Home For The Holidays: Making Christmas a Family Time

Ann Hibbard

Twenty kindergarteners stood in one, long, disheveled row, bedecked in Pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses made from colorful construction paper. Their parents sat awkwardly in tiny chairs at tiny tables, eyes glued to their own little cherubs. An aura of joyful festivity filled the room. With some prompting from the teachers, the children proudly sang their song about turkeys, complete with hand motions.

It was Miss Martin’s annual Thanksgiving feast. The children were the Pilgrim and Indian hosts and served their parents a delicious Thanksgiving meal (dishes prepared and brought by the parents, of course). Having been through this procedure last year with my son Mark, I was an old hand and thus qualified as a server.

As I scooped sweet potatoes and pierced slices of turkey, I chatted with the mother of one of my son’s classmates. Wendy was a single parent, friendly and outgoing, eager to share the joys and concerns of her personal life. Our conversation turned to the upcoming Christmas season.

“I always wanted a family Christmas that was more than just presents,” she confided. “When I was growing up, my family always held hands around the Christmas tree and sang Christmas carols. I want my kids to have this kind of experience, too.”

Soon the plates were all filled and the children sat beside their parents at the miniature tables, poised to dive into the food. There was a brief, uncomfortable silence.

“Children, it’s Thanksgiving! What do we say to the parents who brought these good things?” prompted the teacher.

“Thank you!” the children cried in unison. Everyone commenced eating, the tension lifted.

How sad, I thought to myself. It would have been most appropriate to say a prayer. After all, that is what Thanksgiving is all about thanking God for His care for us. But our culture has shut God out of Thanksgiving and Christmas as it has the rest of “public life.”

Yet people still crave the security and joy that come from the timeless family traditions, rooted in biblical Christianity. Like Wendy, they long for something deeper than a “Hallmark card holiday.”

Reclaiming Our Territory

Christian families hold the key to joyful, exciting family celebrations. Knowing Christ infuses all of life with joy and meaning especially holidays and special occasions. At the heart of these special times are events that focus on Christ’s life and the teaching of the Scriptures.

As far as Christmas goes, the bottom line is this: The Christmas season is a very special holy time in which we celebrate Jesus’ birth and the death of our sins. It’s a time when families draw closer together.

Unfortunately, the significance of this wonderful time is all but lost in our secularized society. Baby Jesus, for example, has been usurped by a secular Santa.

Christians need to reclaim the territory of our spiritual heritage. The onus lies on us, as Christian parents, to entrust our children with the true significance of these special occasions. Our celebrations must be distinctive, for the sake of our children and of a Christless world. If Christ is the center of our lives and our homes, naturally our holidays and special occasions should reflect this priority.

When we do seek to put Christ in the center of our family celebrations, however, we struggle to get beyond the superficial trappings thrust upon us by our culture. Santa and his reindeer loom larger than life. How can we break through the “visions of sugar plums” that dance in our children’s heads to communicate the spiritual significance of this holiday without quenching our children’s excitement?

This booklet is a guide for family celebrations that builds on children’s love of holidays and their joy of anticipation. On the pages that follow, a specific plan is laid out for the family to prepare for a special holiday event. A family project or holiday craft doubles as a teaching tool during the days or weeks leading up to the occasion. Family times around God’s Word during this season focus the family’s attention on the spiritual principles that underlie Christmas. Each suggestion is guaranteed to kindle the imagination and spark ideas for exciting, meaningful family celebrations.

Why Celebrate?

The worshipers huddled together against the cold of the December night. Before them a gnarled oak tree stood black against a star-swept sky. A small boy lay stretched on an altar at the base of the tree. Over him loomed a hideous figure the High Priest of Thor. The crowd stood mesmerized as the High Priest slowly raised a huge hammer over his head.

Just as the hammer began to descend toward the boy, a black-robed man thrust himself through the crowd. He stretched forth a cross that caught the blow of the hammer.

The worshipers gasped. Stupefied with fear, the High Priest let the hammer fall to the ground and backed away. Surely at any moment, Thor would strike down this intruder.

But there was no angry recourse from the heavens. The black-robed man, Boniface, released the boy.

“Tonight his oak shall be felled!” Boniface declared. With phenomenal energy, he delivered blow after blow to the ancient tree. Finally, it crashed to the ground.

Turning to the silent crowd, Boniface told them of the true God who loved them and sent His own son to give them life. No more must they perform such rites of death.

His eye caught a young pine tree, its green boughs stretched toward heaven.

“Here is the living tree,” he said. “Bring this tree into the light of your homes to remind you of the everlasting life that is yours in Christ. This tree shall be called the tree of the Christ-child, for tonight we celebrate the birth of the Savior.”

