It’s almost Christmas and most children are pretty focused on making wish lists of the toys they want to receive. Parents are worrying about cleaning, shopping, cooking, and an endless list of parties. In the midst of the chaos, it is easy to forget that Christmas isn’t about gifts, parties, or food. It is about Jesus Christ. How can you tame the Christmas monster and help your family remember it is Jesus’ birthday and still manage to have some fun with the holiday?
The first step is to simplify. Take a good look at all the things on your calendar and all the traditions and habits and decide which ones can go. If you’re off to parties every day or stressed over gifts and baking, it might be time to cut back. Does every goodie have to be homemade? Does every decoration have to be just perfect? Do you need so many gifts?
Retain traditions that focus on the Savior. Among the rest, choose the ones that are most meaningful to you as a family and drop a few of the others. Restrict baking to once a week, perhaps, so you’re free for other things. Invite others to help you decorate or even bake, combining your social needs with your practical ones. Turn down a good number of invitations. You don’t have to show up for every party.
A children’s book written many years ago concerned a family that did one Christmas thing each day during December until Christmas. This kept the holiday spirit, but prevented the family from getting overwhelmed by the need to combine Christmas with an already busy life. The daily activity might be as simple as baking a batch of cookies, setting out the nativity, or singing carols. Decorations can be put out a few each day (tree one day, nativities another, wreaths a third day).
Once you’ve cleared December of its holiday clutter, think about ways to include more Christ-centered activities. For instance, you don’t have to set up the entire nativity at once. You can put it out a little at a time, discussing the events associated with that piece. Your nativity might first hold only Mary and an angel and you’ll talk about who she is and how she learned she was to be a mother. The next day, you might add Joseph to the story. The journey is next and the pieces can be moved to represent this. When they settle into the stable or cave, add the animals and talk about why Jesus was born there instead of in a nice place.
Another day, add the shepherds and sheep and help your family remember the role of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd. Continue through the story, reading articles from church magazines to help the family understand the story better. These can be done during a daily devotional with more extensive topics covered during Family Home Evening.
While secular Christmas songs are part of the fun, make sure spiritual carols are sung as well and are playing in the home throughout the season. But don’t just sing them. Talk about what they mean and how they fit into the Christmas story. You might want to encourage your children to create a Christmas pageant that includes songs in the appropriate place. When they have to decide where the songs fit and how to present them, they tend to think more about the meanings of the songs. A small family can use puppets or dolls to make a large enough cast.
This is a great month to read all four gospels, and if you’re Mormon, the sections about Jesus in the Book of Mormon. Don’t just focus on His birth. His birth matters because of what happened during His ministry, His death, His resurrection, and His eternal life. Help your family put the birth into the perspective of an entire life. This also helps young children understand that Jesus is not still a baby and to associate Him with the adult Jesus they also learn about in Sunday School.
While there are many wonderful nativities to purchase, it can be fun to make homemade ones as well. These can become treasured hand-me-downs. You can use this pattern for pictures for younger children: Nativity Facts. These pictures can also be used as a game to help children learn about the nativity.
Replace some of the parties and shopping trips with service project. Christmas, with its material expectations, can be challenging for those who are alone or going through difficult times. It is a time when love and time are needed even more than financial contributions. Where can you spend your time this holiday season so it matters the most? Who needs several visits—not token duty visits, but regular, loving visits that will continue when the holiday ends? Who needs something to eat this month or a gift under the tree? Who needs a card or a little service done in their home?
Although New Years Eve is a traditional time for making resolutions, why not make a few at Christmas. Instead of calling them resolutions, however, make them birthday gifts to your Savior, which means they will be unselfish gifts designed to bring you closer to God and to keeping the commandments. Wrap up each promise and put it under the tree, but make a copy for each person who makes a promise. Pack up the gifts at the end of the season and put them with the decorations. Next year, open them up and let each person privately evaluate his progress in keeping his promise to Jesus. Add another gift to the box and wrap it back up. Over time, you’ll have a record of the unselfish things you were willing to do for your Savior. It is, after all, His birthday and some of the gifts ought to be for Him. Make this Christmas a year when the entire season is a gift to Jesus Christ.
“One impression which has persisted with me recently is that this is a story—in profound paradox with our own times—that this is a story of intense poverty. I wonder if Luke did not have some special meaning when he wrote not “there was no room in the inn” but specifically that “there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7; italics added.) We cannot be certain, but it is my guess that money could talk in those days as well as in our own. I think if Joseph and Mary had been people of influence or means, they would have found lodging even at that busy time of year.
I have wondered if the Inspired Version also was suggesting they did not know the “right people” in saying, “There was none to give room for them in the inns.” (JST, Luke 2:7.)
We cannot be certain what the historian intended, but we do know these two were desperately poor. At the purification offering which the parents made after the child’s birth, a turtledove was substituted for the required lamb, a substitution the Lord had allowed in the Law of Moses to ease the burden of the truly impoverished. (See Lev. 12:8.)
The wise men did come later bearing gifts, adding some splendor and wealth to this occasion, but it is important to note that they came from a distance, probably Persia, a trip of several hundred miles at the very least. Unless they started long before the star appeared, it is highly unlikely that they arrived on the night of the babe’s birth. Indeed, Matthew records that when they came Jesus was “a young child,” and the family was living in “a house.” (Matt. 2:11.)
Perhaps this provides an important distinction we should remember in our own holiday season. Maybe the purchasing and the making and the wrapping and the decorating—those delightfully generous and important expressions of our love at Christmas—should be separated, if only slightly, from the more quiet, personal moments when we consider the meaning of the Baby (and his birth) who prompts the giving of such gifts.” (See Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store’,” Ensign, Dec 1977, 63–65