Christmas Day will be here in only a few days, but for our family the celebration of Christmas starts at the beginning of November. No, we are not “those people” who can’t even let October finish before putting up decorations and turning up Christmas carols. For us, the first of November marks the day that we make our Thankful Tree—on the wall we tape up a tree trunk and branches made of construction paper, and every day at dinner each family member writes one thing that they are thankful for on a paper leaf to attach to the tree.
Believe it or not this is how we start to teach our boys, Ezra (4) and Micah (3), about the meaning of Christmas. In the first week the things we write on our kids’ leaves for the Thankful Tree start out silly (yet honest) like being thankful for “oranges” or “for cows that give us milk.” As the days go on into November, they inevitably begin to think deeper and more critically about what they are thankful for. And without fail one will ask us to write on his leaf that he is thankful for Jesus; the other, of course, immediately says that he is thankful for Jesus, too. We use it as a perfect opportunity to ask exactly why they are thankful for Him and also as a primer to re-introduce the idea of Christmas and how Jesus came to earth to save us.
This wonderful time of year is filled with activities and traditions we try do as a family that we use as opportunities to have conversations with our kids and teach them the meaning of Christmas. Starting with the most simple and practical, we set out a toy nativity scene—we have the “Little People” nativity set by Fisher-Price—which encourages our boys to have hands-on play and act out the Christmas story. We also frequent the library regularly but the theme of the books we check out depend on the time of year. Children’s books about Christmas (with Jesus) are incredibly effective. In addition to books we play Christ-based Christmas music throughout the house during the month of December, and unsurprisingly our boys’ most popular bedtime song requests are “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”
We have a number of other Christmas traditions we have started: a night where we all sleep in the den “under the Christmas tree” or stringing up an advent calendar with 25 envelopes held with clothespins. Inside each envelope is an action or activity for the entire family and a daily Bible verse. The tradition culminates every Christmas Eve with reading the Biblical story of Christmas, Jesus’ birth, pieced together from passages across the four gospels.
For our family Christmas is not just a single day or short season but a time that begins with daily thankfulness and progresses naturally into an active celebration of praise to God for His love for us and sending us our Savior. While we are still learning how to be parents, we believe the most important practice throughout all of these activities is to intentionally use them as opportunities to talk with our kids about Jesus. We can use these moments as a way to teach them about the meaning of Christmas and also to be good witnesses to them with an eternal purpose in mind.