It’s Christmas. Bells jingle and carolers warble as we dash through the snow, feverishly gathering gifts to bestow on those we love (and those we just tolerate) while visions of the gifts we’ve got coming dance in our heads. And underneath it all is the guilty thought that gifts shouldn’t consume our every waking moment. So, we offer comforting platitudes like “It is better to give than to receive” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But deep inside, we know very well, as any Who down in Whoville could tell you, Christmas will come with or without packages and bows.
Materialism abounds—in our own homes and in the homes of our relatives and friends. Well-meaning people ask our kids what Santa is going to bring them. Commercials bombard them with advertisements for toys. Stores display all the newest gadgets and must-haves. Soon, our kids have wish-and-want lists as long as their arms.
Materialism: a 10-dollar word for the gottas and gimmes that rise as the temperature drops and the holidays bear down on us with all the force of a runaway locomotive.
Short of cutting yourself off from everyone you know, you can’t, at Christmas, totally free yourself or your family from the influence of materialism. Even if you could successfully banish it from your home and your thoughts, you will encounter it in the words of others, and your kids will rub shoulders with it in school.
As long as gifts are the focus of Christmas, the real reason for the season will be lost amidst the glitter of commerce. “The way Christmas is celebrated today is a gross commercialization of the most important birth in history,” wrote Larry Burkett in his Money Matters newsletter. But, he went on to say, we don’t need to preach to the unsaved that they should put Christ back into Christmas. That’s our job.1
To do this, Christians must give Christ the place of honor at Christmas. That’s harder than it sounds because the world is largely focused on an imaginary character: Santa Claus. Some might argue that Santa is a pretty harmless guy. But how harmless is it for us to deceive our children purposely by claiming that Santa is a supernatural being who visits every home on earth on Christmas Eve? And what is the real message behind dispensing presents based on good or bad behavior? Can children who invest faith in flying reindeer and Santa Claus, only to find later that they do not exist, be expected to believe us when we tell them that Jesus is real? In this case, their faith investment has eternal consequences. Should we toy with our children’s fragile ability to believe?
There are so many wonderful traditions you can begin this Christmas that will anchor your kids in Jesus. If you would like to de-materialize your Christmas celebration and help your children understand the real reason for the season, customize some of the following suggestions and make them part of your family holidays.
1. focus on the Nativity
Make a Nativity set the focal point of your holiday decorations. We put ours up before any other Christmas decorations. Setting up the Nativity set presents a great opportunity to retell the Christmas story. (My mother always hid Baby Jesus until Christmas morning.)
If you don’t have a Nativity set, make one. It’s a great Christmas project, and your kids will be particularly interested in seeing it and adding to it each year. Creating it will give them a vested interest in seeing it on display every year.
Children also enjoy staging a Nativity play. Let them have a lot of creative input, and let them make whatever props and costumes fit the bill. Put on the play on Christmas Eve, and invite family and friends.
2. limit gifts
Reduce your children’s exposure to the advertising bombardment that leads up to Christmas. They will absorb enough despite your efforts. Decide on either a dollar amount or a maximum number of gifts, and let your kids know what the limit is. This will go a long way toward curbing the gimmes, and it also helps kids control their wants.
There is another reason for not giving your children everything you think they want “If you never allow a child to want something, he never enjoys the pleasure of receiving it,” writes psychologist and author Dr. James Dobson. “If you buy him a tricycle before he can walk, and a bicycle before he can ride, and a car before he can drive, he accepts these gifts with little pleasure and less appreciation.
“How unfortunate that such a child never has the chance to long for something, dreaming about it at night and plotting for it by day. He never gets desperate enough to work for it. The same possession that brings a yawn could have been a trophy and a treasure.”2
3. incorporate sharing
Involve your family in meeting the needs of those who are less fortunate. As a family, volunteer at a soup kitchen or sing at a nursing home. After the holidays are over, help your kids go through their toys and weed out the ones they no longer play with. Clean them up and donate them. Homeless shelters, hospital children’s wards, doctors’ offices, and community organizations are excellent destinations for secondhand toys.
4. be careful what messages you send
If your first impulse Christmas morning is to rip into the presents, that is the message your children will pick up. Instead, begin this tradition: When your children wake up on Christmas morning, let them gather with the family in a cozy spot while you read the Christmas story. Take your time. Pray together, and then go to the Nativity set. Let one of the children place Baby Jesus in the manger. Sing happy birthday to Jesus and a few carols. Follow this up with a special once-a-year breakfast. (Our tradition is homemade cinnamon buns. It’s the only time that I make them.)
5. give a gift to Jesus
Have you ever attended a birthday party at which the birthday person didn’t get a gift? Make sure you include Jesus in your gift-giving. Let each member of the family write down what their gift will be, place each note in an envelope, and hang the envelopes on the tree. On Christmas morning, open these envelopes before the other gifts and read the notes aloud. Gifts can be services to others, monetary donations to charities—whatever you like.
give it time
Expecting your entire Christmas to change immediately is unrealistic. It will take diligence to make these changes, and it will take time before they become a natural part of your celebration. But the effort is worth it. Santa and the gimmes are fleeting and unsatisfying. Jesus fills us with the hope of eternal life. It is a one-size-fits-all gift that is never out of style, does not need batteries, and cannot break.
Céleste Perrino writes from snowy Vermont.
1. “Christmas Indulgence,” Money Matters, November 1995, 5.
2. “Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions,” Focus on the Family With Dr. James Dobson, December 1996, 5.