As the grandkids and I decorated the Christmas tree, I spotted ornaments that their fathers made long ago. Pictures of two little boys with big smiles, immortalized in frames made with plastic and wood. And now those simple treasures were joined by yet another generation of ornaments, handcrafted by the children of those two boys—visual reminders that life quickly passes by.
Christmas traditions are like the ornaments that hang on our family’s tree. The annual unwrapping of some are precious customs, repeated year after year. Yet new ones are added and some even tossed away.
Is it time to consider doing something different? Perhaps you have made a transition this year—you’re now married, or you moved to a new home, or you’ve become empty nesters. Maybe you’ve become a follower of Christ, and you want to start something different to reflect your new faith.
Here are some ideas that could spark some fresh Christmas traditions in your home:
1. Capture family stories. Ask each family member to jot down a story about something that happened during the year. Young children could either draw a picture of something they want to remember or write just a sentence or two. Read the stories out loud on Christmas Eve or Christmas night. Then put the stories and drawings in a notebook to read on Christmas in the future. Repeat this every year and you will build a priceless library of family stories.
2. The gift of salvation. If you are a new believer in Christ, you may find that your perspective has changed about some of your Christmas traditions. You may keep some, and you may change some. But whatever you do, focus this season on thanking the One who has given you new life. One idea would be to make or order a unique Christmas ornament that can be an annual reminder of when you decided to follow Jesus Christ. Choose one that can be customized with engraved or stamped text. Every year as you hang this ornament, thank God for the gift of salvation.
3. Give each child just three gifts. After Jesus was born, three wise men from the East presented Him with three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2). Follow their example and give each child three gifts:
- Gold (symbolic of wealth and of royalty): a significant gift wrapped in gold paper.
- Frankincense (a priestly gift, something spiritual): a gift that will help your child connect with God such as a book of devotions, Bible, Christian CD, etc., wrapped in white.
- Myrrh (represents anointing): a personal item such as perfume, earrings, lotion, shoes, etc., wrapped in red.
4. Bless an unwed mom with a gift for her baby. Take the children to a department store. While driving there, remind the kids that Jesus was not wrapped in store-bought attire. Instead, He was swaddled in strips of cloth (Luke 2:7).
Ask the kids to help you select an item or two for a newborn baby. Clothing, disposable diapers, and toys are a few possibilities. Purchase the items and donate them to an organization that assists unwed moms.
5. Remember that your spouse is a gift from God. Whether you’ve been married 10 months or 10 years, make or purchase a special keepsake box and place it at the base of the Christmas tree. Put one of your wedding pictures in it, along with favorite holiday photos of just you and your spouse. Add to the keepsake box year after year. Open it every Christmas Eve and remember that your spouse is a gift from God.
6. Make stars to help the children understand that Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Cut small stars out of cardboard and assist the children in decorating them with glitter. Then punch a hole in each star and attach a ribbon. Periodically ask one of the kids to hang a star ornament on a small, table-top Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve ask either an older child or a parent to read a few Scriptures about light or stars.
7. Interact with family members using a set of Adorenaments®—His Christmas Names. These metallic bronze ornaments from FamilyLife have seven names of Jesus Christ: Jesus, Savior, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Christ the Lord, Emmanuel, and Wonderful Counselor. Use them during the holidays to intentionally interact with loved ones.
Here is one possibility: Each family member will select an Adorenament to ponder (perhaps by privately looking up Bible passages about that name, spending time in prayer, asking older family members about the particular name, etc.). Before the ornaments are hung on the Christmas tree, family members will explain the significance of the Adorenament they selected and why that specific name of Christ is meaningful to them.
Doing this could provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to tell children about a time they went to Christ with their problems because He is their wonderful Counselor. Or maybe a teenager was stressed about school or a dating situation and found rest in the Prince of peace.
8. Give Jesus “birthday gifts.” As a family, talk about possible gifts for the Savior (patience, love for a difficult person, sacrificial giving, ministry to a needy person, etc.). Then ask family members to write a description of the gift they’d like to give on a slip of paper (without names) and to drop it into a wrapped box that has a slit on top. On Christmas Day open the box as a family to see what “presents” were given to Jesus for His birthday.
9. Choose a new time to celebrate Christmas. If your family dynamics changed during the year, it may be time to discuss when to celebrate the birth of Christ. For example, if you now have married children, you may want to regularly celebrate Christmas on a day other than December 25 (such as the third Sunday of December).
10. Pray for family holiday gatherings. Sadly, for many people family can be a major source of holiday stress. This year, why not spend some regular time in prayer, asking God to help your family celebrate His day in harmony? And pray especially for your own attitude. Recall the words of Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (NKJV).
11. Prepare the manger for baby Jesus. Fill a basket with straw and place it near your nativity set. When family members do something special (anonymously) for Jesus—things like being kind, sacrificial, generous, and patient—they can leave a piece of straw in the manger. 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.
12. Reach out to someone you know who lost a loved one during the year. Christmastime can be especially lonely for someone who has lost a loved one. Ask them if you could help address Christmas cards or notes, do holiday shopping for them, decorate their home for Christmas, or take them to see Christmas lights.
13. Sleep on a hard floor. Help your children understand that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus did not sleep on comfy beds on that first Christmas. Give up your beds on Christmas Eve and sleep on the floor to consider some of what Jesus’ family must have endured. This idea came from a FamilyLife constituent who says that since her family began doing this, “… the children understand a little more the sacrifice that Mary and Joseph made, and at the same time we do enjoy the cozy family time.”
14. Help the kids think of others. Soon after Thanksgiving, give each child an envelope filled with money. Ask them to give it away before Christmas. Help the children look for opportunities to do this by visiting local ministries, considering who might be encouraged by an unexpected Christmas gift, etc. The reader who gave us this idea says, “Our kids really get this … Day by day we are looking for opportunities … It’s neat to talk about at dinner.”
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