16-Dec-2015 18 FEB
7 practical ways to teach your family the true meaning of Christmas
By Brendan Malone
As our children have begun to get older and become more aware of the world around them, we have have noticed that their attitude toward Christmas has suddenly become more easily influenced by the slew of commercial messages they see and hear at this time of year.
It’s one thing to keep reminding your kids that Christmas is actually a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but with so many mailers, adverts, store displays, and other voices all bombarding our children with messages about buying and getting gifts it can be hard to cut through all the noise.
With that in mind, here’s seven practical things that you can do to help keep your family focused on Christmas as the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the beginning of our journey to redemption.
1. Keep an advent calendar
Sadly, even the traditional Advent calendar, which was once so rich with symbolism, has now been highly commercialised and reduced to little more than a focus on kids cartoon characters and getting chocolates or other material goods each day before Christmas.
The whole point of Advent is to help focus us on the journey towards Christmas Day, and that’s why, this year, we decided to make our own Advent calendar.
We got ourselves a cheap cork board, and made a whole lot of cardboard Christmas trees that we numbered from 1 to 24. In the middle of the cork board we drew a simple picture of Joseph with Mary on a donkey (obviously to emphasis the journey towards the birth of Jesus.)
Each day we say a little prayer together about the gift of Jesus, and then one of the kids takes a turn at pinning a tree to the board as we count down our family journey toward Christmas Day.
2. Have an Advent wreath
An Advent wreath is another very easy way to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
All you need is a wreath plus three purple candles, one pink candle, and one white candle - instructions for making your own Advent wreath can be found online here.
Each week, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, you light a different candle. On the first week you light one candle, on the second week you light two candles, etc, until, by the fourth week, all four candles are being lit (the pink candle symbolises joy and is lit on the third and fourth weeks.)
You do this as a family each day, and once the candles are lit you can say a prayer together or read a Bible passage about the events that took place in the period leading up to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
On Christmas Day, you light the white candle to symbolise and celebrate the birth of Jesus - who is the light of the world.
3. Say a family prayer of preparation for Christmas each day
This could be done as part of your nightly family meal, your daily family prayers, or as something extra that you add to your daily family routine in the lead up to Christmas.
The idea is to pray a prayer, or prayers, that ask God for the gift of being able to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and the gift of His Son Jesus in our lives.
One little prayer that we use with our family each day goes like this:
'Dear Lord, help us to make our hearts like a welcoming manger for Jesus, like the one in the stable at Bethlehem, so that we can be united with Jesus and grow in our love for Him and for our neighbour.'
4. Participate in a family act of charity
This could involve buying goods together as a family and donating them to a local food bank, or perhaps giving time to a local charitable organisation that works with the poor and needy in your area.
This is a really good way of focusing on the members of our community who are less fortunate than ourselves, and who often struggle to make ends meet at this time of year. It also reminds us that just as Christ gave us the gift of Himself, so too are we called to imitate Him and make a gift of our life for the good of our neighbour.
5. Do something kind for your neighbours
This could as simple as helping a neighbour by mowing a lawn or tending their gardens, or visiting an elderly neighbour on Christmas Day, or possibly even baking some simple Christmas treats and then gifting them to your neighbours.
Not only is this an act that helps us to maintain an outward-looking focus for Christmas, but it's also a great opportunity to show some Christian love in action to those who live in our neighbourhood.
You never know how profound the impact of a simple act of kindness could have on those living around you, or just how important in might be in bringing joy to their Christmas.
6. Put on a family nativity play
One of the great things about Christmas Day is the amount of time that it allows a family to spend together, so why not use some of that time to perform your very own family nativity play for all the visiting relatives?
It doesn't have to be Broadway quality, in fact, the more organic it is the more enjoyable and memorable the experience is likely to be for everyone involved.
You can find free nativity play scripts online, and apart from the performance itself, and turning some old sheets into costumes, having a couple of practices together in the lead up to Christmas Day is all that it takes to make your nativity play happen.
Not only will the play, the rehearsals and the preparation help to remind your kids about the true meaning of the Christmas celebration, but it will also offer some great family bonding time.
7. Hide the baby Jesus until Christmas Day
If your Christmas decorations include a nativity set, one simple thing you can do to help focus your household on the true importance and meaning of Christmas Day is to keep the little figurine of the baby Jesus in storage until Christmas Day itself.
When Christmas Day finally arrives, bring out the baby Jesus and place Him in the stable along with Mary, Joseph and the rest of the figurines.
If you make this the very first thing you do, before the first present is even unwrapped, it will provide a very poignant symbol for your children that the most important thing that comes before all other things we do on Christmas Day is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
If you've got any other practical ideas for reminding children about the true meaning of Christmas please feel free to share them in the comments section below!