**Updated Oct. 2019**
I wanted to share a few new traditions we are adding in to our Christmas this year! Keeping Christ at the center of our Christmas is essential, so we have been thoughtfully discussing how best to do this with our children as they get older, especially with Collins this year. We decided that we will not be pretending Santa is real. For many reasons, but mostly because we don’t see the necessity of it in order to experience the true joy of Christmas, which is found only in Christ and the true meaning of the season. Although we both grew up doing Santa and enjoying it, we both feel that the works-based, “Santa’s watching… therefore, be good” is confusing to the same child whom we are trying to teach the importance of grace to. Teaching grace on its own is difficult, even to an adult, so to add in something that is quite opposing to what grace is around the Christmas season, doesn’t seem helpful to us as parents or to the children God’s entrusted to us.
Now, does that mean that because you celebrate Santa you’re not a Christian? Certainly, not! I think there are a lot of Christians who do the Santa thing and keep Jesus at the center of Christmas, but for us, God has convicted us in such a way to not do Santa. God convicts people in different ways on third-level topics… like homeschooling, music choices, movie and TV choices, celebrating certain holidays like Halloween, dressing in certain types of clothing… Santa, Easter Bunny… those types of topics are on the third-level of consciousness (different topic for a different day when discussing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd levels of consciousness)! Now, if we were discussing whether or not you believed that Jesus died on a cross to save you from your sins (1st level example), whether you place scripture as God’s word and your authority, or the trinity (1st level example)… then there’s no wiggle room for discussion there. You either are or you aren’t when it comes to first-level items such as these, but Santa… now that’s different. So please, know that whether you celebrate the season with Santa or not… I’m not saying you are or are not a Christian!
This is just the plan that seems to make most sense to us. Now, does that mean we won’t watch the fun movies like The Polar Express or Elf? No. Does it mean we won’t read stories or sing fun songs that reference Santa? Possibly not! It means that, as we have fun pretending we’ll refer back to the real meaning of Christmas. As they get older and are able to understand more, we can discuss the history of the real St. Nicholas that the world’s Santa today is based off of. Like if someone were to dress up today as a shepherd or one of the wise men… Santa’s today do the same. Will they still like to pretend he is? Maybe. Will that be okay? Maybe…just kidding 🙂 they are children! Having fun pretending is okay. Again, keeping Christ at the center of the season is our focus, so we plan to make less of a big deal about Santa and make the biggest deal out of celebrating the birth of our savior, Jesus! God is sovereign, and I trust that He can work in and through our children’s hearts far greater than any “plan” or “traditions” we set around Christmas, therefore, we plan, but we don’t cling to the salvation of our children’s souls to that plan- to our plans for them. THE plan is already sorted out by God for them!
SO- here’s how. At least for this year (updated this post Oct 2019)! We have some things we’re keeping from previous years and adding in some new ways to celebrate this year! For us as husband and wife to prepare our hearts with one another, and for our children. I like mixing it up a bit, and I think giving yourself grace to change up traditions to keep it exciting and also working for your family is important to do and recognize. If it isn’t working, change it. If it is, keep it! Simple as that. So, here we go!
f o r u s . . .
By: Paul David Tripp
We have done this devotional for the past two years, and really enjoyed it, so we are doing this again. Short (2-3 page) devotional, and at the end it has a for children and parents activity/question to draw out the meaning of the text/devotional for the child and make it relatable to them! Dakota and I are doing this primarily for and with one another, though! Each devotional walks through the story of Jesus’ birth, but relates back to the big picture of the gospel, and I really love that about this devotional.
By: John Piper
This is a daily reading by one of our favorite authors, John Piper. We have not read this during advent yet, but ordered it on Amazon prime, so we will either jump into it this year (totally still worth doing this year if you haven’t got a plan/advent reading yet!), or we will wait until next year and just stick with the Come Let Us Adore Him devotional! The main focus of these devotionals though, is that God would use the meditations to deepen and sweeten your adoration of Jesus and help you keep him at the center of your Christmas season. Sounds like a great thing to pick up at any point during the advent season, and every season. 🙂
If you are looking for a more bible-study lay out for a devotional throughout the Christmas season, this is a great option! I received it earlier this fall, and it is a 5-week study that has something to work through 5 days per week. I love that this also has a separate section in the back for children, teens, and families that give ideas for different ways to celebrate and give back leading up to Christmas!
f o r t h e m . . .
