8 Ways to Make This Christmas
A Christmas Your Family Will Always Remember
More than 50 years ago, Dr. Seuss tried to plant in our heads and hearts the idea of a simple Christmas celebration. Using lines that have now become famous, the Grinch begins to repent of his attempt to steal Christmas:
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”
As children, most of us read the book and enjoyed booing the Grinch every Christmas. Many of us still enjoy it, even as we watch our family Christmas celebration, year by year, growing more and more frenzied, frantic, and financially draining.
Maybe it’s time to move beyond the feelings of helpless abandonment and the frenzy. Maybe it’s time to do some repenting of our own as we decide to “just say no” to the out-of-control materialism and the insane parade of social events that race to claim all the available white space on our calendars, from the end of October through the middle of January.
Of course, that’s easy to say and hard to do, especially if God has blessed us with children or grandchildren. By failing to act, though, we condemn ourselves, our families, and our churches to Christmases that focus less and less on Jesus. We doom ourselves and those we love to the imitation joy that comes from a store, but inevitably disappoints, often before the wrapping paper hits the bottom of the garbage can.
So how might we turn the parade around? What practical steps can we take to help ourselves and our children resist the materialism that whips itself into an F-5 frenzy each November and December? Think about these possibilities:
- Talk together as a family before the holidays shift into high gear. Challenge each other to name two or three material gifts you received last Christmas. If you can name them, ask yourselves how often you use or wear those gifts now. Help each other remember that things can make us happy only for a short while.
- Model a God-pleasing attitude toward possessions and experiences all year long. Remember that values are more caught than taught. Enjoy the pleasure material things can give, but don’t look to them to provide fulfillment, lasting joy, satisfaction, or peace.
- Help your children toward a healthy sense of self. Recent studies have shown a link between materialism and a child’s security and self-image. Encourage kids to develop strong relationships with friends who share your Christian values. Support your children’s participation in activities they enjoy doing. Praise them for a job well done—in school, at the gym, or with chores at home. Share positive peer feedback with them. For example, if you overhear their peers saying kind things about your child’s abilities or friendliness, be sure to tell your child. Research shows this can enhance a child’s sense of self-worth and decrease the value children and teens place on material goods.
- Find ways to engage your entire family in giving to others. Whether you give time, money, energy, expertise, or all of the above, find ways to involve your children in helping. Buy blankets or mittens and take them to a homeless shelter; let the kids come along so they actually see the need they are helping to meet. Make sandwiches for a soup kitchen, take them there, and stay to help serve. Take your Sunday school class to carol for shut-in neighbors or for all the nursing homes in a three-, five-, or ten-mile radius of your church. Inspect your closets to find gently used toys and clothing your family has outgrown and donate them to a shelter for women and children. Help an elderly neighbor with yard work or snow removal. Make as many gifts as you can. When we explore ways to help others, we focus less on ourselves and on the material things we think we need.
- Set limits on what children receive. As your children develop their “Christmas lists,” help them understand they will receive three or four gifts. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, encourage them to make their wish lists as long as they like. Then, help them put a star behind the gifts they consider meaningful (gifts they believe will provide the most pleasure over the long term). In short, manage their expectations. This will hone their decision-making skills and will help instill a basic fact of reality—you can’t have everything. You may even want to help children discern the techniques advertisers use to make us think we need things we didn’t even know existed a week ago.
- Never soothe a child’s hurt, sad, or angry feelings by giving them things. Instead, help them identify and express their emotions. Hold them while they cry. Comfort them with your presence and love. Remind them of specific promises Jesus has made to us. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen without judging or criticizing (for example, “I told you this would happen if you . . .”). Unhappy feelings are, sadly, part of life in this fallen world. Children need to know their parents and other trusted adults will be there for them, comfort them, and help them through the storms.
- Provide lots of relaxed, loving time with the family at Christmas. For that matter, do it throughout the year, too Families that lead busy lives all year long tend to become even busier at Christmas. Slow down and look forward to stressless evenings decorating the tree and making candy together. Take a walk in the park on Saturday morning. Drive around and look at the Christmas lights on Tuesday evening. Play Duck, Duck, Goose in the snow. Feed the birds or the squirrels. Agree as a family on what everyone would enjoy doing and then slot these activities on your calendars. Consider them sacrosanct, regardless of what the neighborhood association director or women’s ministry president at church tells you.
- Establish family traditions and repeat them yearly. Think about what Christmas was like as you grew up. What do you remember? Chances are the traditions (not the gifts) made the holidays, holy days. Talk together about the traditions everyone enjoys and make them a consistent part of your celebrations each year.
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