The day we’ve been preparing for all month long is finally here! We’ve decorated for it and counted down the days. We’ve baked and bought special food just for this occasion. There are treasures and aromas all around that we only have once a year. Now we will feast, and sing, and play games and honor the one whose birthday we are celebrating. It’s a birthday party for our King and it will be the biggest party of the year in our home. We will speak Jesus’ name as often as we can and talk about how he came to this earth and why. Everything will be done as a family, not alone.
The day usually starts with the kids up early eating breakfast treats from their stocking and looking at their new books and games. We read about the last countdown ornament and put it on the tree. Then we went to church. With Christmas on Sunday this year, it was special to see all our church family in the morning and worship the King’s birth together with singing and sharing the Christmas story. After church we began the feast with some family at our house. The kids were tasked with completing a family scavenger hunt and had a great time finding out more about family members, like who has been to Bethlehem and who knows the story of Hanukkah and who has frankincense or lives near an animal stable. Each block on the paper had a question like this and they could only use each name once under a question. I was happy to see my kids excitedly holding conversations with family. And what I loved is that the kids got to hear their family members repeat some of the same truths we keep telling them about Christmas. It helps to hear it from someone else.
Most of the gifts have been opened on other days but we did open a few after lunch.
A few words on gift giving. I can’t say that we never open gifts on Christmas day, but we try to do very little. The gift giving is spread out over several other days – St. Nicholas day, Santa Lucia day, Christmas eve, Christmas morning stockings, and 3 Kings Day in January. Our reason for this is two-fold — It sets Christmas Day apart so that the kids know the day is about Jesus and not them. The other reason is that it is easier on the kids to receive only a few new things at a time instead of a mass of new gifts all at once. I’m sure every one of you moms have seen the haze in a child’s eye when there are too many new things around them at once. We do celebrate Jesus’ birthday with gifts, but not many on Jesus’ actual birthday. I’m not saying that this is the best plan for all, but it has worked well for us. This is what our gift plan looked like this year:
St Nicholas Day -coins (real and chocolate), gold candy (for the gold and/coins he gave away), if the kids were older I might put in some gold or silver jewelry or another object, and they also get something they need like t-shirts, socks, or slippers, and maybe a new Christmas ornament for their tree.
Santa Lucia Day – the focus is light so they have gotten something that lights up or glows (there are a million ideas for this but I have given bendy lights, book lights, glow sticks, etc). I have also gotten some new books with stories from my Scandinavian heritage.
Christmas Eve – Each person (in our immediate family) has gone out and picked one gift for each person. I guide the kids as they look for gifts with words like, “find something you know they are very good at or something they want to learn better, or look for something that shows you know what will make them feel loved.” So when we get to the gift exchange, each person gets a chance to give one at a time and tell why they picked the gift out for them. It encourages kind words that build up and how to be outwardly focused.
Christmas Day – In there stockings are breakfast type treats that they can eat whenever, a small toy, a game we can play as a family, and a new book. This keeps them pretty busy for the first part of the morning.
3 Kings Day (I will write more on this in another entry) – It’s a day to celebrate that Jesus was a king and that the wisemen knew this with the gifts they gave. We talk about their three gifts and then give the kids 3 gifts. Talking about royalty also opens up the conversation about people being in the family of God and what God calls these sons and daughters. I love finding items that have to do with royalty – prince, princess, guard, etc. But the gifts we pick are ones that encourage their imagination (like dress up) or a skill or something they can learn.
So as you can see, the kids get plenty of gifts, but they are spread out. We are not spending a lot of money either because having these categories in place ahead of time makes it easier to look for things all year long on clearance, (costumes after Halloween!) and on Cyber Monday. This keeps us from impulse buying. Sorry for spending so much time on this, but gifts are such a huge part of most people’s Christmas Day activities that I wanted to share our approach. And I’m not saying it’s bad to open gifts on Christmas! And yes, it’s probably been easier for us because we started this way back when the kids were young and they don’t know any different. If we were trying to change after years of gifts on Christmas, it would be harder to change. Not impossible, though.
So on with the day!
After we played a few games as a family, we all work together to make Jesus’ birthday cake. It’s getting darker and that’s when the candles look brighter. (We’ve also done this first thing in the morning with monkey bread or cinnamon rolls as a cake) This year we chose pancakes (because breakfast is the best!) and we made them big and stacked them up high with powder sugar on top. Simple is always better and the kids thought it was the best thing in the world. All the lights are off and only candles are lit. We put candles on the cake and sang a beautiful birthday song we found years back. (It’s called Happy Birthday Jesus by Jim Weatherly on an album called Like Christmas Used to Be. I found it on Itunes.) Everyone blows out the candle and we eat. Still in the dark we do our last advent candle reading with all 5 candles lit now. Something else that I failed to mention earlier, and that we have used every year up to this point, is the What God Wants for Christmas nativity activity from Familylife Today. There are 7 box presents to open with nativity characters in it, but the last one has to be opened on Christmas day because it tells what God wants for Christmas. Sometimes we spread them out over the month of December with our Advent candle lighting and sometimes we open them all in one week leading up to Christmas. Sometimes we just opened them all at once, but the kids favorite thing now is to hide them. Last year Jenna was in charge of hiding them for Owen and this year Owen hid them for all of us to find. So after we lit the Advent candles and read, he hid the last box really well and we spent 20 mins or more searching in the dark for it! Tricky boy! Such a simple thing, but still loved by our kids, even though they know the answer at the end. I’m guessing they will be too old for it in the next few years but until then, it’s a tradition. We sang some songs together and read stories about Christmas, and some years we act out the Nativity. Then we asked the kids to get into pj’s and bring pillows and sleeping bags into the basement for a movie. It was The Nativity movie and it was the first time I’ve shown the kids a non cartoon version of Jesus’ birth. They loved it and Owen was actually not scared! Although I’m not thrilled with the fact that The Nativity movie made the wisemen show up on the actual day of Jesus’ birth, it was a good visual for the kids and made it seem more real as they saw the dress and customs of that day. Some good questions were asked and it was a great end to the day. This is how our Christmas day went this year, not always the same order of events but there are those few things that are always included and that make the day special. Building the anticipating in the kids minds before Christmas, is important and makes the simplest activities exciting. Kids thrive on the rhythms or traditions done every year. It’s some of these traditions that they will copy with their own families, not the new toys they got. These are our traditions and you are welcome to try some of them if you like. Your traditions may look very different and take a few years to establish, but if it makes Jesus’ name beautiful, it is well worth the effort. Please share some of your God filled traditions, so there are lots more ideas for those just starting their family traditions.