Rediscovering the Meaning of Christian Symbols

This is the legend of the first Christmas tree. It reminds us of the everlasting life that Christ came to bring sinners and the sacrificial courage that marked the efforts of early missionaries like Boniface to tell the world of that glorious Good News. The Christmas season is rich with Christian reminders. But, as in the case of the Christmas tree, these symbols have become so secularized that, in many cases, their meaning has been lost or forgotten.

The meaning of the candy cane. This sweet delight, for instance, is meant to represent the shepherd’s crook. Its white body stands for holiness, the red stripes for Christ’s blood shed on our account. Even the flavor of peppermint recalls the biblical herb hyssop, which was used as flavoring and as medicine. That points to Christ’s ministry of healing and the spiritual wholeness he made available to all.

The true identity of Santa Claus. This jolly old fellow finds his origin in a young bishop named Nicholas. His parents died when he was still a boy, leaving him a fortune. He loved the Lord and cared deeply for those in need. Not wanting to receive any glory himself, he went secretly, during the night, to the homes of poor families. There he left gifts and money, because of his love for Christ.

Understanding Advent. Traditionally, the Church celebration of Christmas begins with Advent (four Sundays before Christmas), and concludes with Epiphany (January 6). Extending the season in this way allows us to explore all the spiritual principles that come to bear upon this wonderful event.

Advent means coming. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts both for Christ’s second coming and for celebrating His first coming. The following will focus on the latter.

The observance of Advent greatly enriches the Christmas season. By setting aside a few moments each day to meditate on Christ the mystery of the Incarnation and the reason for His coming, our hearts are made in tune with His. As we read the prophesies that foretell Christ’s coming, we catch the spirit of eager anticipation. Gabriel’s visit to Mary instills in us a sense of mystery and beauty. Then we turn the pages of the Bible to Joseph and Mary’s trek to Bethlehem. For the Christian celebrating Advent, Christmas is the climactic conclusion to an incredible story.

The mood of Advent is a blend of joy and solemnity. Spiritual preparation involves sorrow for sin after all, Jesus came to die for our sins. (The color purple is used to symbolize repentance and is used in Advent candles and linens.) But the sorrow is a good sorrow, which lasts only for a time, to be followed by the joy of forgiveness. Happy excitement builds as the celebration of His birth draws near.

Children can teach us much about joyful anticipation. Christmas is on their minds every day of December (probably November as well). As the day approaches, their excitement builds to a fever pitch. If they didn’t think about it so much beforehand, they would not experience such ecstasy. Likewise, the spiritual preparation of Advent enables us to experience more fully the excitement of His coming. Christmas becomes a more joyful and more sacred event in the life of the family.

Why we celebrate Epiphany. January 6 is the day traditionally set aside to celebrate the close of the Christmas season. It is called Epiphany, which means manifestation. It especially celebrates the visit of the Magi to Jesus, whose birth was manifested by a star. In a larger sense, Epiphany proclaims that God was manifested to the world in the person of His son, Jesus Christ.

In earlier times, this was an important day, a festival observed by attending church services and pageants, exchanging gifts, and feasting with family and friends.

A modern-day celebration of Epiphany offers many advantages. The party can be planned and enjoyed in the relaxation of the post-Christmas season. It allows one final opportunity to sing all the favorite Christmas carols and recall the beautiful Scriptures of Advent. Most importantly, it reiterates the spiritual significance of Christ’s coming in a way that is memorable to our children.

Family Project

Here’s a fun family project you might try. It is designed to enhance and reinforce the family times during Advent (December 1-24), as your family learns about Christ’s coming and prepares to celebrate His birth.

This project consists of an Advent Wreath. It can be purchased or home-made, and it can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose to make it. The Advent Wreath reminds us of the light of Jesus Christ coming into the world. The lighting of the candles creates a worshipful mood for the family times during this sacred season.

Explanation

An Advent wreath forms an ideal centerpiece around which the family can worship. The glowing flames on the candles remind us of the star of Bethlehem. But more importantly, they remind us of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. The lighting of the candles calls us to worship and sets this time apart as holy.

The Advent wreath consists of five candles, four around the circumference of the wreath and one in the center of the wreath. Each candle has a meaning and is lit at a particular time during Advent.

The first candle to be lit, starting with the first Sunday in Advent, is the Prophecy candle. This reminds us that Christ’s coming was revealed by God through the prophets hundreds of years before He was born.

The second candle is the Bethlehem candle, pointing to Christ becoming a man in Bethlehem. This is lit in addition to the first candle, starting the second Sunday in Advent.

The third candle joins the first and second on the third Sunday in Advent. This is the Shepherd’s candle. With the lighting of this candle, we recognize that we, like the shepherds, must come to Christ, believe in Him, and tell this good news to others.

The fourth candle, lit with the previous three beginning the fourth Sunday in Advent, is the Angel’s candle. With it, we anticipate Christ’s second coming and focus on His salvation.

The fifth candle, in the center of the wreath, is the Christ candle. This is lit on Christmas Day. As we light the Christ candle, we recognize that Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, is born this day.

