|Luke 2 book illustrated with Christmas cards|
Christmas can be such a time of excess. Excess shopping. Excess cooking. Excess eating. Excess events. Excess pressure. And excess stuff! (More on that later.) These excesses can drive a mother to distraction.
But the Advent season also offers us the perfect time to stop and think anew about God sending His Son to take on human flesh and gives so many opportunities to teach our children about the character and works of our God. Psalm 105: 5 says, “Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth.” And Psalm 78:4 tells us, “We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.” Yes, we must be daily teaching our children truths about our holy and just God, but during the month of December you will have special opportunities to help your children remember his wondrous works and to come to the Lord in praise and worship.
1.Build a collection of great Christmas books. You might even consider wrapping them up and having your children pick one each day to read. We've done that some years. Jessalyn Hutto has a nice post at Redeemed Reader where she explains how they do this in their home, plus she also reviews five Christmas books aimed at preschoolers. At the end of this post I'll list some of our favorite Christmas books.
2. Make your own Luke 2 book and illustrate it with Christmas cards. Because I wanted our books to withstand repeated use and toddler abuse, I covered the pages of the two books I've made with clear Contact paper. Then I sewed the pages together by hand with dental floss and a heavy needle. I made the first one with construction paper and hand lettering in pre-computer days. The second one (left) is a bit fancier with a fabric board cover, but my children have enjoyed both of them. They're incredibly durable and really helpful as we memorize this chapter each year.
3. Keep gift giving simple. And be gracious.
Tim and I generally limit gifts to one per child, plus a few small things in stockings. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but a guideline. This year I'm making a practical gift for a couple of children from a thrift store find, but they will be getting something more exciting as well.
As much as you can keep things simple in your own family, however, there are all those extended relatives who want to lavish your sweet kiddos with goodies. I remember dreading coming back to North Carolina after our Christmas trips home to Indiana. What with generous grandparents, a great-grandmother, and aunts and uncles, many of whose love language was definitely giving, we had a hard time fitting the haul in our little wagon. And we only had two children in those days!
So we would ask for practical gifts of clothing and books as much as possible. We also did a purge every year just before Christmas, asking the children to give away some of their toys and stuffed animals. And then we tried to encourage gratitude as they wrote thank you notes for the gifts. I'd have the little guys dictate their notes and then sign them with help. Often we made fun cards with paintings, stamping, or paper folding.
But beyond that, getting your children involved in making and giving gifts to others. This helps them to think less about themselves and their concerns and more about others. From the time our children were very young, we involved them in making gifts for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings. We used to take a week off school in October in part to make Christmas gifts. We've crafted tile trivets, apple and leaf stamped hot pads, rice bags, pine cone fire starters, snack mixes, and all kinds of other things.
Many, many years ago we began a "draw" between the children. Before too long, the requirements were that each child had to make the gift he was giving to his assigned sibling. When they are young, Tim and I get pulled in to help pretty extensively, but as they grow older, they take on the job themselves. Tim works with the boys on carpentry projects ranging from carved wooden spoons, laminated cutting boards, to folding camp stools, while I help the girls with knitting and sewing projects. (Ha! My duties here are completed, since our youngest daughters are now 14 and 16. Tim still has a ways to go helping sons in the shop.) The draw exchange has become the highlight for all of us on Christmas morning. It is so much fun to see the creativity and love of the children expressed in their handiwork. And throughout the month when they are working on or thinking about their project, the focus becomes on that sibling instead of oneself. Here's a post I put up last year's gifts.
Our Christmas celebrations have changed over the years as our family has grown, but many of the traditions we started when we just had a few little ones are the core of our joyful celebration.
Practical Advent Traditions for a Christ Centered Christmas
Practical Ways to Worship the Messiah During Christmas
Redeemed Reader: Sparking Spiritual Imagination: Christmas Books
Here are a few of our favorite Christmas books in no particular order:
Keeping Christmas (Starr Meade): I'm currently reading this allegory to Paul and Ben. Teaches powerful theological truths through story. Excellent so far!
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (Susan Wojciechowski)
The Legend of the Candy Cane (Lori Walburg)
The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald
The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas (Madeleine L'Engle)
The Handel's Messiah Family Advent Reader - Nice!
The Jesse Tree (Geraldine McCaughrean) (Not a Jesse Tree devotional, but a picture book)
Jothan's Journey (Arnold Ytreeide) - We've enjoyed this cliff-hanger several times, but not the ones the author wrote after this. Check out Janie Cheaney's review here.