Have you ever felt like Cindy Lou Who in The Grinch? Longingly searching for meaning in the hustle and bustle and commercialism of the Christmas season? I know I’ve personally struggled with this, especially as an adult and parent. I’ve had some Christmas seasons that were hard to fully enjoy because it just felt a little empty. It was still joyful, but it felt like something was missing.
I think a lot of us experience that at different times. There’s such a focus on things during the Christmas season, and it’s so easy to be distracted by those things and lose sight of what this season is supposed to be about. Over the last couple of years we have really tried to focus on making our Christmas season more meaningful, and to be honest, the last couple of Christmases have been my favorites because of it.
Here are some of the things we’ve been doing to put some meaning back into Christmas. I’m always looking for more, so if you have something special that you do with your family this time of year, please share it with us!
Focus on the Memories
We’ve been trying to focus more on making lasting memories with our kids during this time of year, so they have non-present things to look forward to every year. One tradition we always do is getting the kids in their Christmas jammies and drive around looking at Christmas lights. There are some big displays around the Denver suburbs, and we have a couple that we go to every year. Most times we try to bring some hot cocoa with peppermint marshmallows with us to enjoy as we look at the lights. The kids ask almost nightly if tonight is the night we get to go.
We also started going to the Denver Zoo Lights a couple of years ago, and the kids absolutely love it! They have a mini donut shop halfway through the zoo, and every year we get an order of donut holes to share as we walk around the rest of the zoo. It’s such a fun time, even if it’s freezing outside.
We also have waaaay more family movie nights than usual. Home Alone, Elf, The Santa Clause, Rudolph, Christmas with the Kranks, White Christmas…so many wonderful Christmas movies require so many cozy family movie nights.
Focus on Giving vs. Getting
This is probably pretty obvious, but little kids are wired to think about themselves only, so if we as parents aren't conscious about putting an emphasis on giving to others, all they will focus on is getting things, even when they’re grown. One little way we try to put the focus back on that is when they’re looking at the plethora of toy catalogs that they get from all of the stores. When they first get them all you hear is “oh I want that!” over and over again. Nothing wrong with picking out wishlist things, but after a while, we’ll encourage them to now look at the catalogs thinking of gifts for other people; for each other, for their cousins, etc. To be honest, I think they get just as excited looking at them for other people as they do for themselves!
Focus on Jesus’ Birthday
Little kids naturally think of presents as being the sole purpose of Christmas. To help all of us remember the reason for Christmas, we’re constantly asking the kids “so what is Christmas really about again?” to keep reminding them that the whole purpose we have Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus. We have special Christmas books that we love that highlight this; some of our favorites are “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” By Melissa Medlock Adams and The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs. The end of that book brings tears to my eyes every.single.time. So good.
Another way we focus on Jesus’ birthday, is having the kids help us pick out birthday gifts for Jesus. Sounds a little weird, right? How do you buy Christmas gifts for someone that lives in our hearts and heaven? In Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells us “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, when we take care of the least of these, we are giving the most precious birthday gifts to Jesus. Therefore, there are so many ways we can give Jesus gifts this Christmas season. Because of our children’s ages, doing things like volunteering at soup kitchens and things like that aren’t feasible for us yet, but that’s a great gift idea!
The way we’ve been picking out gifts for Jesus the last couple of years is by having the kids help us pick out things for the less fortunate. We usually get catalogs from Compassion International and Partners International, and each weekend in December leading up to Christmas we’ll pick out a birthday present for Jesus. It’s amazing to hear the kids get excited about picking out chickens or bibles or mosquito nets or a water well for people in need. We’ve also purchased things from Mercy House Global, an organization that has really moved me. That one is a triple gift; a gift to Jesus for helping provide for his people, a gift to the family you’re helping support, and a gift to someone else that you give the product to.
Of all the ways we try to make Christmas more meaningful for our family, this tradition is my most favorite. Some years are harder financially, so they’re not always super elaborate or expensive gifts for Jesus, but the monetary amount doesn’t matter. The heart behind it, the desire to help take care of all of God’s people is what matters. And yes, this is a part of Christmas that should live on throughout the year.
The Santa Situation
This next part is a little controversial, and I honestly thought about leaving it out. We think transparency and authenticity are so important, though, so I think it’s important to include this.
Two years ago we made the decision to no longer have our kids believe that Santa is real. Isaac was 4 and Kaiya was 3 at the time (Gracie was a baby). I’m sure a lot of you reading that are slightly horrified that we would do such a thing. Most of the people we told were supportive, but we did get a few incredulous looks and comments about it. We broke the news gently and casually like it wasn’t a big deal. They weren’t upset at all, a little confused at first, but they took it all in stride. There were no tears or anything dramatic. We just explained that Santa is a fun, but pretend, Christmas tradition. It wasn’t a long, drawn-out conversation. We told them about Saint Nicholas, and how he gave presents to kids, and that’s how the Santa tradition started. Last year Isaac decided that Santa was, in fact, real. We didn’t scold him or anything, we would just say “yeah it’s so much fun to pretend that he’s real, isn’t it? That would be really neat!”
We haven’t banned all things Santa from our house; they still make Santa-shaped cookies, color Santa pictures, we even have them take pictures with Santa (but not at the mall, those are ridiculously overpriced, and there are so many free ones around!). We absolutely love The Santa Clause movie, and Elf, and all of those. They just know that he’s a fun, pretend part of Christmas.
We also don’t look down on families that do Santa, it’s a personal choice and I don’t think it’s wrong for families to do it. It was starting to become overly Santa-focused for us, and we didn’t like that. I also started to feel uncomfortable lying to my kids that way. And I was really bothered by the whole “naughty or nice” thing, and things like Elf on the Shelf reporting behavior back to Santa.
Gifts should be given out of unconditional love, not for being good enough or earning them. Christmas should be a reflection of the gospel, God’s perfect gift to us despite us not being worthy of it. If you do Santa, just know that we have no issues with that at all. Elf on the Shelf, too. Everyone can celebrate Christmas however they want to, I just wanted to explain why we don’t do this aspect. I would encourage you to potentially think about the whole behavior aspect of it though. Santa can be used to reflect God’s unconditional love, too.
Three Wise Men
Something else that we do that a lot of people will think is weird, is they each get 3 presents from us, to represent the gifts from the Three Wise Men. Their stocking stuffers don’t count towards that total, though (and we do some pretty nice stocking stuffers), and they sometimes get a group present. They also get gifts for each other (they open those on Christmas Eve though).
This is one that I struggled with some, because there is something magical about coming downstairs and seeing a giant pile of presents under the Christmas tree. As fun as that is, though, we really don’t want stuff to be what Christmas and life is about. The first year we started this, I was worried that it would be a little sad or disappointing, but it’s been anything but that. Our kids have never been anything but super excited, grateful and full of joy on Christmas morning. They still wake us up crazy early, dying to go see what’s down there. And they’re so excited to give each other their gifts, too, which really makes my mama heart explode.
I know it’s not exactly conventional to limit Christmas presents to 3 gifts per kid or to not have them believe that Santa is real. But isn’t that part of the magic of Christmas, that every family can have their own special traditions that make it full of joy and love and wonder? Santa doesn’t make Christmas special, presents don’t make Christmas special, not even Christmas cookies are what makes Christmas special. 😉 All of those things are fun and great, and there’s nothing wrong with doing them at all or doing it differently than us. But what truly makes Christmas special, is celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus, surrounded by the love and warmth of family.
Figure out what’s most important to your family at Christmastime, and focus on those things. Let family memory-making and Jesus-celebrating take center stage, and your Christmas will be found. ❤️
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