Of the five candles, three are purple, one is rose, and one, white. The purple candles represent Christ’s royalty. Purple also represents the attitude of humility and repentance with which we anticipate His coming. The rose candle, the Shepherd’s candle, stands for God’s love and faithfulness. The white candle in the center symbolizes Christ’s holiness and perfection.

As the number of lit candles increases, so we near the celebration of His coming. The ever-increasing brightness heightens our anticipation of this day.

To Make an Advent Wreath:

OPTION 1: Purchase an Advent wreath at a local Christian bookstore. (These are readily available and inexpensive.) Purchase a thicker white candle which can be set in a holder or on a saucer in the center. Decorate the wreath with additional fresh or artificial greens, if desired.

OPTION 2: Purchase a 9-inch aluminum pie plate. Turn it up-side-down and carefully cut X’s in the appropriate locations. Insert the bases of the candles in the X’s. Decorate the pie plate with greens.

OPTION 3: Use five small free-standing candle holders. Place four around the outside of a decorated grapevine or styrofoam wreath. Place the fifth candle holder (for the white Christ candle) in the center of the wreath.

To Use the Advent Wreath

Light the appropriate candle(s) at the beginning of each family time. (A parent should do this, for safety reasons.) Each time a new candle is lit (each Sunday during Advent), read and discuss the meaning of that new candle.

At the conclusion of each family time, extinguish the candles. Children may take turns blowing out the candles. Caution should be used at all times.

CHRISTMAS FAMILY CELEBRATION

Two family celebrations are included in the Christmas season. The first is a format for family worship on Christmas. This can be celebrated either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, according to your family tradition. The second celebration is a Twelfth Night party for Epiphany, a festive conclusion to the Christmas season.

Family Worship at Christmas

Leader:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46b-47)

Sing:
“0 Come, All Ye Faithful”

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning,
Jesus, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:
0 come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

Read:
Isaiah 9:2-7

Sing:
“Joy to the World!”

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rock, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations proves
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Read:
Luke 2:1-20

Sing:
“Silent Night”

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly host sing, Alleluia,
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!

Read:
Galatians 4:4-7

Sing:
“Hark, the Herald Angeles Sing”

Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark, the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!

Discuss:
1. Why did God send His Son?
2. These verses tell us that if we have accepted God’s gift of His Son Jesus, we are His own children. What does it say that we call God? (Abba means Daddy.)
3. An heir is a son who gets what belonged to his father. What belongs to God? What does God give us?

Pray:
Thank you, Father, for the greatest gift of all, your Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Respond:
Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men, on whom His favor rests!

Twelfth Night Party

This is a celebration that can be enjoyed by your family alone, but it is more fun with lots of people. Invite family and friends to this festive occasion. If everyone brings a part of the meal, the burden of preparation and cost is shared.

This party embodies three elements: (1) the feast, (2) the pageants, and (3) the service.

Aside from the meal, here are the things you will need to celebrate this festival:

1. Costumes and props for the children’s reenactment of the Christmas story. These can be makeshift. Let the children help assemble them.

2. Hymn books or song sheets with the words to all the Christmas carols.

3. An Advent tree, still decorated with all the symbols.

4. The verses from the Advent family times written out on slips of paper.

The Feast

Before the festive meal is eaten, read 2 Corinthians 4:6. Briefly explain that Epiphany or the Feast of Lights celebrates God showing Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Offer a prayer of worship and thanksgiving.

The Pageant

As the adults are finishing the meal, the children (long since down from the table, no doubt) may don costumes and prepare to re-enact the events of Christ’s birth. This production can be left entirely to the children, if they are school-age. (Pre-schoolers will need help and prompting.) Their interpretation of the biblical account is sure to entertain the adults as well as reinforce the facts of the stories in the minds of the children.

The Service

After the pageant, it is time for the “service” of undecorating the Advent tree. (This consists of a felt banner with the shape of a Christmas tree in the center. The tree is decorated with felt symbols, which correspond to Scripture about Jesus.) Pass out hymn books or song sheets and the slips of paper with the verses written on them. Children too young to read verses may participate by taking symbols off the Advent tree.

Some Final Thoughts

Family celebrations create memories that last a lifetime. Most of us hold fond recollections of special birthdays and things our families did every Christmas. These images are precious to us. As children arrive on the scene, we possess a deep desire for our children to experience the traditions that made our own childhood so special.

My conversation with Wendy during the Thanksgiving feast revealed her longing for joy and meaning in their family celebrations. For Christian parents, however, holding hands and singing a Christmas carol is not sufficient if we want the Lord to permeate every facet of our special occasions. For this reason, I sincerely hope the ideas in this booklet have been helpful. Remember, be flexible, and have fun!

The above article, “Home for the Holidays: Making Christmas a Family Time” is written by Ann Hibbard. The article was excerpted from a pamphlet produced by Focus on the Family in 1989.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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