You’ve been wading through Christmas decorations in stores since Labor Day. By now, every jingle, flyer and advertisement you see is working to plant a single thought in your head – spend money mindlessly at Christmas to indulge the expectations of others, buying your way to a happy holiday.
You’ve said it for years: “This year I’m going to approach Christmas differently. This year I’m going to lift the birth of Jesus and smother the glitter.”
But because of the pressures of a commercialized tradition, you’ve never done it. Let’s do it this year!
Some Christian families wish to omit Santa Claus from Christmas because they fear they are not being truthful to their children (“Santa lives in the North Pole with eight reindeer”), are providing wrong motivation for expected behavior (“Santa only visits good children”), and encouraging greediness (“What is Santa going to bring you for Christmas?”).
Because there is no way to completely shield your child from Santa Claus, what is a parent to do?
First, don’t count down the days until Santa comes or mention Santa every time you discuss Christmas. Count the number of days until Jesus’s birthday instead. An inexpensive calendar can help you do this. Or make one as a family project.
Second, tell your children the true legend of Saint Nicholas instead of rehashing Santa’s reindeer and the North Pole. Saint Nicholas was a real person with admirable Christian qualities, and your children can learn about cheerful and generous giving from his example.
And third, children can also learn how youngsters in other nations celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus, such as French children anticipating the arrival of Pere Noel (Father Christmas) and leaving their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with nuts, sweets and small trinkets.
Now to begin the Christmas season, let the decorating commence. Give your children some old Christmas cards, glue, string, plastic lids, glitter and paper, and they can do a fine job making things to hang on the tree.
Children start Christmas lists months ahead, stand patiently in line to tell Santa their Christmas wishes, and eagerly pore over the latest Christmas catalogs. You’re left wondering if you can ever satisfy the gleam of desire such piles of possibilities ignite in a child.
Children need to know they will not receive everything on their Christmas lists. Even if you are financially able to make their Christmas dreams come true, you are doing them an ultimate disservice if you cater to every whim.
Christmas is also a good time to present children with useful gifts (underwear, socks, sweaters) and educational ones (books, age-appropriate electronics, etc.).
For children of preschool age and older, let them have a hand at being “Santa” to someone. Many churches sponsor local families, and most communities have local programs like an “Adopt-an-Angel” program where you can purchase gifts from an “adopted” child’s Christmas list.
Participation in giving opportunities like “Operation Christmas Child” may prove to be a lesson in itself as underprivileged children in other countries receive toys and gifts reminding them that they are important and someone is praying for them. Your child can purchase a few items on the wish list and also purchase a “special surprise” – a toy he or she would most like to have but is willing to give to someone else his or her age.
It’s also a great time to remember the boys and girls at Baptist Children’s Homes. Our children are always amazed to receive gifts. They often ask how it is that someone who doesn’t even know them would give a gift. We always tell them that you love them and you love the Lord.
Finally, for family gift giving, inspire your family to make gifts for one another. Odds and ends such as shoeboxes, paper towel tubes and styrofoam meat trays can be transformed into creative gifts by a preschooler. Teach older children some of your favorite talents such as knitting, quilting, baking, woodworking, or leather tooling.
One last hint: As a parent, it is tempting to go overboard at Christmas, especially when buying gifts for your children. Before you head out to shop (or buy online), plan a budget and make a list of prioritized items.
Before sending the children off to bed, sing Christmas carols by the light of the Christmas tree. Most importantly, read the story of our Savior’s birth from the second chapter of Luke, so children can anticipate his birthday.
After exchanging gifts on Christmas morning, encourage your family to enjoy a leisurely breakfast together. Keep breakfast simple – cinnamon rolls, coffee and orange juice. This is a special family time, and you shouldn’t spend your morning in the kitchen.
If our children are to really experience the wonder of God’s gift at Christmas, we cannot merely take a peek at the Baby of Bethlehem and think that there’s nothing more to it. The gift of the Christ Child is God’s gift to us. If we are to impart that gift to our children by giving from the richness of our hearts and the abundance of our blessings, we will help them to realize that even those gifts pale in light of the Christmas gift God gave to us.