Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thoughts about Christmas

Every year, we have a marvelous opportunity to celebrate not only the birth but the life and atoning sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I have always wanted Christmas in my family to be centered on the Savior, on his life and gift to us. Our secular world, of course, twists Christmas around: instead of gratitude, we are offered greed. Instead of worship, we are offered parties. Instead of the Son of God coming to earth to be born in humble circumstances, to live, die and rise again in fulfillment of the ancient promise of Salvation, we are offered a "magical" Santa with flying reindeer, bringing trivial gifts of no lasting significance.

I don't believe that Christmas needs to be stripped of fun. I enjoy singing "Jingle Bells" and reading "The Night Before Christmas". I enjoy decorating a tree and exchanging gifts. But it seems to me that the "fun" of Christmas can all to easily overshadow the true joy of Christmas.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about ways to make Christmas in my own family a time of rejoicing in the birth of our Savior, a time of gratitude and giving. We intentionally make the receiving of gifts a low-key event--our children were delighted to find that Santa (they know that means mom and dad, but it's still fun to pretend) had filled their stockings with a few small gifts. We didn't have a gift exchange within the family--my family always had the children draw names and exchange gifts, but I had decided to have them exchange gifts for their birthdays instead. Christmas Eve was spent taking Christmas music to a friend and reading and acting out the Nativity story. I felt very, very content on Christmas day. But I feel that there is a lot more we could do, especially in the area of GIVING at Christmastime.

I liked this post over at Choosing Joy. This family thought a lot about how to invite Jesus to his own birthday celebration, and came up with some wonderful ideas. Instead of exchanging family gifts on Christmas Day, they chose to focus on a birthday celebration for Jesus and their gifts to him. In addition to any private, internal gifts, every family member had a budget they could use for charitable gifts to various organizations. I like this idea and see it as something that even small children could participate in a get excited about--could they donate chickens to a family in the third world? Or blankets to an orphanage? There are various organizations that make such gifts possible. In addition, it would be really nice to do some hands-on work: perhaps sewing receiving blankets, knitting baby hats, putting together hygiene kits or school kits to be sent where they are needed. I would also like to find more local ways to serve--adopting a family for the season, sharing musical talents, anything we can think of. I would love to have input from others on what they have done that has worked with small children, or what they think might work.

We could make Christmas day purely a celebration of the birth of Christ, and choose another day for a gift exchange. In many European countries, Saint Nicholas leaves his gifts on his feast day, December 6th. Maybe we could do our Christmas stockings then. Epiphany, or the feast of the Three Kings, celebrates the coming of the Wise Men on January 6th--this might be a good day for an exchange of family gifts. I know some families that exchange only home-made gifts, and I like this idea too.

I like the idea of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas from December 25th through January 5th. Maybe this could be a time to focus on special family activities and acts of kindness within the family and beyond. I also like the idea of paying special attention to the Advent season before Christmas. Formal celebration of Advent seems to originate with the more liturgical church traditions, but many other Christians seem to be adopting aspects of the celebration of Advent that help them focus on the coming of Christ. I like the idea of studying the prophecies about Christ's coming, and making the weeks leading up to Christmas a time of expectant waiting for the great miracle of His birth. In addition, this can be a season to remember that, like the people in ancient times who awaiting the First coming of the Messiah, we should be just as ardently awaiting and preparing for his Second coming.

So--my mind is full of thoughts and ideas about celebrating Christmas. I would really love to hear what others are doing or would like to do to use this season to truly center our lives on Christ.


Catherine Agnes said...

I am excited about this post because it's a topic I've thought about a lot as well, and I've come up with a solution I am very happy with.

Jason and I plan to reserve Christmas Eve as a religious holiday, reading the nativity story, singing and playing Christmas music, and spending time with family.

We plan to have stockings on Christmas morning, but no other gifts, and instead focus on serving others as our gift to Christ--volunteering at soup kitchens, taking gifts to orphanages or families who have hit hard times, or just tying baby blankets at home.

Then we plan to have New Years as our gift-giving holiday. It makes sense in a lot of ways--starting out a new year by expressing appreciation for each other and getting a few new things to use and enjoy through the year. There are a couple of additional advantages to this as well, such as 1. everything is on sale after Christmas, so last-minute shopping is cheap and 2. parents already plan to stay up late on New Year's Eve, so staying up to wrap presents isn't an extra hassle.

Jason and I are starting off the tradition this year by exchanging simple New Year's gifts.

Dorothy said...

It's wonderful that you are re-thinking how your family will celebrate the seasons of Christmas and Advent.

Just after Christmas is a good time to be reassessing priorities and considering how family traditions can reinforce faith. I just wanted to encourage you to continue that process of re-evaluation.