As Christians most of us have mixed feelings about the Christmas holidays. On the one hand, we love our scented holiday trees, twinkling lights, TV specials, yule logs, candles, carols, cookies, and Christmas dinner roasting in the oven. Obviously, we love to see our kids’ eyes pop when they open their gifts.
Where is Jesus in all this?
On the other hand we may strongly suspect that Christmas has become materialistic to a degree that it cannot be pleasing to God. We hear of parents buying gifts on credit cards with little hope of paying them off quickly, and we may have engaged in similar behavior ourselves. Gifts bought with borrowed funds, or funds that were supposed to pay the electric bill, are a two-edged sword: They are practices in less-than-stellar stewardship and are actually distracting our kids from the real reason for the season.
Little boys used to be okay with a new truck and the contents of a stocking. Today, kids request entire entertainment systems and create lengthy wish lists on Amazon. We’re afraid to discuss Jesus and Santa in the same conversation with our kids. We don’t want our worst suspicions confirmed: An ancient story about a babe in a manger will not hold a candle to the world’s most appealing science fiction character, who has all the toys in creation at the tip of his fingers.
What can we do?
As one Christian mom states, “I thought it would help to make my kids say “˜Thank you, Jesus,’ after opening every gift. They did, but it wasn’t sincere. I’d say they were downright annoyed, always more interested in opening that next gift.” Another mother attested to making kids sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus on Christmas. But she made sure all toys were opened first and kids needed a break in playing with them before starting any talk about God. There just didn’t seem to be a way to make a babe in a manger primary, not with all the glitz and goings-on.
What can we do to make Christmas more about Jesus and less about endless requests for toys? Are there realistic ways to tone down our spending that won’t give our kids seizures? Can we make Jesus most important again while not removing the fun and celebration?
Christmas Mom Challenge: 3 Pre-Challenges, 7 Mini-Challenges
These are difficult questions – and yet the most dedicated Christian parents want answers. There are a variety of suggestions available, depending on the type of family and the traditions that are in place already in the household.
Thus we’re focusing on the most common difficulties that Christian parents face at Christmas, and we’re presenting 3 important pre-challenges to help position them to work with their kids. As one builder said, “Until you fix the roof, it’s not worth your time fixing the floor.” Adjusting our own behavior as parents will optimize chances our kids will adjust to better Christian thinking at the holidays.
Following these, we’re providing 7 mini-challenges for you and your kids to attempt that will shift the focus to Jesus. They will deepen children’s love for the real reason for the season and will help create extra-fond memories that can last for years!
Some parents are practicing the good behaviors presented in the first 3 pre-challenges already and can vouch for their effectiveness:
Pre-Challenge #1: Don’t buy any Christmas presents that you can’t pay off by New Years Day.
Some credit cards are meant for payee convenience, such as American Express, and they don’t allow going into debt. Your debit card is for your good; your credit card is for the credit company’s good, or it credit wouldn’t be a business. Go by the rule, “If we can’t afford it, we shouldn’t have it.”
Some parents may break into a sweat over their kids’ responses to what’s under the tree and what’s not. If you’ve been in the habit of over-indulging kids at Christmas, there’s no better time to address the elephant in the living room: If Jesus didn’t provide the money for a Play Station, then Santa Claus shouldn’t be able to step in and make it happen.
It’s a tough lesson, but maybe not as tough as you think. For one, kids do not understand the value of a dollar. One mom warned her kids after her husband’s business had suffered that Christmas would not be as good. She said it over and over so her kids wouldn’t be disappointed. That was many years ago. Her grown kids still remember the holiday and joke about having no idea why mom went on and on. It seemed as good a Christmas as any.
Pre-Challenge #2: Go green on Christmas.
Many people don’t believe in spreading their carbon footprint, and yet they insist on buying everything from the Christmas displays at mall stores as if December is not a month in the year for going green. Certain gifts are presented unwrapped on Christmas morning, either because parents had to put things together or such made a nicer display. If the wrapping is to be discarded anyway, there’s no reason not to seek out toys that are used, so long as they’re clean and in good condition. Before going to malls, which are designed to create “want” and encourage impulse buying, check out Craig’s List and read newspaper classifieds. Resolve to visit two thrift stores on your way to the mall, and you may be amazed at finding gifts for which you would have paid triple if they were new.
Pre-Challenge #3: Talk to the Lord”¦Just Spill It.
The great thing about Jesus is that he understands. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…” Jesus understands that you personally are not responsible for the creation of a holiday that has gone over our heads. He loves beauty himself as attested to in mountains, fishies, zebras, sunlight dancing on water”¦ He understands the pull and pizazz of store displays. Whatever is a problem with making him real at Christmas, he wants to hear it. He wants to help you solve it. He won’t just respond with “thou shalt not, not, not.” He can fill your eyes with beautiful visions and your heart with fantastic new ideas. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
You can work on these things without your children. Then, you can begin to involve them. And here are 7 small challenges you can do with your kids to restore the reason for the season:
Mini-challenge #1: Even if it’s handmade, set up a manger scene as your first Christmas decoration. Do it together.
Santa Claus may dominate Christmas morning, but he does not have time on his side. The Christmas season is around 30 days long, beginning for many the weekend after Thanksgiving. One Christian mom remembers about her childhood: “Mom and I set out the manger, which we called a “˜creche,’ the Sunday after each Thanksgiving. For me, it was always the start of festivities, so it was exciting. I can remember handling each of those little pieces, and while the presents and the tree seemed far off, that babe in the manger was huge to me”¦because he was first.“ Having Jesus start off the holidays will set the tone for the rest of the holidays. Create your manger scene one day at a time by following our Advent Activity Schedule.
