Every now and then, you watch a movie that makes a point the director likely didn’t even intend.
My wife and I were watching such a film a few months ago in which a teacher asked a group of elementary school students to list one word describing the “spirit” of Christmas.
I was begging for someone to shout “Jesus,” but it didn’t happen. One kid shouted, “Joy!” Another one, “Santa!” The teacher smiled and told everyone “Good answer,” and the scene ended.
That kind of summarizes America’s view of religious-themed holidays. We celebrate bunny rabbits at Easter, turkeys at Thanksgiving, and reindeer at Christmas.
I’ve never been to a birthday party where the cake, cards and napkins all have the wrong name on them, but the way Americans celebrate Christmas has a similar feel.
Sometimes as a parent, it’s tempting to just give up and join in the what-am-I-getting-this-year bash, but we shouldn’t. With a little determination, it really is possible to keep Christ at the center of Christmas.
Here are four suggestions:
Avoid materialism. We all set out to do this, but often go off course when we make one question the center of the holiday: “What do you want this year for Christmas?” It’s fine to give our children gifts, but Christmas isn’t about toys or dolls or games or gadgets. It’s about the birth of the Savior of the world. Sure, we can tie this tradition into the Christmas message and say that Jesus was the greatest gift, but for so many children, Jesus gets lost deep under the pile of wrapping paper. Besides, all that stuff you buy will be abandoned in a few days, or broken in a few weeks, or sold in a yard sale in a few years. Should we stop buying presents for our kids? Of course not, but as Christians our practice should be radically different from the average American. This season, consider scaling back.
Focus on others. Attack materialism by taking your children to the toy section at the local store and having them pick out presents—for someone else. Ask your local church for specific ideas. Our family has a yearly tradition of filling a box for Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian ministry that delivers Christmas gift boxes to needy children worldwide. This year, I told my 6-year-old son we were going to buy presents for a boy his age who literally had no toys. “How does he have fun, then?” my son asked, struggling to grasp this reality. We discussed the types of toys that little boy might enjoy, and then we visited a toy section with the understanding that everything we bought was for that boy. We wrote the boy a short note, placed it in the box, and then we talked about how Jesus sacrificed daily for others—and how He was the greatest gift of all.
Put a new spin on the Christmas story. Personalize it for your children: Jesus was as tall as you are, and He laughed just like you do, and He played with His friends just like you do. Ask them questions: What kind of food do you think Jesus ate? What types of games do you think He played? Help them see that Jesus was a real person who was fully human. I told my oldest son once that Jesus always obeyed His mother and father—that He lived a sinless life. My son knew Jesus was perfect, but he had never pondered the part about Jesus obeying His parents. He was floored. Help your children understand that Jesus was God-Man—that that little baby literally had created the world. If that’s hard for you to understand, join the crowd. It’s hard for me, too. But it’s a wonderful reality.
Watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It’s broadcast every year on television, despite the fact its climax includes a Bible passage. The cartoon was written and broadcast first in the 1960s, and it’s even more relevant four decades later. Charlie Brown searches for the meaning of Christmas and is unsatisfied until his friend Linus tells him about the birth of Christ. The gang ends with a rendition of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The fact that it’s still broadcast every year on television is a small miracle in itself. It’s worth watching—over and over.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is an editor and writer, the father of three small children, and blogs about parenting at MichaelFoust.com.