One year we decorated our family room with lights and a manger at the foot of a gold throne (symbolizing Christ's eternal reign), surrounded on the left by a purple cloth and a candle (signifying the Old Testament law) and on the right by a red cloth and wooden cross (representing Christ's death). Every time we looked into the room, we were reminded of God's plan of redemption.

Another year we wrapped a large box with fancy gold paper and wrote the names of God on strips of ribbon coming out of it, reminding us that Jesus was God's gift to us. Still another year we decorated a wreath with different symbols to represent the names of God. The year we did the heaven devotional, we set up a "throne" in our living room by covering a dining-room chair with a gold tablecloth and putting a crown on top. The throne served as a vivid reminder to us to let Jesus rule each detail of our lives. I remember getting quite convicted throughout the month as I passed by it!

The year my brother was learning woodworking, a homeschool dad we knew helped him build a life-size manger for our front yard. We put a floodlight on it and a cross with lights behind it as our outdoor decoration that year. It projected a simple but profound message to both the neighbors and us.

Ways to decorate are truly inexhaustible—and fully customizable for the needs of each family. Our family did the things we did because those were the ideas and skills God gave us at the time. There have also been years where we have hardly decorated at all. Your family decorations might look very different from ours—and may differ from year to year! Whether or not you set up a Christmas tree, your decorations can be a wonderful aid in keeping you focused during the Christmas season.

You could even use the way you set up decorations as a tool to keep focused if you wish. One year, we set out our manger scene one piece each day, reading the corresponding part of the Christmas story and pondering each person's response to Christmas. On Christmas Day, we added baby Jesus to the manger.

Gifts

About the same time we changed our approach to decorating, we also changed our approach to gift giving. We realized that gift giving was sidetracking us from really focusing on Christ's birth and was putting our focus on materialistic things instead, both leading up to Christmas and on Christmas Day itself. We also found that we were often giving out of obligation rather than because the Lord had really prompted us to give something.

Again, gift giving was a hard but very rewarding tradition to let go of. It freed up the whole season as well as Christmas Day itself. The whole spirit in our home during December changed.

This is not to say we never give or receive gifts at Christmas, but we began seeking the Lord and trying to listen to His leading about when and what and if to give. We will also often give gifts to people throughout the year rather than just at Christmas.

Whether or not your family does gift giving at Christmas, I'd encourage you to ask the Lord how you can work it in a way that guards against becoming consumed with gifts instead of the Gift. Remember to depend upon the Lord and seek Him for what He'd have you give or not give and not to let the weight of expectations press you down.

Christmas Day

Perhaps the largest change was Christmas Day itself! We discovered there are lots of different things we can do on Christmas Day to focus our minds and hearts on all Christ's birth means for us.

One year, my mom had us all dress up in old sheets and act out the Christmas story while my dad read it aloud. This could be done at different levels depending on ages and prep time—young children could do a very simple rendition of a few key events, slightly older children could act out the entire story while someone reads it, and older children could read or recite the main lines themselves.