Ever feel like you missed something during the holiday season? It’s awfully difficult in our culture today to teach children the true significance of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It may be time for you to begin some new holiday traditions. Following are seven ideas submitted by FamilyLife staff and friends for honoring God in your Christmas festivities.

1. “Adopting” a church family

Perhaps the Christmases that have remained our favorites were the ones where we adopted one of our own church families in need. Most often it was a family where the father had lost his job. We put together sacks full of food, clothes, candy, toys for the children–anything we knew the family would want at Christmas.

Every year we hid our van down the street, quietly slipped all the sacks onto the front porch, rang the doorbell and ran for cover. It was such a joy to see the response of the recipients. They have never known who left the gifts, because we never told anyone that we did this until now. It always seemed to help us stay focused on the real reason for Christmas and the reason that we live.

Now my children, who are 30, 27, and 18, understand from experience the truth of God’s Word when it says that we find our life by losing it. They are demonstrating a life of giving by their daily lives and I am most grateful to God that He entrusted the truth of His Word to me that I might turn and teach it to the next generation.

–Cherry Tolleson

2. Family circle

Because my children and grandchildren live in Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs, when we get together we try to make our time very special. We all drove to Colorado last Christmas to have “Christmas in the Rockies” with my oldest son in Colorado Springs.

He’s the youth minister at Trinity Church of the Nazarene and he put together a program for our family on Christmas Eve night. We sat in a circle around candles with our little ones in our laps, for they also had their special parts in this program. They were all instructed to be very quiet because we were going to talk to Jesus.

We began by singing Christmas songs and individually reading the Scriptures he had printed out for us. The children joined in with their songs and special Scriptures. Then we went around the circle and each shared one prayer Christ had answered for us in the past year.

We sang a few more songs and then went around the circle again and shared our testimony of what we wanted God to do in our lives for the next year. God really used this time together and there was a spiritual bonding like we had never experienced before.

–Jan Chafey

Grab your FREE FamilyLife Christmas Countdown!

3. Christmas manger

For many years our family has used a simple manger ceremony to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. My husband, Dan, made a simple manger out of wood. Several times during the holiday season we will meet before we got to bed, and one of the children will read a poem titled “The Manger.” (See poem below.)

Next to the manger is a big basket of straw, and after the poem each member of the family will take a handful of straw and say something–a reflective thought about Jesus, perhaps, or something for which they are thankful–before putting the hay in the manger.

On Christmas morning the children excitedly run downstairs to find baby Jesus (a doll) lying in the manger they prepared for Him. This tradition provides for quality family interaction and devotional times throughout the holiday season. We’ve also used it with guests, and they seem to really enjoy it.

–Nancy Butkowski

The Manger

The time grows near;
Let’s all rejoice
Christmas morn will
soon be here.
God has made His
perfect choice.
The baby Christ’s birth is near.
As each day passes let’s
make it our goal to
prepare a comfy bed
So when the time comes
He’ll have
A place to rest His tiny head.
We’ll add a bit of straw
each time we stop
To reflect on Christ Jesus and
why He came to earth
Until at last the
morning comes
We’ve all been waiting for
And in the bed we’ve
made for Him
Lies Jesus Christ the Lord.

4. Advent wreath decorations

Like many families we set up an advent wreath with candles during the holidays. We’ve made it more meaningful by planning some devotions each year with the lighting of each candle.

Our wreath has four red candles and one white candle. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, we light the first red candle. We then read passages from Isaiah that tell about the coming of the Messiah: Isaiah 2:1-5, 11:1-9, and 40:3-11.

On the third Sunday before Christmas, we light two red candles, and read Luke 1:26-56 and Isaiah 7:13-14, telling of the mother of Jesus.

On the second Sunday before Christmas, we light three candles and read Luke 2:8-20, which tells about how the shepherds learned of Christ’s birth. We also read about the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12.

On the last Sunday before Christmas we light all four red candles and read Matthew 2:13-23, telling of the flight into Egypt.

Finally, on Christmas Eve we light the white candle and all four red candles. Then we read the Christmas story in Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 2:1-20. We then let the candles continue to burn until bedtime.

–Chris and Connie Randazzo

5. Birthday cake for Jesus

In all the bustle of preparing for Christmas, we may forget what we are celebrating. It is Jesus’ birthday! So to help celebrate His birthday, we make a birthday cake for Him. But this is no ordinary cake.

First, the birthday cake itself symbolizes God’s love for us (John 3:16). It is a chocolate cake, to symbolize our sin, black in God’s own eyes (Romans 3:23). White frosting covers the cake just as Christ’s purity covers our sins (Isaiah 1:18). On top of the cake we put a yellow star to signify the one that shone over Jesus’ manger (Matthew 2:1-2), an angel to indicate the first glad tidings (Luke 2:9-10), and candles to show that Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12). There are 12 candles to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world throughout the 12 months of the year, not just at Christmas. Also, they are red, symbolizing His blood shed for us (Matthew 26:27-28). Finally, we put some evergreens on the cake to signify everlasting life (John 3:16), God’s gift to those who receive it.

The entire cake is shaped like a star, and we actually make two each year–one for ourselves so we can have a birthday party for Jesus, and one to give away to someone whom the Lord put in our lives. We pray as a family to direct us–perhaps to a single-parent family, or a family going through a difficult time.

One year we celebrated Christmas in Florida, and since we didn’t know anyone, we called a local hospital and took it to the pediatric department for the children and staff who were there on Christmas Day. We always include a copy of what the cake symbolizes as an evangelistic outreach.

–Dave and Shirley Bauman

6. Jesus stocking

We had the kids decorate a special stocking with the name of Jesus on it. We hung it up with the other stockings, but the gifts we placed inside were different–we put in objects, drawings, or notes that signified something we wanted to give to God in the coming year. We would think of a spiritual resolution we wanted to make–an area of growth, a commitment to using our spiritual gifts, tangible ways of loving people, etc.–and then think of a way to symbolize that resolution

Once we drew a watch, and wrote underneath the picture that we wanted our time to be under the lordship of God, and we wanted to make Him a priority in our lives. Once we put a map of the world in the stocking, and we prayed as a family that we would be willing to go wherever God wanted us to serve Him.

–Lee and Karen Smith

7. Re-enacting the Christmas story

Children love to pretend. Planning a small production of the Christmas story not only gets their imaginations going, but it also focuses their minds on Jesus and builds a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Assign characters to each person in the family. The younger children can start out being sheep and look forward each year to being a “more important” character. You can give the youngest child the privilege of playing Jesus, or you can use a doll if that child is too old.

Dress the children in bathrobes or sheets with towels tied around their heads. Beards can be painted on with face paint or eyebrow pencil if you like. Riding toys make great donkeys and camels.

It probably works best to have someone narrate the production by reading from the Christmas story. Each character will take his or her place at the appropriate time in the story. When it’s over, sing “Silent Night” for a calming finale.

–Edye Burrell

Copyright © 2001 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.