In recent years, particularly as we became parents and we grew in appreciation of the voluntary simplicity movement, my husband and I have done our best in our own little part of the world to reclaim Christmas as a meaningful religious celebration. We have drastically cut the amount we spend on gifts. We have spoken with our relatives and have agreed to not exchange presents among the adults. Instead, we each use funds we might have otherwise spent on gifts to help make the holidays brighter for others. (I deliberately use the term “holidays” in this context because the beneficiaries of our efforts are not necessarily Christ followers who would celebrate Christmas or might celebrate it only as a secular holiday.)
For many years when we still lived in Texas, our extended family pooled our funds to buy gifts for abused children in foster care. (The following link to the Child Advocates website provides information on the Santa’s Wish List program, which is amazing: http://www.childadvocates.org/) Each year, my husband and I took our own daughters shopping with us to help us decide how to use our budgeted funds to get as much on each of our assigned children’s wish list as possible. Even though our daughters were initially toddlers when we began participating in the Santa’s Wish List program, it was a great way to involve our children in the process, to help them understand that not everyone is as fortunate as we are, and to be grateful for our many blessings.
My husband and I also get our kids involved in deciding how to spend certain funds we’ve designated for the Christian anti-poverty charity, World Vision, which has a terrific Christmas catalogue: http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwv2ibeCCtpSctDspRte.jsp?section=10389
Our daughters have enthusiastically selected mosquito nets, ducks, fishing gear, soccer balls, and other items to gift children in developing nations.
During advent (i.e., the season before Christmas), my husband and I try to emphasize within our own family the religious meaning of Christmas. I’m sure the grandparents think we’re scourges, but we’ve flat out told our daughters that there is no magical man named “Santa Claus” who flies around giving out toys on Christmas Eve. We explain there was once a nice man named St. Nicholas who gave presents to kids whose mommies and daddies did not have a lot of money. Now people dress up as Santa Claus to remember what a good man St. Nicholas was. We are honest with our kids about the Santa Claus myth for a variety of reasons, but a key reason is we want them to know the religious truth about Christmas and not get distracted by the secularization of the holiday.
Our family typically goes to church on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, we stay home and enjoy each other’s company. In doing so, we deliberately try to down play the role of gifts. We have some for the kids, but we try to emphasize the spiritual reason for the holiday and spending time together as a family. We devote a lot of the day cooking yummy foods and playing games together. But one of the highlights of the day for us is making a homemade birthday cake for Jesus. We decorate the birthday cake with whatever the kids want, e.g., sprinkles, icing, candles, etc. One year they asked how old Jesus was so they would know how many candles to put on the cake. We explained the situation and then we mutually agreed to just put a dozen or so candles on the cake to avoid triggering the smoke detectors. At dinner time, when it is time to bring out the cake, we turn off the lights and illuminate the candles to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus is pretty generous and he lets us eat all of his birthday cake.
The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”