Everywhere we go at Christmastime, we encounter the sights and sounds of the season—jingle bells, presents, food, tinsel, trees, lights, and more. Along with the sights and sounds, we encounter the prevailing idea that the Christmas season should be filled with happiness—a happiness found in a host of different traditions.
Isn't it ironic that in the midst of all the traditions meant to bring happiness, the source of true joy—Christ Jesus—is so easily forgotten? Just look around the mall or a holiday party, and you will see frantic shoppers overwhelmed by their Christmas-gift lists, moms exhausted by all the season's commitments, and children who can't take their minds off their wish lists. Even if we sing Christmas carols and read the Christmas story, it is all too easy to get sidetracked from Christ during the holidays! Yet it's only in Him that we'll find the true joy of which the angels sang when they announced His birth (Luke 2:10).
So how can we keep focused on Christ this time of year? This was a question I watched my mom wrestle with as we grew up. She began examining what we were doing and why—and as she did, Christmastime at our house began to change. We started with little things: baking a cake for baby Jesus on Christmas Day and reading the Christmas story together. Later, the Lord led us to change our celebrations more substantially.
I know many Christians have found different ways to keep focused on the Lord during this time of year. Our own family has celebrated quite differently at different times. My heart is simply to encourage you to seek the Lord for what He would have for your family—and not to be afraid to follow wherever He leads.
For many years, we have done a special devotional during the Christmas season to help focus our eyes upon the Lord. These devotionals have varied greatly in length and structure.
One year, a friend brought us "Advent Bags"—24 lunch-sized paper bags, each one containing a short Scripture and thought accompanied by a small gift to go along with the lesson (such as a pack of Life Savers to remind us that Jesus came to save us, or a container of play dough to remind us that He is the Creator, or a heart sticker to remind us of His love). Each day of December leading up to Christmas, my brother and I got to open one bag. On December 1, we opened the bag labeled "1," and so forth. We absolutely loved it! It proved a simple way for us to spend a few minutes every day reflecting on Jesus and scriptural truths.
After that, my mom began doing Advent Bags nearly every year, changing the theme and content each time. One year the devotionals followed the alphabet: we based each day's reading on a different letter of the alphabet (A for "angels," B for "Bethlehem" . . . ). Another year my mom put a different coloring sheet in each bag.
As we grew older, we began helping put the bags together to give to family and friends. This gave us an opportunity to really think through the message of Christ's birth as we assisted in writing the little lessons and shopping for the gifts. These bags often served as our Christmas gifts for family and friends. Eventually, the bags gave way to Christmas devotional kits that I still produce and offer through my website, www.christianperspective.net.
Some years we found ready-made devotionals we could use. One year we slowly read through John MacArthur's The Miracle of Christmas. Another year someone in our support group put together short devotionals on heaven. However we did it, pondering lessons from the Christmas account each day helped set the tone for the holiday season.
As we began praying through our holiday decorations, the Lord led us to make some changes. We discovered we could help draw our attention to Christ during the Christmas season through meaningful decorations.
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.
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.
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.
Another year my mom wrote Scripture verses on gold paper stars, which she then hid throughout the house. We "followed the star" by finding the various hidden stars. Each star had a Scripture verse on it that gave a clue as to the location of the next one. Along the way, we also found "gold," "frankincense," and "myrrh" and discussed the significance of each.
The sky is the limit for the different things you can do to celebrate Christmas together and to take advantage of the opportunity to share Jesus, especially with unsaved family and friends. Of course, how you celebrate will depend on your children's ages and your family's preferences. Your celebration might simply be a time of prayer, Scripture reading, and singing together. Or you may want to set aside some quiet time alone with God on Christmas. Only the Lord knows exactly what will work for you.
Along with how to celebrate, another aspect to investigate is who to celebrate with. Not everyone has family nearby—and sometimes hardships prevent families from really having time to put a Christmas celebration together. There have been years when we have been tremendously blessed by having another family join us for Christmas.
As the holiday season approaches, take some time to ask the Lord how He'd have you keep focused on Him this year. Don't be afraid to branch out of the box—the different things you can do are as unique as each family! It never ceases to amaze me how the Lord can give ideas when we ask Him. No matter how we celebrate or whether we celebrate at all, let's remember to not lose sight of seeing and worshiping Christ each and every day of the year.
Katherine Loop, a homeschool graduate, is the author of various homeschool resources, including books on teaching math biblically and Thanksgiving and Christmas devotionals that come with little books for children to decorate. Check out her website, www.christianperspective.net, for more information and to sign up for her free e-newsletters.
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec '10 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more great homeschool help, download our FREE report—The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom! Click here to download: http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm