By Brock Eastman Article first appeared on Tyndale's Parenting Blog in December 2015
Travel by air. Travel by land. Travel by sleigh. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Gifts for every family member, co-worker, teacher and friend. Peppermint Mocha. Gingerbread Latte. Flavor from your childhood memories of Christmas now in your caffeinated drink as an adult. This is the ‘Holiday Season’ these days.
Entrusted by God as parents of four little souls, my wife and I strive to make Christmas more about why we celebrate, than the over-merchandised cash-in on the ‘Holiday Season’ thing we often find ourselves caught up in. Now I’m not the Grinch and I love yummy flavored coffee, traveling to see family, and getting gifts that will make others’ eyes light up and set smiles on their faces. Still my wife and I hope Christmas will be a time of family togetherness that reflects on the birth of our Savior in a manger. We want our kids to understand that Christmas is not only getting gifts, but of giving gifts. As God gave us his Son, as the Magi gave gifts to Jesus, and as Jesus gave His life for us. To immerse our kids in this idea, we’ve started several meaningful, but simple traditions that help us have fun as a family while learning the importance of giving.
Advent Calendar: I can’t take any credit for this one, aside from taking part and being excited about the activity we’ll pull out of the drawer each day. My wife does a wonderful job creating and planning 25 Advent activities. Starting on December 1st, these activities range from bell ringing for the Salvation Army (yes all 6 of us) to making marshmallow snowmen on paper or going on a family hot cocoa date. Each year we have several activities we keep doing because we’ve found them to be family favorites, while others get replaced with new ideas. And though we’re a few days into December, it’s not too late to start. You can check out a full list below of the Eastman’s 2015 Advent Calendar to get ideas for your own calendar. And you’ll notice our activities aren’t always focused on the birth of Jesus. Pinterest is a great place to find ideas for Advent.
Christmas Reading List: This one is my favorite and not because I’m an author. I love having my four kiddos on my lap and gathered around me while we turn the pages to a Christmas themed book. Ten to fifteen minutes before bed each night or at the dinner table to read a story together is all it takes. We have a wonderful time listening, looking at pictures, and discussing what will happen next in the story. It’s also a great way to help our kids relax before bed. My wife and I have amassed a collection of Christmas books over the last few years, (getting a few books is one of our Advent activities) but for those who may not have a personal library yet, consider going to your local public or church library and checking out a dozen or so books. You can make this an every other night event to get started, but I’m sure your kids will soon ask for a story every night even beyond Christmas. Our books aren’t only about Christmas, some are winter themed. A couple family favorites are The Nutcracker or Snow by P.D. Eastman (no relation, at least that I know of). And the books we read about the birth of Jesus are a reminder of the ultimate gift we celebrate at Christmas. Plus reading to your kids at bedtime or anytime will pay huge dividends later as you’ll see them excel in school and their imaginations flourish. If you need book ideas we’ve created a list for you.
Three Gifts of the Magi: Are your kids’ lists for Santa each a mile long? Has one of your kids ever said, “If you don’t get it for me, I’ll ask Santa?” America is a prosperous country and often that causes us to be more materialistic than we want, it’s simply; we see it, we want it, we get it, because we can. In light of this my wife and I wanted to refocus our family’s celebration of Christmas with an idea that helps simplify our gift giving each year. We use the three gifts the Magi presented to Jesus at his birth as the basis for each gift our kids receive each year; yes that’s three gifts, but each one is intentional and meaningful. This tradition allows us to read of the three wise men and their journey to the manger in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12), and creates a tangible connection with the baby Jesus and your children through the gifts they receive and each gifts’ purpose.
Frankincense: A gift for the body can be a shirt, shoes, perfume or something exercise related.
Myrrh: A gift for the spirit might be a Bible, devotional, worship music, or might I suggest Adventures in Odyssey (disclosure, I was a producer for Adventures in Odyssey.)
Gold: A gift of luxury. What’s the one thing your child wants; a doll, Legos, a dinosaur, a movie. This is the gift that fulfills their greatest want.
St. Nicking: A fun event to do with a group of families on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or by your family alone. First ask your church or a local shelter to find a family in need this Christmas. Be sure to ask the church or shelter for the names and ages of each family member. If possible find out clothing sizes (shirts, pants, shoes, etc), any specific interests (books, princesses, cars, penguins), and specific needs (winter hats, school shoes, Bible, or water heater.) Next invite everyone to your house for a St. Nicholas party. Assign one member from the family in need to each participating family. Next read the story of St. Nicholas aloud. We recommend The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving. With family members assigned, a list of suggested items in hand, everyone heads out to shop. We suggest 1 to 1 ½ hours for shopping. When everyone arrives back the wrapping party begins. It’s a Christmas party too, so have everyone bring cookies to share. Now it’s time to deliver the gifts. The key to a successful St. Nicking is the anonymity of it just like St. Nick. We want our kids to understand that these gifts are given without receiving credit. That brings me to an important point, if you have the address of the family send one car to deliver the gifts to the front door. The key is to not be seen, so ring the door bell and leave before they answer. If you do not have the address, ask the church or shelter to deliver the presents to the family without revealing your identity.
Advent Calendar Ideas:
Decorate for Christmas
Make a Christmas craft
Open a new Christmas book
Have a sleepover with friends
Go on a hot cocoa date
Hang Christmas lights outside
Make and deliver cookies to the local fire or police department
Have a family fun night. Eat at a restaurant or go play at an activity park
Host or attend St. Nicking event
Go watch the Nutcracker
Enjoy ice skating outdoors
Christmas shopping for siblings
Go see Christmas lights
Watch a new Christmas movie
Receive a Christmas activity book
Bake Christmas cookies
Make Christmas ornaments
Present wrapping party
Have a fancy dinner at home with your kids
Build a Gingerbread house
Open new Christmas Pajamas
Bake a birthday cake for Jesus (Christmas Day)
From my family to yours Merry Christmas and we hope you’ll enjoy trying out these new ideas this season. Whether you do them all or just one, the key is to remember to focus your kids on the real meaning for Christmas; the birth of Jesus. We’d love to hear if you’ve incorporated any of your ideas into this Christmas season.