Words and Images by Mae Burke
If you grew up in an agnostic household like I did, you are familiar with the idea of “Christmas isn't about presents, it's about Jesus' birthday”—not as a reminder that we are celebrating God sending his only begotten son to be born of a virgin, live a sinless life, and die for our sins so that we may have a chance to enter God's eternal kingdom—but as a threat. A threat suggesting that if I didn't cooperate, my holiday would be stripped down to this boring Baby God.
After being saved by that beautiful, redeeming love, getting married, and starting my own family, I knew I wanted something less superficial than what the American Christmas had to offer. I wanted something more appropriate, more holy, more joyful.
While my husband and I treasure the fantastical stories of Lewis and Tolkien, and believe in the enriching power that fairy tales have on our imaginations, we decided that our home would not be visited by Santa Claus. Sure, we would talk about the ministry of Saint Nicholas, but he would not be writing our kids’ names on any list—and we definitely wouldn't be using his generosity as a way to manipulate our children’s behavior. These, along with other convictions, have helped our family keep Christ at the center of Christmas. I recognize that these decisions will look different for different families, but this is what has worked for us. Over the years as our girls have grown older, and more in number, more work has gone into our Christmas season that has born sweet, celebratory fruit. If you are looking to usher your family into a joyous Advent season, freer from the commercial trappings of our society, here are five tips to help you with your transition.
1. Unite with your husband
One or both of you may have come from a home where Jesus was not celebrated at Christmas. Breaking traditions that you have grown up with, or even acknowledging that they need to be changed, may be very hard. Discuss openly what you want your Christmas to look like in advance, ensuring you have plenty of time to prepare your home and your heart for the change. Pray individually and together about how your family should respond to this Christmas, and as always, be prepared to follow your husband in his convictions (Eph. 5:22).
2. Break generational and cultural ties that promote excess
While this is most likely going to be hardest to implement with your close family relationships, identifying areas of your holiday that revolve around “stuff” will be freeing! We have adopted handmade gifts as our tradition in our home and discuss that we give gifts to those we love, God having given us the best gift of all. Another great idea is the “Wear, Read, Want, and Need” formula to gift your children meaningful presents by giving them one outfit, a book, something they really desire, and something practical. This is especially helpful to families who are accustomed to having stacks of presents under their tree. Other practical things that we do in our home to guard against excess are:
3. Intimately explain to your family and friends your convictions
This is not a matter that needs a big announcement on Facebook or any other platform that will turn the attention on you and your family (instead of Christ) and more than likely cause dissension or arguments. But the people who are intimately involved in your children’s lives— family, play group friends, neighbors, Sunday School teachers, etc.—deserve a graceful explanation of the changes in your home so that they can in turn be sensitive to them. Pray for a humble, loving heart, that all self-righteousness would take a back seat (1 Cor. 13:1).
4. Present Advent in an exciting and holy manner
During the Advent season of preparation leading up to Christmas, I read to my children out of the Jesus Storybook Bible, and I use a great plan that I found a few years ago that coincides with the Jesse Tree Advent Calendar. Instead of a Christmas tree, I decorate a wall in our apartment with a washi tape tree and have the girls color, cut, and tape each leaf of each lesson to the tree every night. This will be my oldest daughter's third year doing it and she is already excited!
5. Constantly come back to the joy of the birth of our Savior
When you find yourself stressing about finances, dinner menus, or even the Advent reading plan, remember that this is a time of celebration! Know that whether it is the first (or third, or fifth) year you dive into making your home intentional about celebrating your Savior during a season saturated with greed, this Baby Boy was born with a renewal of grace, love, and patience. This will cover all of the days we forget to sit down and read with our little ones, or the late nights we accidentally stay up on Pinterest pinning the best wreaths for our front door, or the afternoons we spend mulling over the relative who just doesn't get what we are doing. Celebrating our Savior is a sweet privilege that we are blessed to demonstrate to our children and must be an overflow from our own hearts.
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