Mini-Challenge #2: Have your kids take part in the church Christmas Pageant.
Most churches understand busy schedules and now hold Christmas pageants that require only one or two rehearsals – that often take place during Sunday school. The tone-deaf are always welcome! Pageants have one perk that has to do with why kids adore dress-ups: What kids can dress up as, they can become for a short while. Whether a child is a shepherd or a wise man or an angel or a lowing cattle, he will usually remember being close to the manger and being part of the birth of Christ. He may have precious memories into adulthood, and he won’t recall whether the production was semi-professional or foghorn central. If you’re in charge of the church pageant this year, be sure to check out our 7 Christmas Pageant Tips (if you can believe it, we produce a great show with only *1 rehearsal*).
Mini-Challenge #3: Help your kids participate in some sort of charity during the holidays.
Charity is the only way a child develops a heart for giving; it doesn’t come naturally to them. Most churches send kids to carol at nursing homes, or they visit hospitals or shut-ins, or serve food at a shelter. What’s more: Kids need charities that aren’t all about baking and collecting money. Their giving will do much more to their hearts if it involves face-to-face contact with someone they can cause to feel better. That way kids can see actual smiles of gratitude. Resolve to check at church and even friends’ churches so your kids can look a needy person in the face, help him or her feel joy, then see that radiant smile. If you need more inspiration, be sure to check out our 100 simple service projects.
Mini-Challenge #4: Don’t give in to your kids’ desires to go to the mall while you Christmas shop.
The appetites for want and covetousness are hard for us adults to handle; how much more our kids? Malls serve only to intensify the want they experience from television. This might mean that your kids don’t get to sit on Santa’s knee this year (it also means you don’t get a migraine while waiting in line). Minimize Santa in pre-Christmas discussions. As Christians, we probably feel that it’s an exercise in futility to talk down Santa. That’s fine; but we don’t have to talk him up.
Drop your kids at a neighbor’s house or at a church charity function or pageant rehearsal to do your shopping. Or tag team it with another mom, offering to watch her kids during her mall trip if she reciprocates.
Challenge #5: Establish the notion early on that “asking” is not “getting.”
For many grandparents today, the gift giving expectations of young parents and their younger children have grown appalling. “My daughter sends me links and makes me tell her exactly what I’ve chosen. If I get something she didn’t request, she fumes! There’s no surprises allowed, no choices; the gifts have nothing to do with me picking something and thereby giving a part of myself in my gift. I feel a battered wallet.”
Somewhere along the line, it has become acceptable to think that a parent having to return a duplicate or unwanted gift is more offensive than telling others what to buy for us and pouting if it’s something else. We teach our kids not to slurp soup, burp at the table, leave a toilet unflushed, or use offensive language. And yet somehow the faux pas of dictating what others will buy us or our kids has gotten as big as the Reptile that Ate New York. There was a time when, if you weren’t grateful for a gift you opened, you were sent to your room, or worse, your mother made you walk it next door and give it to your best friend.
The real downside is that if you have a demanding Christmas list, your children will have demanding Christmas lists. When funds are too tight, it’s all too tempting to consider rude and/or irresponsible ways to pay for the contents. Teach kids early that it’s fine to ask for something, but go out of your way not to set any expectations. If your kids are offended by what they didn’t get on Christmas morning, become extremely offended at their offended-ness. Threaten to take things back to the store. The sooner kids learn that not all demands are met, the sooner they will quit thinking of the holiday as a self-aggrandizing, wish-list-fulfilment fest.
Mini-Challenge #6: Play Christian carols in your house and in the car.
We’ve been lured into a spider web with the thought that songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” are adorable, and therefore it’s fine to yield to them. They make Jesus yield on his own birthday. So much beautiful music that has stood the test of time and was created long before Christmas music production became such a huge money maker. The real Christmas songs–Silent Night, Joy to the World, and O Come, All Ye Faithful–are so powerful, they can bring tears to the eyes of believers when sung. The Holy Spirit was present in their creation, and he’ll be present when they are sung, explained, or enjoyed by a family trimming a tree. They will tell your kids the story of Christmas over and over if your own words aren’t sufficing.
If you’ve committed yourself to the 3 pre-challenges for parents and 6 mini-challenges involving your kids, this 7th is one you deserve and can appreciate:
Mini-Challenge #7: Don’t feel any guilt about enjoying Christmas morning.
Some Christians report feeling enough guilt on Christmas morning that they’re tempted to look away when kids tear at wrapping paper. They want to feel Jesus beside them, but fat ole Santa seems to be swallowing the whole room.
What Jesus objects to is families going into debt for what distracts from him in the first place. He objects to so much focus on gifts that there’s no focus on grace. If you’ve heeded the challenges so far, you’ve made the entire month about him. You have practiced ways to keep your gift giving economical, environmentally friendly, and as free from covetousness and greed as possible.
It is for you to appreciate, then, that our Heavenly Father is not at all adverse to a party. Jesus’ first miracle was at a party (John 2:1-11). Revelation 19 promises that believers will become the bride of Christ and they’re invited to the bangin’-est party in the history of mankind. Psalms encourage us to dance and sing and play instruments to worship. Nobody can put on a better party than God, and he gave man a love of celebration as part of his primary essence.
Our job is to make the Father, Son and Holy Spirit our guests of honor throughout the holiday season, and if we’ve done so, there’s no problem in enjoying a great celebration on Christmas Day. And you’ll have the best chance of getting the best gift of all for your kids – memories of Jesus being the center of attention throughout a beautiful holiday season.
Ready for Another Mom Challenge?…