My wife and I were watching a movie a few nights ago, when a teacher asked a group of elementary school students to give one word describing the “spirit” of Christmas. “Joy” was written on the chalkboard, as was “giving.”
I was begging for someone to shout “Jesus,” but it didn’t happen. The last kid said “Santa,” the teacher smiled and told him “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 materialism at Christmas.
I’ve never been to a birthday party where the cake, cards and napkins all have the wrong name on them, but I bet it’s something like Christmas.
Sometimes as a Christian 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 three suggestions:
1. Avoid materialism. We all set out to do this, but we go off course when we make one question the focus: “What do you want this year for Christmas?” I don’t even like asking other kids what they’re “getting.” Why? Because Christmas isn’t about toys 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 too many children, Jesus gets lost deep under the pile of wrapping paper. Besides, all that stuff you buy will be broken in a few weeks anyway – or sold in a yard sale in a couple of years. Should we abandon gifts altogether? No, but as Christians our practice should be radically different from the average American.
2. Tell the Christmas story to your children, on their level. By that, personalize it for them: 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. But don’t stop there. I told my oldest son a few nights ago 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 a God-Man – that that little baby had created the world. If that’s hard to understand for you, just join the crowd. But it’s a wonderful reality.
3. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s broadcast every year on television and it’s free on Hulu, 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. Seriously, the fact that it’s still broadcast every year on television is a small miracle in itself.
If you’re already well down the road of over-gifting to your children, try scaling back. Better yet, have your kids help pick out presents for lower-income families. I regularly tell my 5-year-old son that there are kids around the world who don’t have any toys — none. That shocks him. Of course, we do purchase our children gifts for Christmas, but we never ask them what they want, and (literally) our kids never have asked for anything. But don’t think they’re perfect – far from it. They still fight over the handful that they do get. More about that in another column.
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