My earliest memory of Christmas is opening Christmas presents with my sister, my Mum and my favourite aunt, sitting at the foot of a Christmas tree ablaze with magical twinkling lights on Christmas night.

I must have been about four or five years old. Now, decades later, that memory brings back the feeling that Christmas is a special time of being well-loved and cared for, of joy and delight.

I also remember that my family always attended Christmas service when the Christmas story was told through Bible readings and the singing of Christmas carols.

As children, we always looked forward to attending the service because it was always held in the evening and the church was lit with candles and festooned with Christmas garlands.

If the Christmas pageant is not an option and carolling visits are too energetic, gathering family and friends together for Christmas Bible readings and carols after Christmas dinner is a lovely tradition that transforms “just another big dinner” into a Christ-focussed celebration.

During my teenage years, I went on carolling trips with the youth fellowship in my church. We piled into a bus armed with guitars, carol books, and much enthusiasm to sing Christmas carols and read the Christmas story at the houses of church members. Each visit culminated with delicious refreshments for thirsty carollers—spiced hot apple juice, mince pies, gingerbread biscuits, Uncle Jackie and Aunty Pat’s famous hoon kueh, fruit cake, and curry puffs!

Christmas was a time when everyone put aside the daily chores to celebrate the birth of Jesus with special treats and activities!

Christmas vs Xmas

By the time my husband Dennis and I started a family of our own, Christmas had become big business.

The shops started playing Christmas carols and putting up Christmas trees at the end of October to entice shoppers.

To many people, the story of Christ’s birth at Christmas was overshadowed by presents, parties, Santa Claus, and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Both then and now, many cartoons and Christmas movies continue to reinforce the idea of Santa coming on Christmas Eve to leave presents for good children in their stockings.

I did not realize until later that I myself had contributed to Santa Claus becoming the focus of Christmas by stitching my children giant stockings and leaving presents in the stockings on Christmas Eve.

How can we bring back the focus on Christ this Christmas?

Focus On The Christmas Story

I listed my aims:

  1. The Christmas story of the Saviour’s birth had to be the main event of Christmas night rather than Santa Claus’ visit on Christmas Eve;
  2. It had to be fun for the children so that they would look forward to it; and
  3. Every family member had to be involved in prayer, praise, and the reading of God’s Word.

For The Little Children—A Christmas Pageant

After some thought, I remembered the Christmas pageants that I had participated in when I was a child in Sunday School.

All the Sunday School children acted out the Christmas story for the church congregation. I had been given the part of the angel Gabriel on several occasions. What fun it had been to dress up and learn my lines! This was inspiration!

I suggested a Christmas Night Potluck dinner to family and close friends who had children around the same age as my children Ying and Neil, aged seven and four respectively.

Most of them celebrated Christmas Eve with their own families with nothing planned for Christmas night, so this idea was well-received.

Next, I found a lovely version of the Christmas story in a picture book.

I assigned roles to each of the children—Mary, Joseph, angel Gabriel, the Three Kings, the shepherds, and the angels.

All the mothers were tasked to bring “costumes” so that the children could dress up after dinner.

The little children had to learn how to sing “Away in a Manger”. The parents of the “Three Kings” had to teach them their solo verses from the Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are”.

How can we bring back the focus on Christ this Christmas?

Although some may contend that the Wise Men visited Jesus at least a year after his birth, we decided to keep the Wise Men in the nativity scene so that we could explain to the children the significance of wonderful words in the carol: Jesus was presented gifts of “gold” because He is King over all; “frankincense” because He is God’s Son; and “myrrh” because He is our Sacrifice.

Finally, I approached Dennis and informed him that we would be performing the Christmas story after dinner on Christmas night and asked if he would lead the singing of the Christmas carols.

Since I had married the Youth Fellowship guitarist from my teenage carolling years, I knew this would not be a problem.

Dennis unearthed our old Christmas carolling books and worked out which carols should be sung at various points in the Christmas story.

Christmas night was a resounding success. The children were thrilled and excited by dressing up and performing in front of an audience of mummies, daddies, aunties, uncles, and grandparents.

As the Christmas story was narrated, Mary (dressed in a blue robe and scarf) and Joseph (in Papa’s T-shirt with a rope belt, towel headdress, walking stick staff, and carrying a toy donkey) carefully laid the baby Jesus (wrapped doll) in a shoebox manger.

The angel Gabriel (tinsel halo and white night dress) appeared and announced, “Don’t be afraid Mary, You will have a Son and His name will be Jesus!”

Everyone sang “Once in Royal David’s City”.

There were hilarious moments: the smallest shepherd, little three-year-old Johnny trundled on the set with a little lamb sitting in a doll’s stroller. This was followed by four-year-old Neil’s solo as one of the Three Kings after which he proudly opened his “gift” for the baby Jesus—a huge plastic spider!

In the following years, the Christmas play became the highlight of Christmas and was much anticipated and prepared for by young and old.

For the Teenagers—Carolling Visits to the Elderly

When the children became teenagers, we decided to organize our own carolling visits to friends and family, particularly those with house-bound elderly folks.

We also agreed to take donations for our favourite charity.

This required some administrative organization—arranging which house to visit at what time, working out the transport in a convoy of cars, what to tell folks to prepare in terms of refreshments for the carollers (essential part of the fun!), putting together bound copies of the carols and Bible readings, and getting together to rehearse the singing!

We used the short service of Christmas Bible Readings and Carols that Dennis compiled (see below).

The carolling visits were wonderful fun and also provided a way to bring Christmas cheer to families (some of whom were not church goers), share the gospel of salvation, and teach the young ones how to raise money for a needy cause.

For the Whole Family—Bible Readings and Carols at Home

If the Christmas pageant is not an option and carolling visits are too energetic, gathering family and friends together for Christmas Bible readings and carols after Christmas dinner is a lovely tradition that transforms “just another big dinner” into a Christ-focussed celebration.

Even our non-Christian friends and family have told us that this is the highlight of Christmas for them!

All that is needed is a little planning—someone needs to arrange the Bible readings and the carols together and either print them out or put them on a PowerPoint presentation.

These can be re-used every Christmas, as we have done in our family. If no one plays an instrument, there are many ‘minus-one’ tracks available online.

I have copied Dennis’ version of the Bible reading and carols below that can be used for the Christmas pageant, carolling visits, or Christmas dinner so that you can start family traditions that will keep “Christ” in Christmas!

Wishing everyone a joy-filled and Christ-centred Christmas!

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A Short Service of Christmas Bible Readings and Carols

Opening Prayer

Carol: Joy to the World

1st Reading: Isaiah 9:2, 6&7 (To us a child Is born)

Carol: It Came upon the Midnight Clear

2nd Reading: Luke 1:26-38 (The angel Gabriel announces Christ’s birth)

Carols:

Away in a Manger

Ding Dong! Merrily on High

Let There Be Peace on Earth

3rd Reading: Luke 2:1-7 (The birth of Jesus)

Carols:

What Child Is This?

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Holy Night

4th Reading: Luke 2:8-20 (The angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds)

Carols:

Silent Night

Mary’s Boy Child

5th Lesson: Matthew 2:1-12 The visit of the Magi

Carols:

We Three Kings

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

5th Lesson: John 1:1-14 (The Word made flesh)

Carols:

O Come, All Ye Faithful

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Closing Prayer