Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christmas Traditions

The Christmas season is upon us.  I love this time of year.  I love the coziness of a warm fireplace on a cold night.  I love Christmas movies.  I love opening our box of decorations and seeing all the wonderful reminders of years past.

But, most of all I love our traditions we have established.

Christmas is a holiday that has been completely commercialized.  As soon as Halloween is over, we are inundated with adds for the newest and coolest toys for all ages that are "must-haves".  Trying to teach our kids the true purpose of this day becomes a challenge when we are surrounded with the gimme-gimme-gimmes of the world.  That is why we must be intentional in how we handle this season.  

You can do that by setting up traditions that teach the story of Jesus' birth and the joy of giving.  Spend time each day doing something that directs your children's attention toward our Savior and toward others, rather than toward themselves.

I did not grow up celebrating Christmas.  So when I became a mom and began celebrating it, I had no frame of reference.  I asked friends to share with me their memories and traditions.  Over the years, I have taken bits and pieces of other people's ideas and put together a collection of activities and traditions that my family looks forward to all year.

As most of you are aware, I love books.  So it's no real surprise that many of our traditions are book-based.  Here are a few:  

1.  Picture Storybooks -- Over the past few years, we have collected many great Christmas picture storybooks.  I wrap each book individually in Christmas wrapping paper and place them in a basket by our fireplace.  Each evening, the boys choose a book to unwrap.  We then cuddle up on the sofa and read our story.  I have a few light-hearted ones, but most are really-good-make-you-cry kind of stories.  I try to find a new book each year to add to the collection.

Right now, this is our list (in no particular order):

Jacob's Gift -- Max Lucado
The Crippled Lamb -- Max Lucado
Christmas Tapestry -- Patricia Polacco
Annika's Secret Wish -- Beverly Lewis
An Orange for Frankie -- Patricia Polacco
A Tree for Christmas -- Dandi Daley Mackall
The Christmas Star -- Marcus Pfister
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey -- Susan Wojciechowski
The Legend of the Christmas Stocking -- Rick Osborne
The Legend of the Candy Cane -- Lori Walburg
The Tale of the Three Trees -- Angela Elwell Hunt
The Snowbelly Family of Chillyville Inn -- Cheryl Hawkinson
Lift the Flap Nativity -- Allia Zobel-Nolan
How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- Dr. Seuss
The Night Before Christmas
Frosty the Snowman
The True Gift -- Patricia MacLachlan (This is a chapter book. It has 10 short chapters that can be broken up over the course of a few nights, if you so choose.)
The Christmas Book-Stories, Poems and Carols for the 12 Days of Christmas (This also can be broken up over a few nights.)

The kids love taking turns choosing a book and unwrapping it.  And they are pretty much used to Mommy getting choked up while reading!  I don't know that I could choose a favorite....I love so many of them!

2.  Advent Devotional -- This one might just be the boys' favorite.  There is a series of books by Arnold Ytreeide:  Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage, and Tabitha's Travels.  Each book tells a story of a kid's life around the time of Jesus' birth.  You read one chapter each night...and each chapter ends with a sort of cliff-hanger.  This year we are on Tabitha's Travels.  We have a set of Advent candles that we light while reading each night.  I cannot emphasize how awesome these books are!  These three books, in my opinion, are absolute must-haves. You can read more about them here.  You can find them many places, including Amazon.  Check them out.  You won't be sorry!

3.  "What God Wants for Christmas" -- 
This is a Nativity scene that you put together.  It is a set made by FamilyLife.  We space it out over the week before Christmas.  There are seven boxes to open with a corresponding poem for each.  Each box has a figure for the Nativity scene in it.  You can order it on the FamilyLife website here.  This is geared more towards the younger ones (preschool to early elementary), but my 5th grader still enjoys it.  There is also an animated movie that can go along with it entitled "The Very First Noel", which you can learn more about here.  If you are interested in coloring pages and activities to go along with it, here is a PDF booklet you can print out.

