One year it was so tall and round we had to keep whittling away at the base so we could stand it up in our entrance. The living room didn’t stand a chance to host it that year.
Big or small, live or fake, there is something about that tree, with its snowflakes and bulbs and elementary crafts, that draws out the oohs and the aahs and fills us with Christmas cheer. It draws our whole family into the living room at night to (pretend to) read in its glow.
Ahh. Christmas time.
White lights on the banister.
Pine from the tree in our yard.
Ugly Christmas sweaters.
White elephant gifts.
I love the Christmas season. Love.
And I have struggled with the Christmas season.
I think most of us have questioned the way we celebrate Christmas at one time or another.
What should it look like?
What do we want out of Christmas for our family?
Are we too busy? What needs to go? What makes it meaningful?
We know that Christmas is not the sum of what waits for us under the tree. I know this; you know this. Even as a kid I was aware. The highlights of the holiday were playing with cousins and sprinkling cookies and chewing on my aunt’s homemade caramels. Games and sledding and food and family. THAT was Christmas.
But was it really?
One year my hubby and I packed up and headed to a far off country where there were no cousins and no caramels and not enough snow to sled. Christmas was about family and we were without. We didn’t have the ingredients to make our favorite holiday treats and there were no parties to attend. Almost everything we always associated with Christmas had evaporated.
That was the year it finally sunk in that Christmas was actually all about Jesus.
When all the fluff settles, it is Jesus, just Jesus.
We can celebrate him in the snow or the tropics,
with caramels or with lychee candy,
with family or alone,
with new gifts or counting the hundreds we already possess.
That sounds lovely and simple, doesn’t it?
Then our kids grew older and developed vocabularies. They started asking for gifts wherever they went that magical month and I was horrified and squeezed their little shoulders and whispered words in their darling ears. It became apparent that year:
An intentional Christmas might be simple but it’s not easy.
What would it look like to actually celebrate Jesus’ birthday?
We have some great birthday traditions in our house and I’ll bet you do too. Our birthday kid invites two favorite friends over for a sleep over. They choose the dinner menu. We decorate with streamers, we tie a birthday balloon to their chair, we shop for gifts and stuff them into (aggressively-used) gift bags and sing the birthday song very loudly.
They key to a great birthday is how well the birthday kid is KNOWN and CATERED to. To give our teenagers a pack of matchbox cars would be an insult and decorating with pink princesses might hurt our sons’ feelings.
So why not Jesus?
If Jesus sat down at your desk to scratch out his birthday wish list, what would be on it?
Isn’t that the question?
Jesus, what do you really love?
Maybe a few things come to mind:
Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.
And God loved the world.
After combing through the Gospels, our family came up with a lot of things Jesus is crazy about and turned it into a celebration.
So here is our families way of celebrating Jesus at Christmas time:
We read a Scripture verse every day in the month of December and discover that Jesus loves Faith, Sacrifice, His Friends and Feeding People. (Download the printable ReThinking Christmas Scripture list for free!)
We hang those gift ideas up where we will see them often.
Towards the end of December, our family has a big birthday party for the Birthday Boy. We all take a gift idea or two and the whole family delivers it together.
Jesus loves The Lost, so we get our cookies ready and ask Jesus to show us which person in our town needed to know he loves them.
Jesus loves Serving, so we stomp our cold feet and ring the red bell for Salvation Army.
Jesus loves The World, so we rummage around the house for any ethnic clothes and pray over the world.
One of our favorite Christmas gifts over the years has been Generous Giving. We do our giving online through a few of our favorite organizations. All of the kids page through magazines strewn around our living room and chose a project. They have given clean water, baby formula, chickens, hospitals, wheelchairs, Bibles, warm clothes, education and honey bees.
What better way to celebrate Jesus than to give gifts?
My hope for my family is that we don’t lose Jesus in the wrapping of the presents or baking of the cookies or practicing of the Santa plays. But that we give him the spotlight this season.
And it’s my hope for your family too.
Yes, it does take some intentionality. But we have found that Jesus is worth it.
The way you and yours honor Jesus and observe his birth is likely different than the way me and mine do. But maybe we can stir up creativity in each other as we discover what works well for our kids at the stages they are currently in.
We parents need each other.