Kids will be kids says the familiar adage, and that’s certainly worth taking to heart when planning get-togethers at your house over the Christmas season. While adults love to simply sit and chat, kids aren’t likely to pronounce your celebration "fun" if they’re expected to do the same for too long.

If you’re looking to liven things up for the kids at your Christmas celebration, and would prefer activities that tie in with the Nativity story, here are three games children are sure to enjoy.

Game #1: Saddle up!

To set up this game, divide the children into two teams. (Children can play this game as individuals too if you wish.) Inform the participants that they, like Mary and Joseph, must travel to Bethlehem to fulfill the census required by Caesar. But first, they’ll need to pack some items for their journey.

Give each team (or individual) a list of items they’ll need to find. Have them race against the clock, or against each other, to assemble their items. (Pair guest children with "host" children for help with finding items, and make it clear which rooms are off limits or the kids might uncover your stash of Christmas gifts!)

Travel items to search for could include a sweater or jacket, large spoon, comb or hairbrush, soap, plastic plate, a cup, a purse or wallet, and even some toy tools if you have them (since Joseph likely carried some carpentry tools with him to Bethlehem.) For children who can’t read yet, you might want to provide pictures of the items they’ll need to gather.

While the children are searching for their travel supplies, appoint an adult to act as each team’s donkey (by going down on their hands and knees). When the children have all their items assembled, inform them that the race isn’t over yet: they still need to pack all their items on their "donkey." (The progressive unveiling of additional requirements makes this game even more entertaining for onlookers.)

Provide two canvas grocery bags per "donkey," plus string and scissors, and have the children race to invent some saddlebags. For some extra laughs (once all the items are loaded on the donkey), ask one of the smaller children to try to sit on their donkey as well.

Note: It’s a good idea to tweak the requirements of this game to suit the age and sensitivity of the participants. For young children, you may want to provide ready-made "saddlebags," or even skip the "load up the donkey" requirement completely. (The game would simply become a treasure hunt for the travel items.)

For older children who enjoy a challenge, include some larger items on their search list that will be difficult to pack on their donkey (making the game more hilarious). For example, add bulky items such as a blanket or sleeping bag, a large pot, a box of cereal and/or a bag of oat flakes.

Game #2: Follow the star

In this game, the children pretend to be the wise men searching for the newborn king of the Jews. All the "wise men" have to guide them to the baby Jesus are Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah, and a "guiding star" that moves through the heavens, i.e., an adult with a flashlight!

To prepare, print out, on brightly coloured paper, several prophesies from the Old Testament that provide "clues" about Jesus’ birth. Leave a few blank lines between each prophesy. After printing, cut the page into four separate strips of paper with one prophesy on each.

Here are some prophesies you could use:

  • Jesus will come from the tribe of Judah: Genesis 49:10
  • Jesus will be a descendant of King David: Jeremiah 23:5-6; 2 Samuel 7:12-13
  • Jesus’ mother will be a virgin: Isaiah 7:14
  • Jesus will be born in Bethlehem: Micah 5:2

Hide the paper strips of prophesies in various parts of the house. With the lights dimmed, guide the children with your flashlight "star" as they search for one prophecy after the other. (If you turn the lights out completely, it would be wise to provide each child with a small flashlight of their own too.)

The final stage of the game is to search for the baby Jesus (previously hidden) in the same way. When you find Him, place Him in your Nativity set. Halleluiah! Christ is born!

Game #3: Mystery gift of the Magi

To prepare, wrap a small gift (or a token that can be exchanged for a gift after the game) in layer after layer of gift wrap. For older children, make the game more challenging by binding every few layers with duct tape, and/or packing the gift in successively larger boxes. You’ll also need a pair of oven mitts, a scarf, a hat and a pair of dice.

To play, take turns throwing both dice. The first person to throw a combined total of seven or eleven (adding up the dots on both dice) quickly dons the hat, scarf and oven mitts and proceeds to unwrap as many layers of gift wrap as possible before another person throws seven or eleven. (Don’t let anyone tear multiple layers at once – the rule is only one layer at a time! And no using your teeth either!) The person who unwraps the final layer gets to keep the gift.

Note: This game is fun for all ages, but often becomes very spirited. If you have small children in attendance, it might be best to host two games: one for older children to teens, and a calmer, slower-paced version for young children.

For little ones, forget the scarf, hat and oven mitts; let each child wear a child-size pair of woolly mittens throughout the game so they’re ready to try unwrapping the gift as soon as the dice roll in their favour.

© 2013 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Catherine Wilson

Associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

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