culture celebrates?
So I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that Santa was the first thing that came to his mind, since the message is so pervasive. But as a mom who has been thoughtful about making Jesus, not Santa, the center of our celebration, it was a good reminder to be even more intentional about the messaging at home with my four boys who range from 2 to 14.
I want to give my kids a Christmas that is centered around the miracle, not the material. I want to give them a wonder-full Christmas.
Hear me out. This isn’t some kind of anti-Santa situation. We give and receive and enjoy gifts. But you and I both know that gifts satisfy us for a while but ultimately gifts serve as a reminder that nothing created can truly satisfy us more than the gift of being known and loved by the Creator Himself. The temporary thrill of the material only leaves us longing for more, longing for fulfillment that can only be found in Jesus. Jesus, the hope of the world and the Savior of our souls. This Jesus who changed everything when “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).
I want my boys to understand how the fictitious Christmas story celebrated by our culture is far less thrilling than the truest Christmas narrative ever told. Think about it.
The cultural Christmas story has become an opportunity for parents to coerce their children into better behavior by threatening them with what they will or won’t get from Santa based on their good or not-so-good behavior.
The Christmas narrative we find in Scripture is that God’s love for His children is so extravagant and so overwhelming that He humbled himself to become fully human in the birth of His Son Jesus Christ to rescue His rebellious people. This is the ultimate gift, the greatest gift. Grace. God’s love isn’t earned. It isn’t deserved. It can’t be won and it can’t be lost. This is the heartbeat of Christmas.
Love was born. Christ has come. The greatest gift has been given. We can tear up the naughty and nice lists. Jesus has done for you and me what you could never do for ourselves. We now have God’s unfailing and unending love. “For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. (Eph 2:8-9 GNT)
So come, let us adore Him! This “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The Good News of Christmas that we can share with our children is that God doesn’t want them depending on their own goodness. He wants them looking to Christ for their goodness. He wants them to live in freedom from trying to be good enough! He wants them living in the assurance that He doesn’t love them and give them good gifts because they’ve been good enough. He loves them and gives them good gifts because they belong to Him!
And the same is true for us, moms and dads. We are “moms set free” and dads set free from earning God’s blessing, and we have the privilege of raising “kids set free” from earning His blessing. It’s all grace.
Here are just a few ideas to celebrate the freedom that was given to us in the birth of Jesus Christ and make Christmas more about the miracle than the material.
1. Prepare our hearts through the Advent season.
Spend a few minutes each day with an Advent devotion alone and/or as a family.
2. Have a birthday party for Jesus.
This is a tradition I grew up enjoying and now my children do as well. Instead of putting out the list of the things we want Santa to give us because we have been “good enough” we bake a cake and we sing happy birthday to Jesus and we blow out the candles and we thank Him for leaving Heaven to come to earth to be good enough on our behalf. We thank Him for rescuing us, redeeming us, and restoring us.
This tradition has led to several really special conversations. For example, several years ago, after the candles were blown out and my boys were licking the frosting off their cake, my son Brennan turned to me with a curious face and asked, “But Mom, if it’s Jesus’s birthday, where are His presents? What did we give to Him?” What a privilege it was to tell my son, “What Jesus wants is our love, our trust, our hearts. He wants us. That is the best gift we could give Jesus.”
3. Prioritize generosity.
When making your list and checking it twice, invite your children to choose a gift they’d like to give to a child or family in need. You can “adopt” a child or a family through a local non-profit in your area. Ask your local Department of Children and Family Services if there are children in foster care in your county who are in need. Or choose from any one of these 100 simple and fun ideas to light up your community this Christmas! Because “Giving, not getting, is the way! Generosity begets generosity.” (Luke 6:37 MSG).
4. Consider something like the “four-gift” rhyme.
Essentially this means your children receive four gifts. One they want, one they need, one they wear, and one they read. This doesn’t have to feel punitive, in fact it shouldn’t feel punitive. Be creative, and remember, as always, the enthusiasm with which we present an idea will impact the attitude with which they receive it. The message isn’t, “You get too much stuff each year and you’re not grateful enough so we are cutting back to teach you a lesson.” The message is “We are excited to focus more on the miracle than the material this year. We will love and laugh and serve others as we celebrate the birth of Christ and we will have the best Christmas yet!” What our kids really want, after all, is our presence more than our presents.
If we really want to give our kids the greatest gift this Christmas, let’s be intentional in making Jesus Christ central in our celebration. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!