Similar to having a tree set up somewhere in your home, Dakota thought of the idea to have a large manger set up somewhere in the house, and I loved that idea. When you click the link, you’ll see it is a “livestock feeder” and is used for a plethora of other things… 🙂 BUT- one of the examples is to be used as a manger for Christmas. We loved how realistic it looks, plus it is natural, so if you wanted to stain or paint it later on, you could to make it your own style! We did this last year (2018) for the first time and Collins LOVED it! We bought two of these cute 5 foot pencil trees to put on either side of it, and hung a big shining star over the manger that we hung with twine from the top of one tree to the other, and Collins and I made the star together using yellow construction paper and added some gold glitter to it! She really loved doing that. We also bought a small pack of “nativity hay” to put in the manger (a little messy, but she stayed out of it for the most part, Tommy on the other hand this year, not so sure about lol), so we’ll see if we do that again this year or not with the hay, but she loved that too! On Christmas morning, we wrapped up one of her baby dolls in a white kitchen towel and we got her excited by telling her that on Christmas morning, we will go to see if baby Jesus is in his manger! She just loved doing this, and it was the first thing she did Christmas morning. We also sang Hark! The Herald Angels Sing together as a fam, which is really fun! 🙂 We just sang the first verse and chorus, but it was a sweet (and fun!) time to worship together the joy of Christmas! We loved it and so did she! 🙂
By: Allison Hottinger & Emily King
This is our second year doing this (2019), and we really loved doing this! The main idea behind this is to focus on the giving aspect of the season, while serving others. As you serve others throughout the season, you fill and prepare the wooden manger with a piece of straw. On Christmas Day, baby Jesus goes into the manger, filled with the straw that your family has filled by giving and serving one another and points us to the greatest gift we receive on Christmas, the savior of the world! You can still get the whole set and do it with your family this advent season, too! One thing Dakota and I talked about is that with this, it will be important to not have it become just another works-based tally to “be good to receive gifts”, but rather to thoughtfully think about ways we can serve one another that are relatable to Collins and Tommy right now and as they grow. Hottinger + King suggest as a family making a list of thoughtful ways that you could serve during the Christmas season, and I think that will be a great way to combat the urge to just “do it to fill the manger” mentality children can very easily make something like this to be! It’s been fun to see how engaged she is with it, and when I moved the manger + baby Jesus when we first received it, she immediately asked when she got downstairs from her nap where they were… I haven’t moved them since ;).
By: Ann Voskamp
We did this for the first time last Christmas (2018) for an advent calendar! I saw this on Amazon and immediately was drawn to the pop-ups in the daily stories to share with your child during advent, and how interactive it is. Collins also loved doing this, and often wanted to read the next devotional and open up the next day on the advent calendar to put a new present ornament on the pop-up tree. She loved this, and I loved how every morning, it kept the focus on the meaning of Christmas before us every single day as we started our day!
By: Day Spring
This is a new one I found this year (2019), that I thought would be another great interactive family devotional to do with your kids. This devotional focuses on all the names of Jesus – Messiah, Immanuel, Light of the World, Jesus… and for each day there is a short devotional to do with your family and at the end, a paper ornament that your little ones get to take out of the book and hang onto your tree. I haven’t done this one myself, but it sounds like a similar layout to the one above by Ann Voskamp that we love and did last year for the first time! Collins LOVED doing it every morning and putting a new ornament on the pop-up tree in the devotional above, so this might be another sweet way to get your children excited with anticipation of Christmas, but putting the ornaments on your actual Christmas tree! You could also hang them on something else, too like your stair railing, or if you made your own clothespin banner to decorate your mantle with these or somewhere else in your home! Lots of options of what to do with the ornaments aside from hanging them on your tree! 🙂
s u p p l e m e n t a l r e a d i n g . . .
By: Timothy Keller
We read through this last year, and excited to revisit it again! I enjoy how Timothy Keller takes the story of the nativity that even non-Christians seem to “know” and gets to the tough questions and hard edges of this familiar story.
“Even people who are not practicing Christians think they are familiar with the story of the nativity. Every Christmas displays of Baby Jesus resting in a manger decorate lawns and churchyards, and songs about shepherds and angels fill the air. Yet despite the abundance of these Christian references in popular culture, how many of us have examined the hard edges of this biblical story?
In his new book Timothy Keller takes readers on an illuminating journey into the surprising background of the nativity. By understanding the message of hope and salvation within the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth, readers will experience the redeeming power of God’s grace in a deeper and more meaningful way.” -Amazon Book Description Summary
By: Sally Lloyd-Jones
This is one of C’s favorites! We have been reading that routinely since this past summer… 🙂 It’s a great story to read that brings in scripture to the Christmas story in a beautifully illustrated story to connect modern celebrations of Christmas today like decorating a tree and presents under a tree with the true meaning of Christmas and how the modern traditions can point to the greater gifts within the Christmas season.
By: Sally Lloyd-Jones
Another great illustration of the Christmas story! I love how descriptive this book is and how she ties in all of the animals that are rejoicing and traveling to go and see the good news of the savior’s arrival!
By: Alison Mitchell
I wanted to get one new supplemental story for the kids this year (2018) as their “something to read” gift from us, and this is one of them that they got to enjoy before Christmas. It typically sells out, and when I went to order it on Amazon last year, it actually was backordered until after Christmas, but it ended up coming earlier! These series of books by Alison Mitchell and friends are wonderful, and we have several of them. The illustrations are beautiful and they are gospel-centered. Definitely recommend this one!
I get asked about this devotional every time I share the devotional on my stories, so thought I’d add it to this mix of supplemental reading on this post. I appreciate Tripp’s thoughtfulness and ability to share the good news of the gospel in each new devotional and that there is a reference to scripture to continue sitting in after you read the devotional for the day. I have really enjoyed this devotional and have been told by those of you who have purchased it that you really enjoy it, too! Would make a great gift at Christmas too!
I have shared this ESV devotional bible before, but we are both reading our men’s and women’s devotional bibles together through the book of Matthew right now, too. We’ve put a break on this slightly due to traveling and hunting (not great excuses!), so we’ve started to get back on track and into a better routine of reading together in some way a few times a week together. We try to do it at least 2-3 times. Our advent devotional by Paul David Tripp has already helped get us back into a routine! Here is the men’s version of the ESV devotional bible that Dakota uses.
We’ve watched a movie together also called, The Star. It is such a sweet movie! They also have the book version. Collins loved the movie, and we did too! I would definitely recommend it. A cute story line from the donkey’s perspective that still stays on track with the Christmas story. Our church will be watching it for the children at some point leading up to Christmas as well. You can find it on Netflix!
I hope these resources encourage you and help equip you and your family in new ways as you prepare for Christmas!