The next morning there was a lot of oohing over the pretty house, and the younger children were allowed to decorate with their items, which I had laid out. This turned our decorating into a happy and peaceful time for all the children—a good, warm memory instead of an issue of chaos and discipline.

Keep gifts to a minimum. Too many gifts can cause a whole host of negative issues. Children who have come from a past of deprivation cannot handle an influx of so much all at once. It is overwhelming. They will often find it difficult to appreciate gifts, which could produce feelings of guilt. One of our daughters felt guilty because she was put up for adoption when some of her siblings were not. There was no sure way for us to get items to her birth family, and so she felt guilty because of what she had and was receiving.

We have tried all kinds of ways to celebrate with gift giving—some have been very successful and some have been "learning adventures." The last and most successful idea was a code system. I told the kids they would get one keepsake item and one gift. Then I wrapped all of the packages the same way and put numeric codes on them instead of names. It created anticipation and a fun, game-like atmosphere as everyone tried to break the code. They did not receive many gifts but had great fun together.

Maintain priorities of Christ and relationship. As fun as the gift giving can be, our focus needs to be placed on Christ first and on building relationships. We always do an activity called the Jesse Tree. It is an Advent activity lasting twenty-five days and covers Creation to Christ. Each day we hang a small item on an ornament holder and read a passage of Scripture. We also participate in church functions and sometimes even find a live nativity to attend. With our focus on Christ, we also want to build family relationships. Pictures are a good way to build the family identity. We decorate the house together; we also make gifts for Sunday School teachers or other special people in our lives.

Surprise isn't always fun. Understand that stress will bring out behaviors you thought were overcome. "A number of parents have told me that as their adopted toddlers grew older, they still tended to revert to the same misguided survival behaviors they displayed as young children when they were in new or otherwise stressful situations."[2] Christmas is a very stressful event with the break in routine, buildup to gifts, visitors, or travel. Sometimes it may become necessary to remove some of the surprise element so that the anxiety level doesn't escalate. One year we gave our children a set amount of money to spend. We took one day to shop together. We gave everyone plenty of time to look for special items. Then we went out to a big dinner afterwards. The next day we had a wrapping party with all the gifts. Everyone knew what they were getting for Christmas, but that occasion is one of our favorite memories.

Be ready to give comfort for sadness and grief. Christmas may trigger lots of thoughts and memories about birth relatives. In the midst of the celebration, the adopted child may actually be experiencing large doses of grief. If you can be comforting, it will help your child cope and may help bring you closer as you understand his or her conflicting emotions.

Christmas is such a warm and much-anticipated event celebrating Christ and family and memories, but for an adoptive family it can be one of the hardest seasons to get through. Approaching Christmas with a deeper understanding of what your adopted child may be going through can help you plan wisely. In the end we want the hope of Christmas to really live in all of our children's hearts. As the authors of Parenting the Hurt Child say, "They just might come to view the world as a place filled with infinite opportunities for them and a giving, hopeful environment in which to live."[3]