Growing up, my family embraced pretty much every aspect of cultural Christmas you can think of: setting up a Christmas tree with shiny baubles and hand-painted decorations, playing jazzy Christmas music and choral hymns around the house, feasting on honeyed ham and log cake . . . you name it, we did it.

We would also make the effort to attend the special Christmas service in our church. Even though these “traditions” were whittled down as my siblings and I got older, I can still remember the “magical” atmosphere of the season that my parents lovingly created for the family.

Now, as a parent setting up traditions for my family, I’d like my children to also have fond memories of Christmas. But I wonder: how can the good news of Jesus be the centre of our celebrations? As such, I decided to find out how other families impart the spirit and truth of Christmas to their kids over the years.

Here are three things I’ve learnt from talking to some of them:

Christmas involves the community.

In all three families I spoke to, what remained central to their Christmases was celebrating them with the body of Christ, from partaking in church activities to attending Christmas Day service as a family.

Michele, a mother of three, would help out with the Christmas preparations in church. When her kids were younger, she used to host parties and meals at home. These days, the stay-home mother and her family attend an annual Christmas party organised by a relative. “It’s interesting that they host this party because they are unbelievers, but we use this as a time to pray for opportunities to share the gospel with them,” said Michele, whose kids are now 24, 22, and 11 years old.

She also tries to involve the wider community in other ways. Almost every year, she would bake a “Christmas morning special”, like cinnamon rolls and baked apple French toast, and distribute them to her neighbours. This gives her family an opportunity to reach out to them, with one of their neighbours later accepting Christ after they shared the gospel with them.

“We want our children to know that Christmas isn’t just about receiving toys, but remembering the coming of Jesus.”

For Steven, a father of three and grandfather of two, Christmases in the past were spent joining church activities such as carolling, distributing goodie bags to the neighbourhood and inviting them to church, and even taking part in the annual Christmas musical together as a family. When his children got older, one of his daughters joined him to be part of the audio visual team for their church’s Christmas musical.

“We looked forward to these musicals because it was a time we could invite unbelieving friends and relatives to our church,” said Steven, whose grandchildren are 8 and 5. “And we want our children to know that Christmas isn’t just about receiving toys, but remembering the coming of Jesus.”

He recalls that when his children were toddlers, a group of friends at church would also gather at their house to celebrate Christmas. “It’s something my kids remember to this day,” he said with a chuckle.

Christmas is about celebrating Christ, in whatever way we can.

Christmas is the time we celebrate God’s greatest gift to us—His one and only Son. And for many families, this means embracing the fun and festivities of the occasion in big and small ways, such as:

  • setting up a Christmas tree and decorating it with baubles and accessories
  • styling the house with holly, Christmas stockings, and fairy lights
  • making cards and exchanging gifts between family members

When his kids were younger, Steven would hop on the train with his family to Orchard station, and marvel at the Christmas light-up as they strolled through the shopping street. These days, he and his wife attend the Christmas parties hosted by their children and their spouses.

At the same time, the part-time lecturer says, they are careful to impress upon his grandchildren of whom Christmas is about and why He is worth celebrating, as his 8-year-old grandson’s birthday happens to fall just five days before Christmas Day. “Because our family holds a combined ‘birthday party’ for both him and Jesus,” said Steven, “we try to be intentional and clear about the purpose of Christmas.”

Michele, the mother of three, agrees. “From young, we told the kids that Christmas isn’t about them,” she said. While her family buys small gifts for one another, they are mindful to emphasise that they are celebrating the birth of Jesus, and that “if they get gifts, it’s a blessing from God.”

What about Santa Claus? “When the kids were younger, we taught them that Santa is a fun but fictional part of Christmas, and that we shouldn’t let Santa take the focus away from Christ,” said Michele.

Having fun also means imparting truths to her kids along the way, says Celine, a mother of two boys aged 5 and 2. “When we decorate the Christmas tree, I might ask them: ‘What do you think the star represents?’ or ‘Why do you think we receive presents during Christmas?’”

“If we aren’t the ones educating them about Christmas, the world will,” she added.

Christmas is about marvelling over the hope Jesus brings.

When their elder son turned 1, Celine and her husband wanted to teach him about Christmas in an intentional manner. “We didn’t talk about the Christmas story when it was just me and my husband,” she recalled. “After the kids came, we started to think about how we could talk about it more.”

They began reading the Christmas story to their son using picture books and Bibles, and occasionally played short videos about the birth of Jesus. When he grew older, they looked for longer storybooks that shone a light on different aspects of Christmas.

“We borrowed books about the nativity scene from the library,” said Celine. “And when we want a longer read, I would read from the Bible directly. We have different Bible versions at home, so I also try to read different versions to them.”

To keep their hands busy, Celine encourages her kids to recreate the nativity scene at home, using blocks and magnetic tiles.

They also teach them Christmas carols, says Celine. “My younger son loves to sing, and even sings Christmas songs throughout the year!” Their favourites include “Mary’s Boy Child”, which she describes as a “nice summary of the Christmas story”.

“Our fear is that the Christmas story becomes just head knowledge. When teaching our kids, we need to trust God and do our best to help them understand, reflect, and appreciate what Christmas is all about,” she added.

“Our prayer and desire is for them to ask themselves: ‘If Christ didn’t come, what hope would we have?’ Even though our kids are older now, we never assume that they already know the answer.”

Likewise, Michele and her husband taught their three children Christmas carols and hymns from young. “I would play the piano and the rest would sing,” Michele recalled. Later on, their elder daughter accompanied her mother on the violin. “We taught them carols like ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘Away in a Manger’, and newer ones like ‘The Birthday of a King’ and ‘The Miracle of Christmas’,” said Michele.

A week or so before Christmas Day, the family reads the part of the gospel accounts describing Jesus’ birth. “Usually my husband will briefly explain the passage, and ask the kids what they gleaned from it or what verse stood out for them,” said Michele.

“Our prayer and desire is for them to ask themselves: ‘If Christ didn’t come, what hope would we have?’” she added. “Even though our kids are older now, we never assume that they already know the answer, because it’s important that they understand and realise for themselves the sacrifice Jesus paid, and the salvation He gives us.”

Agreeing, Steven said: “We can’t force our children to become believers, but we pray that the Christmas story we teach them from young will stay with them. And, when they become parents themselves, I hope they will set up their own Christmas traditions with their families, and point their own children to Christ.”

Give Us This Day 19

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Wendy is a writer, wife, and mother. She was a TV journalist and radio producer once upon a time, but has since traded in the newsroom for the quiet joys of family life and writing for the Lord. She hopes that God will use what He’s given her to glorify Him through her life and words. Her perfect day includes peanut butter, spending time with Jesus, and having a good cuddle with her husband and son.
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