As we head toward Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I wanted to share some of the wonderful ideas I’ve been gathering about making gratitude and giving a standard of daily living along with a celebrated part of the holidays. Some of these ideas are ones we’ve done in our family for years, and some are new ideas I’m excited to try out!
1.) I believe the best way to raise generous, empathetic human beings is by being a generous, empathetic human being. So the first and most simple idea is just to live what we want our children to learn. If we want our children to be kind, we need to treat them and everyone else kindly. If we want them to be thankful, we should thank them regularly for the things they do and the blessings the are to us and to the world and let them see us being thankful for our own blessings. If we want them to be generous, we need to share what we have freely with them and let them see us giving to others. And if we want them to have the desire to serve, we must meet their needs fully so they will be free from focusing on trying to get their own needs met, and we should let them see us serving others on a regular basis.
2.) I absolutely love the idea of painting ‘Blessing Stones’ and scattering them around town for people to find. They don’t serve any specific purpose, and you’ll probably never know if they’ve been found. They’re simply a little blessing to brighten someone’s day unexpectedly. Your children can stamp or write words or even Bible verses on smooth stones, or they can paint hearts or smiley faces on them. You can even pray over the stones with your children first if you like, then simply take a walk around town and let your little ones ’hide’ the rocks. What a fun way to share some smiles!
3.) Another idea I fell in love with was ‘Blessing Bags.’ The idea is to fill gallon sized ziploc bags with essentials such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, etc. and add in a water bottle and granola bar and whatever else you think someone in need might find helpful, then keep the bags in your car to give out whenever you come across anyone in need. Also, clicking on the ‘Blessing Bag’ pictured will take you to Kids With A Vision, a site filled with year-round ideas for helping children use their natural empathy to help others. Love it!
4.) Operation Christmas Child is a family favorite in our home. Every year we fill shoeboxes with small toys, pads of paper, coloring books, crayons, and more for children across the globe. It’s a wonderful Christmas tradition and a beautiful way of keeping the spirit of giving at the center of our celebrations.
5.) Another fun tradition that helps all of us to focus on giving during the holidays is playing ‘Secret Santa.’ I buy dollar store items for each of my children to open before bedtime on the twelve days leading up to Christmas, and they also get twelve dollars to spend on each other for ‘Secret Santa’ gifts. The joy and excitement they get from making each other happy is so touching and a great sibling bonding experience, too!
6.) Nursing Home Elves~Many years we’ve gone Christmas caroling at local nursing homes and have always been warmly welcomed by the residents and staff alike. We always bring homemade gifts like cookies, ornaments, or Christmas cards which are a labor of love from my children that bring tears to the eyes of the sweet elderly residents who receive them.
7.) We’ve also participated in special service opportunities such as passing out flyers in our local Christmas parade to help raise funds for a baby in need of a liver transplant and serving dinner to the families of terminally ill children at the Give Kids the World Village in a nearby city.
What are some ways your family focuses on giving during the holidays or year round?
St.Nicholas was just a man, but he was a man with a mission. Born in the third century, he grew up to be an intensely kind-hearted man who was especially devoted to children’s issues and helping the poor. He was a Greek Bishop who defied the established Church in order to go out among the ‘unwashed masses’ and live his life as the ‘heart and hands of Jesus.’ While many miracles and legends about him evolved through the centuries, his penchant for leaving secret gifts is the one that captured the hearts and imaginations of people world-wide, leading to the present-day legend of Santa Claus.
I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a ‘false belief’ and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in stories. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn as a young parent. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.
When it comes to the breathtaking gift of the Christ-Child, the Eternal Creator born of a woman, God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes, the I AM in a manger, what better way to share such an absurd and immense truth than Jesus’ way…with a story? How else would my little ones be able to grasp the concept of such a gift? How would they embrace the wonder? How could I possibly break down the impossible into a pedantic lecture? Would the improbable make more sense in a dissertation?
And so I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a Baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of a Savior. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. And when my children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them yes, because it’s true. Every parent who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary Gift ever given to mankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.
I believe in Santa Claus because I am Santa Claus…and you are, too!
Note: I don’t ever use Santa Claus as a threat (i.e. “I’m calling Santa right now if you don’t…” or “Santa’s watching, and you won’t get any presents for Christmas if…”) first because a parable’s purpose is to teach, not to manipulate or control, and second because what I am teaching is the wonder and miracle of receiving a free gift, one that can’t be earned because it is freely given! Manipulating my children into ‘performing’ might work temporarily, but am I really trying to raise works-driven Christians, or am I trying to teach my little people about the incredible gift of grace?
Here are some of the ways we focus on Jesus for Christmas:
Children learn best and most happily through play, so letting my little people ‘play Santa’ (i.e. wrapping up their toys and ’surprising’ each other, making ornaments and delivering them to a nursing home, shopping at the dollar store for Operation Christmas Child, etc.) is a very important part of our Christmas traditions. And the best part is…they’re playing Santa for Jesus!
Leading up to Christmas, we marvel about how Jesus loves us so much He wants us to get presents on His birthday (truly awe-inspiring to children and a lesson in sacrificial giving!) because all He wants for His birthday are smiles and happy hearts.
Then we brainstorm ways to give Jesus as many ‘birthday presents’ as possible (a lesson on generosity). We work together to share Christmas cheer with everyone we meet, but focus our best efforts on the grumpiest people because they don’t smile as often and so their smiles make really special gifts for Jesus (a lesson on unconditional love!).
We have a 12 Days of Christmas tradition where everyone gets a small present (chocolate, a special pencil, etc), and we read Christmas picturebooks every evening, building excitement for the Christmas morning celebration of the BEST GIFT EVER!
On Christmas Eve, we go to a special church service and then, after celebrating Christmas with family, we go home and make a fire in the fireplace (in Florida weather!) and make s’mores and hot chocolate and read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke.
Then, on Christmas morning, we have a ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ party before opening presents, complete with a birthday cake and candles and singing ‘Happy birthday to Jesus!’
Here are some other resources on making the true meaning of Christmas central to your celebrations this year (I’ll be adding more as I find them!):
What traditions does your family have to keep Christ in Christmas? Share them in the comment section!