4.  The Jesse Tree --  This is a new tradition we are starting this year.  If you are not familiar with it,  take some time to look into it.  It is such a great way to teach your kids about Jesus and his lineage.  There are many different books out there that relate the story.  Ours is called "The Jesse Tree" written by Geraldine McCaughrean.  In the introduction of her book, she writes:

"A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, and from his roots a bud will blossom," said the prophet Isaiah in the Bible, foretelling the birth of Jesus.  It is this verse which gave rise to the tradition of Jesse trees in churches.
Jesse trees were the Bible-storybooks of unlettered people.  A priest could point to the figures or symbols and tell the stories of those Old Testament kings, prophets, heroines, warriors.  And the tree itself served to show how the New Testament grew out of the Old Testament; how, for Christians, the birth of Jesus was not just a beginning, but a completion.  He was the flowering of a tree planted long before, by God's own design.  By tracing his earthly ancestry back to King David and beyond, it was easy, too, to see Jesus as a real historical figure.

There are many ideas of how to make your own Jesse tree.  Most of what I have found online are paper or cloth ornaments.  Someone even made a quilt of a Jesse tree.  There are many options and you can personalize it as much as you want.  Basically, you make a family tree for Jesus.  We are currently working on making one of wood and brass, with whittled-wood pieces to hang on it that correspond to each story.  

Photo on inside cover of the book.

Now for non-book related traditions.

1.  Ornaments -- We each get a new one every year that reflects what we like that year.  I write the kid's name and year in permanent marker on each one.  When we decorate our tree, I let them hang their own ornaments.  They love looking at all their ornaments and remembering the things they have loved in the past.  We have VeggieTales, trains, Winnie-the-Pooh, airplanes, their favorite colors, and many others.  When they are adults with homes and families of their own, they will get to take all of their ornaments from their childhood to put on their own trees.

2.  Birthday Celebration -- We have a birthday cake for Jesus, typically on Christmas Eve after church.  The boys get to decorate it, we light candles and sing Happy Birthday.

3.  Gift Giving -- Each boy picks out a gift for one of his brothers, either by drawing names or by assignment.  We give them a dollar limit of how much they can spend and let them choose a thoughtful gift.  We really want to emphasize that Christmas is about giving.

4.  12 Days of Christmas Secret Santa -- I heard about this one a couple years ago and LOVE the idea.  We have not yet implemented this one, but I really hope to this year.  Pick a family (a family member, friend, or neighbor).  Then every day for twelve days you leave a present with a note on their front porch.  Knock on the door, or ring the bell, and RUN!  Don't let them see you!  On the final day, you hand them the gift face to face.  You can correspond each gift to the verses of the song, such as they have done on this website, and also here.  Or you can make your own lyrics, such as this one.  Be creative and whimsical.  If you look up "12 days of Christmas secret Santa", you will find many ideas on how to do this.  I know some people do it on the twelve days leading up to Christmas, others on the tradition twelve days immediately following Christmas.  This is another opportunity to show your kids the joy of giving.

5.  Operation Christmas Child -- This one is actually done in November.  This is a chance to teach your kids about how many children in the world live.  Samaritan's Purse ministry collects shoe-boxes filled with toys, clothes, toiletry items for children.  They then distribute the boxes to children around the world.  You choose the gender and age-group of the child and purchase items accordingly.  To learn more about this, or even build a box online (which can still be done), visit their website here.

These are our traditions.  I would love to hear from you about any you have that are meaningful to your family.

And I am always looking for more great storybooks to add to our collection. So, if you know of some that I don't have listed above, PLEASE SHARE!!!

I wish you all a wonderfully meaningful Christmas season, as we take time to remember the birth that changed everything!


Trena Perkins Dickson said...

This is great! I love the idea about wrapping Christmas books and the 12 days of Christmas gift idea. Our family has the ornament tradition, passed on by my mother. Thanks so much for sharing Angela!

Krystal Shahan said...

Thanks for the awesome ideas! I love the wrapped books. We also do the ornaments. I always want to make a birthday cake for Jesus but we never do... I really like the 12 days of Christmas. Something we started once we got older which is just kinda fun now that all the siblings are adults is we can tell my mom one thing we did over the year or past years that she cant say anything about :) We have had some really funny stories come out especially from my brother!

Robin Sper said...
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