Teaching Our Kids the True Meaning of Christmas


Christmas is my favorite. I love putting our tree up and decorating our home with all things Christmas before Thanksgiving, so that we can enjoy it longer. My poor neighbors could probably do without the extra days of staring at our Christmas wiener dog inflatable or our obnoxiously large, twinkling, and waving snowman, but it’s just so magical and fun that I can’t help myself.

With all of that said, there is a lot about the Christmas season that takes the joy right out of it, pushes Jesus to the side, and puts a big, obnoxious golden statue of a holiday statue in His place. No, I’m not referring to Santa Clause. I’m talking about all the pride, greed, and bizarre behavior that many associate with the most wonderful time of the year. It’s got to stop right NOW because if we’re not super-intentional and cautious, it’s going to reframe the real meaning of Christmas for our kiddos.

It’s easy to be drawn into all the madness. It starts with relatively good things that are blown way out of proportion. Just the other day, I was on Facebook and saw that several of my friends were upset because their kids came home complaining about their Elf on the Shelf being absent. These poor mothers were sweating bullets over their error in forgetting when the magical Elf would make his or her appearance. The madness! The Elf on the Shelf isn’t inherently terrible, but our obsession with outdoing each other–I mean trying to be creative for our kiddos–is defeating the whole purpose of adding a little magic and wonder to the Christmas season for our little ones. I mean, honestly, our kids are not going to have emotional issues later in life because “Sprinkles the Elf” didn’t make a flour-angel or poop skittles in the toilet during one childhood Christmas. Good grief! Let’s give ourselves a break.

A few years ago, Dave and I realized that we were overdoing it with gifts at Christmas. Our boys would tear through all their gifts in ten minutes, play with one or two of them, and put the rest away in their closets. Two months later, I would find two to three gifts IN THEIR PACKAGING underneath the pile of other forgotten toys from Christmas past. We decided this was not only wasteful, but it was taking away from the real meaning of Christmas – the gift of Love in the form of flesh and the joy of celebrating it together.

So, how can we make things better? I read a recent blog that told the story of a family fed up with this same predicament. They decided to stop giving gifts to their kids altogether. I know this seems harsh, but it brought back the real meaning of Christmas to their family. Instead of placing gifts under the tree for their children and each other, these parents decided to use their resources to bless needy families in their community. This is a beautiful picture of the love of Jesus and putting others before ourselves. Every Christmas, we have a unique opportunity to reach out and bless others with our time and resources as a family through a wide variety of local and global ministries who make their needs known. What a great way to make generosity an important part of your family’s legacy!

For many of us, the notion of not giving any gifts to our children at Christmas is extreme, so I want to offer an alternative solution to over-gifting. When we read the Christmas story to our children, it is clear that the wise men brought Jesus three extraordinary gifts after his birth.

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Matthew 2:9-11


So, why not carry on this tradition with our kids? Instead of an insane number of gifts under the tree, why not give your children three exceptional gifts that they want. Even if your kids don’t have any “big” or expensive gifts in mind, you can still bundle several gifts into three separate special packages to open. We started doing this a few years ago, and it has made our Christmas mornings much sweeter. Last year, our oldest wanted a Swiss Army knife. So, for one of his gifts, we made a special camping-themed gift which included the pocket-knife, a camp shirt, and a small tent. He loved it. Our middle-son is a crafter, so we put together a special gift full of new markers, paper, an easel, and paint. Before we started this new tradition, we explained the significance of the three gifts to the boys, and they have appreciated the thoughtfulness behind each gift.

If your kids believe in Santa, you can still implement the tradition of giving three gifts to each child. Share the true story of Saint Nicholas and how he wanted to bless needy children during the celebration of Christ’s birth to spread the love and joy of the real meaning of Christmas. There is an excellent VeggieTales movie, currently on Netflix and available online, that beautifully and hilariously tells the true story of Saint Nicholas. It is called St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving. Our kids adored it.

Whenever Dave and I try to start or simplify Christmas traditions for our family, we always try to think about what our children will remember and cherish from each Christmas season. If I had to choose my most favorite Christmas memory, it would have to be the one when I was around six years old.

I had asked Santa to bring me a scooter, but not just any old scooter. I wanted one that had musical notes on the footboard. Yes, this was a random request, but I had my heart set on it. So, Christmas morning, I woke up around 3 a.m. and heard some commotion coming from our living room. I quietly tiptoed into the room only to find Mom and Dad putting my beloved scooter beside the tree. I had a mixture of emotions. I was so excited to see the scooter, musical notes and all; but, I was horrified to see Mom and Dad putting it beside the tree. Where was Santa? Why were Mom and Dad putting all the gifts by the tree? My parents, who were just as freaked out as I was, very calmly told me to go back to bed. They said the whole experience was “just a dream,” and I, being extremely gullible, believed them wholeheartedly and snuggled back into my bed.

I think this is my favorite memory because I not only got the gift I asked for, but I knew my parents went to great effort to get that very special gift for me. Mom even painted each little musical note on the footboard by hand! I can’t tell you what else I received that Christmas, but I can tell you that I felt loved. That is what Christmas is all about. It is an extra-special time when we can pause and be extra-thankful, extra-loving, extra-forgiving, and extra-generous with our time, resources, and expression of love. I want my kids to see and experience this truth in our family traditions clearly. The very first Christmas was and is the greatest news the Earth has ever received after all.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
Matthew 1:22-23

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