I was wondering if you had any ideas about how to keep the focus on the real meaning of Christmas not just lots of presents. Also, maybe how do you handle buying gifts for the children…we are finding it so hard to keep the right balance in our materialistic world.
At Christmas time, we keep our focus on giving, because God gave first. God the Father gave, sending His son Jesus to earth to be the Savior of the world. Jesus gave, sacrificing His life and taking on all of God’s wrath that we deserved because of our sin. Christmas is a beautiful celebration of the free and undeserved gift of God.
So throughout the Christmas season, we aim to turn our children’s focus toward giving. We tell the Christmas story, and talk of God’s gift of salvation. We talk about His many other wonderful gifts and blessings. As an outgrowth of our love for Christ, we give gifts and emphasize compassion, engaging the children’s participation in serving others.
Each year for as long as I remember, our family has done at least one Christmas service project. Here are a few which the children have been able to be directly involved:
- Cooking and serving dinner for a homeless shelter
- Giving coats and hats to a local ministry that gives them to the homeless
- Buying toys to donate to the “Christmas Store” sponsored by our former church. The church sold the items for 10% of their actual cost to families in need, preserving the dignity of parents to purchase gifts for their own families.
- One year, our MOPS group fulfilled the Christmas requests of nursing home residents. Our family sent a bouquet of flowers to one sweet man’s wife.
- Angel Tree Ministries – Give Christmas presents to children with parents in prison.
- World Vision – Gifts that keep giving to needy children around the world. Send a goat to provide milk, chickens to provide eggs, water purification tablets, sponsor a child’s education. World Vision has a wonderful catalog of gifts that you can give.
- Operation Christmas Child – A ministry of Samaritan’s Purse which sends shoeboxes full of gifts to needy children around the world.
Throughout the Christmas season, we read books reminding us what it’s all about, just as we retell stories about our children’s births on their own birthdays. Here are a few of our favorite resources:
- The Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier. This long-time favorite of ours is set in the home of a modern-day, inquisitive 8-year-old boy named Christopher. Not a fan of fairy tales, Christopher wants the facts. His mother tells him the “real” Christmas story answering his many questions along the way. This book explains the birth of Christ from a spiritual and historical context.
- Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer. Saint Nicholas was truly a wonderful pastor who loved the Lord and suffered persecution for his faith. I read this each year, and last year we did the candy-in-the-shoes on Dec. 6, Saint Nicholas’ Day (the day he died). We do this not to glorify Nicholas, but because his generosity was a response to God’s great love for us.
- What God Wants for Christmas My sister-in-law recommended this nativity and book set last year, and it is so precious. Seven small “gift” boxes containing pieces to the nativity. The 7th box contains a mirror – to show the children that God wants them.
- The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado. A disabled lamb learns that God has a special purpose for his life. His condition leads him to be able to witness the Savior as He enters the world, and to be a special comfort to the newborn King.
- The Adventure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Welchel is packed with wonderful ideas and stories behind traditions, which point to the birth of Christ.
We love giving gifts, especially to our children. It is hard to avoid going overboard and making presents the focus. The best way to handle this is to have lots of children. That way, your limited Christmas budget won’t allow you to spoil them too much.
As with other aspects of Christmas, we aim to help our children focus on giving Christmas gifts, rather than receiving. Much ado is made about the gift exchange that our children do among themselves. They don’t have much money, but homemade presents are priceless in every way, and the Dollar Store has plenty of goodies in their price range.
NOTE: Totally off topic, but now that I’ve mentioned the Dollar Store, I must add a word of warning before I continue. NEVER, under any circumstances, take seven children to the Dollar Store at the SAME TIME, to shop for their secret gifts FOR EACH OTHER. They’ll tuck things under their coats, peer around corners suspiciously, and raise the eyebrows of store clerks. Take it from someone who’s been there. If you missed our story last year, check out this bit of Christmas Shopping Comic Relief, compliments of our family.
But back to steering our children’s hearts toward giving. When we think this way ourselves and encourage them to do the same, they do learn to be thoughtful givers. Our kids often struggle with ideas when asked what they’d like for Christmas, but they always have dozens of suggestions for their siblings. We’ve never asked them to, but they always give Iron Man and me a gift too. Some children additionally give a present to every family member. Carefully drawn pictures, paper airplanes, a craft stick doll set representing our family, tissue paper flowers are a few creative gifts that our children have surprised each other with. Busily planning, making gifts, and shopping for others makes for fun and exciting activity!
Iron Man and I love to give good gifts to our children at Christmas, but we limit them in number. We usually give 2-3 to each child, plus a few “combined” gifts. Three is a nice number, symbolic of the three gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus, but we don’t follow a hard rule on on the number of gifts. I avoid impulse shopping, instead choosing to put careful thought to select meaningful items that are sure to be loved. We do not feel a need to always keep the monetary amount equal for each child. Some children may receive more expensive gifts than the others some years, but it evens out in the end.
Stockings are stuffed with small, inexpensive, and even “useful” gifts that some may balk at: an orange in the stocking toe, a small pack of crayons, a personalized pencil, colorful erasers, playdough, a small bag of candy, stickers, baseball cards, a new toothbrush, hair accessories, even some new socks. A new anything in a stocking is fun and appreciated, and stockings do not necessarily have to cost a fortune or have too much “meaning” put into them.
On Christmas morning, we don’t rush. We begin with Daddy reading the Christmas story in Luke. Then we put on the Christmas music, turn on the camera, and select a few children to begin passing out gifts. The children take turns, and everyone enjoys watching each other open gifts almost as much as unwrapping their own.
What about you?
How do you keep the focus on the real meaning of Christmas?
What are some of your favorite books and resources?
How do you guard against materialism and stay balanced in giving gifts to your children?
I’d love to hear your ideas!