One of my most vivid Christmas memories involves a tradition that started when I was a teenager. My father gathered us around the living room before we opened our presents and asked each of us to share about the past year. What were we grateful for? What challenges did we face? How did God meet us in our moments of need?
I must admit that it was awkward at first; my family typically didn’t share such personal reflections. But as we started opening up, we began to connect with one another in a way we had rarely experienced.
This became a Christmas tradition. And it continues to this day (except now it’s a little bigger with spouses and grandkids!). While it still starts off feeling a little awkward, we always leave these family meetings more grateful for one another, and more aware of what God is doing in our lives.
What Christmas traditions does your family have? Let’s be honest. It can be so easy to get caught up with the busyness of Christmas that we can fail to give any thought to this at all. We’re focused on family gatherings, not family traditions. We need to buy gifts, not plan an event.
But here’s the bottom line. Twenty years from now, your children won’t remember what they ate or who was at which Christmas party. The chances are that they’ll forget about the vast majority of gifts they receive. But do you know what they won’t forget? The traditions that you and your family experienced year after year.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s a few suggestions:
Light an Advent Wreath
For hundreds of years, Christians have used a wreath and candles to enrich their observance of Advent. Each candle symbolizes a different blessing that Christ has brought to us in His incarnation:
Hope (Isaiah 9:2; John 1:1-4)
Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7; John 14:27)
Joy (Isaiah 35:1-2; Luke 2:10-11)
Love (John 3:16; John 13:34-35)
Christ (Luke 2:8-16)
Beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, light one candle and read the relevant Scripture passages. Then, on Christmas Eve, light the final Christ candle celebrating the birth of our Saviour. You can get different children to light the candles each week, and if your children are old enough, they can read the Scripture passages as well. This tradition will help you to focus your family on the true meaning of Christmas throughout the entire season.
Serve Your Neighbours
I am thankful that Christmas encourages generous giving, but when it comes to giving, we must avoid two errors:1. Giving exclusively to those who already have too much. 2. Giving everything except our most valuable commodity: our time.
Intentionally planning time to serve our neighbours helps us avoid both errors. This could serve in a soup kitchen, food bank, or a clothing room. Shovel the driveways of elderly or disabled neighbours. For the more hospitable types, you could invite some of your non-Christian neighbours over for a Christmas dinner and introduce them to some traditional Christmas carols.
Whatever it may be, start a tradition of looking beyond your family and beyond the giving of material gifts in order to find opportunities to serve your neighbours with your time. After all, that’s how Jesus served us. He didn’t just give us things. He gave us the gift of Himself.
Prioritize Going to Church
This sounds obvious. And yet, it must be said! In an age when we can make endless excuses for missing church (“There’s just too much going on”, “I’ll just catch it on the livestream later”, “I don’t want my kids to get sick”), we need to remind ourselves that the church is the body and bride of Christ. There is no better place to celebrate the birth of Jesus than in the assembly of believers, because that’s where His praises are sung, His Word is opened, and His presence is most deeply felt.
If there’s one thing we should want our children to remember about Christmas, it should be this: we prioritized worship. Christ is more important than presents and parties. He is infinitely more valuable than the greatest gifts we could receive. His birth should be marked by loud singing and praise, just like it was two thousand years ago.
We don’t just want our Christmas traditions to strengthen our family life (though that’s a wonderful benefit). We want them to take us deeper into the mystery of His incarnation – the wonder of the Word made flesh – so that our lives will be changed, our minds renewed, and our hearts overflow with worship.