We keep one of our family treasures in a white cardboard box, tucked in a corner of our attic until December each year. That's when it's carried down the stairs into our den.
After carefully removing the yellowed newspaper protecting the handmade figures, one by one the pieces are revealed: a shepherd, a wiseman, a donkey, an angel, a cow, Mary, Joseph, and of course … baby Jesus. It's tradition.
For more than two decades my husband and I have made certain that every figure is there. After all, our nativity would be incomplete if just one piece were missing.
Can you imagine a nativity set without a figure of baby Jesus? Can you imagine Christmas without Christ?
This Christmas, let's keep Christ at the center of our celebrations. Here are ten ideas that can help connect hearts and homes to Him:
1. Bring the story of Christ's birth to life.
After reading Luke 2:1-20, locate Bethlehem on a biblical map. You can use a map from the back of your Bible or a Bible atlas. Depending on the ages of your children, you may want to compare the biblical map with a current map of the world. (Bethlehem is near Jerusalem.) Also, look at the daily newspaper and discuss how this same area of the world is still in the news today. Encourage young children to reenact the story. Use sheets and blankets to make costumes. You could cast the family dog as a donkey. A teenage son or daughter may enjoy directing the play.
2. Create a "Tree of Light."
Set a small tree/plant (live or artificial) on a tabletop. Fill a container with either handmade or purchased stars, and place it at the base of the tree. Children could enjoy decorating paper stars with glitter. (Attach a loop of string or yarn to the top of each star.) As a family, read some Scriptures about Jesus being the Light of the world (such as John 8:12, John 9:5, John 12:46). Then, put the first star at the top of your Tree of Light. Read Matthew 5:14, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Encourage family members to allow the love of Jesus to shine through them during the holiday season. Invite them to secretly hang a star on the Tree of Light whenever they allow Christ's love to glow through them in a meaningful way. (Another option would be to hang stars when family members see others displaying the light of Christ.)
3. Share the Christmas message through the 12 Names of Christmas ornaments. This resource from FamilyLife helps children understand not only the meaning of Christmas but the type of relationship God desires to have with us. The 12 ornaments each focus on a different name of Christ.
4. Give "birthday gifts" to Jesus.
Wrap a box in colorful holiday tissue and cut a slit in the lid. Fill a container with blank slips of paper and put it by the box. Brainstorm, as a family, about possible gifts for the Savior for Christmas (patience, love for a difficult person, sacrificial giving, ministry to needy person, etc.). Then ask them to write a description of the gift they'd like to give on a slip of paper and to drop it in the wrapped box—without names. Open the box on Christmas day and see what presents the family has given Jesus for His birthday.
5. Begin "orangitude checks" during the holidays.
Keep a bowl filled with oranges in the center of the dinner table. One evening, slice an orange in half and squeeze it into a glass. Ask a child to drink the juice that's in the glass and then say, "What does it taste like?" (Of course, the answer should be orange juice.) Then discuss, as a family, people's actions during the sometimes-hectic Christmas season. What comes out when they are "squeezed"? Repeat this activity one or two more times during the holidays. Discuss family members' experiences as they try to model Christ's love, even when they are "squeezed."
6. Prepare the manger for baby Jesus.
Fill a basket with straw and place it near your nativity set. When family members do something special for Jesus (anonymously), they can leave a piece of straw in the manger—examples: being kind, sacrificial, generous, and patient. Another option is for family members to put straw in the manger when they see loved ones modeling the character of Christ during the holidays. Before the Christmas story is read on Christmas morning, Mom or Dad can lay the figure of Baby Jesus on top of the straw bed that the family has prepared for Him.
7. Announce the birth of a king.
After reading Luke 2:1-20, family members can share how they would announce the birth of a king. Where would they arrange for the infant king to stay? (You could make paper horns for the children to use for their announcements.) Then talk about the way Baby Jesus entered the world more than 2,000 years ago. Be sure that the children understand that He was placed in a manger, which held food for livestock. Ask them why they think Jesus was born in a manger … why was there no room for Him in the inn? Then read Revelations 11:15, " … There were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.'" Talk about how Jesus will come again to reign and to rule as our King.
8. Consider the feelings of Mary and Joseph. For older children, read Matthew 1:18-25 and then discuss:
9. As a family, adopt a needy child or family at Christmas.
- How could Mary, a virgin, have felt when she discovered that she was pregnant?
- How could Joseph have felt when he learned of Mary's pregnancy?
Why did both Joseph and Mary have the courage to believe God and undoubtedly suffer ridicule from man?
Who do they (and you) turn to when life is not what they anticipated?
Why can we always trust God even when His ways are different from ours?
Not only shop for their physical wants, but also give spiritual helps such as a Bible or a book with Christian themes. Pray for them throughout the upcoming year. Pray for their salvation, spiritual growth, and that they will look to God to meet their needs.
10. Record family prayer requests. Ask each family member to jot down personal prayer requests for the next year. Place the list inside individual envelopes (with names on the front). After your Christmas celebration, enclose the envelopes inside a box containing the nativity set or special ornaments. Next year, before you assemble your nativity set, take time to open the envelopes, praise God for answered prayer, and pray together for needs that have not yet been met.
Copyright © 2007 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Looking for help or inspiration this Christmas? FamilyLife offers several resources to help your family focus on Christ during your Christmas celebration. The Ever Thine Home® Christmas collection includes ornaments and other decorations help you honor Christ and proclaim your faith. The 12 Names of Christmas™ ornaments are designed to help you teach your children about Jesus is and why He came to live among us. And in When Christmas Came, Barbara Rainey reveals the substance of Christmas in poignant prose and vivid watercolors.