"Look at that!" I exclaimed to my husband. "They’ve gift-wrapped their entire tree!"

My husband halted our car at the end of the driveway as another car sped past sporting a Christmas tree on its roof, the browning and brittle branches encased in a cocoon of plastic.

"It’s just practical," he observed. "It stops the needles from dropping everywhere."

"I am not buying a special bag so we can gift-wrap our dead tree for the chipper!" I protested.

It was an over-reaction, of course. And I wasn’t even objecting to the tree wrapper itself, but to the subliminal suggestion that there was yet one more thing I needed to buy to make Christmas complete. Every year, it seems, the world layers new expectations, and expenses, onto the Christmas season. More and more, Christmas reminds me of the first papier mâché piñata I made with my kids. That piñata generated a lot of happy, frantic activity, but it was almost impossible to tear through the layers to find the gift inside.

Christ-centred Christmas traditions

This year, I intend to be more discerning about some of the activities we pack into our Christmas celebration. Some activities are no longer helpful Christmas traditions, but might more rightly be called Christmas distractions. I want my kids to discover the best gift hidden within the trappings of the Christmas season – a meaningful remembrance of Christ’s birth.

If you’re like me, a wannabe guerrilla intent on retaking Christmas for Christ, here are some suggestions to help you celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with your kids.

Restoring a little sanity to your Christmas schedule will help you restore a little sanctity to the season, too. Make sure you actually set aside time to relax as a family and refocus on Christ each day. If you have young children, safeguard their emotional stamina by scheduling half-day activities with family and friends, and keep the remainder of the day for some low-key "just us" time. Like the season of Christmas itself, this season of your children’s lives will soon be past, so do take time to simply enjoy them over the holidays.

Images can have a powerful influence on children, so keep your Christmas décor Christ-centred, and include a Nativity scene. Although you may cherish your expensive, porcelain Nativity figurines, you don’t want to reinforce the idea that Jesus is untouchable; purchase a toy Nativity set for the kids and encourage them to "play out" the story of Jesus’ birth.

Every child eagerly anticipates the gifts they will receive at Christmas, but gifts can easily become a youngster’s main focus of the season. If your family is young, consider establishing a tradition of opening only one or two gifts each day. By spreading the gift-opening over several days, you’ll help keep everyone focused on the special activities that celebrate Jesus’ birth. As another bonus, you’ll avoid the "boom and bust blues" that can set in on Boxing Day. Some families successfully keep a lid on the "gimmes" by limiting their gifts to three gifts for each child – to represent the three gifts of the Magi.

To help keep thoughts focused on Christ, read the Nativity story from the Bible, or watch a thoughtful movie about the Nativity together. Afterward, surprise the kids with a box of simple props that allow them to dress like Biblical characters, then have them act out the events around Jesus’ birth. Use tea towels for headgear, secured with an elastic headband, bathrobes and perhaps a jewellery box or a gift-wrapped box to represent the gifts of the wise men. To fuel the kids’ enthusiasm, make sure you take part as well! A little intrigue helps, too, so place some candy or trinket surprises inside the wise men’s gift and allow the children to open it once your impromptu play is over.

As an alternative to acting out the Nativity play, help your children construct their own Christmas parade from a collection of cereal boxes. Cut away one of the larger sides from each box, then attach a ribbon or length of string to one end. Fill each cereal box with toy dolls, Lego® characters or action figures, plus other decorations, to create a "float" depicting a scene from the Christmas story. To help the characters stand upright, glue a block of florist’s foam or some styrofoam (salvaged from Christmas gift packaging) to the base of each box, then poke each character’s feet into the block. Choose some suitable background music, and have each child recount the event depicted in their float as they slide it across the floor during your "parade."

Does gift-giving between your extended family mean you spend more time at the mall searching for gifts than actually visiting with your relatives? This may be the year to urge your family to skip the gift exchange and take a new approach to gift giving. When you come together for your Christmas celebration, bring gifts of money as an offering to Jesus, plus "gift catalogues" or wish lists from your favourite charities. Spend part of the evening "shopping" together by reviewing the catalogues and choosing how you will spend your offering. For the remainder of the evening, share the gifts Christ has given you. Encourage everyone to come prepared to give a small performance – perhaps through singing a song, playing an instrument or simply recounting an amusing event. Your evening won’t lack entertainment and everyone will be wonderfully enriched by your "gifts" to each other.

Prepare one last surprise for the season by hanging a nail on a piece of thread near the trunk of the Christmas tree. When you take down your tree, award a small prize to the child who finds the nail, which symbolises Jesus’ death on the cross and later resurrection. The reminder that Easter is coming will cheer any youngsters who may be disappointed that Christmas is over. It’s also a good opportunity to remind your children that Jesus is coming again, and that the celebration they will enjoy with Him then will be better than any Christmas they could possibly imagine!

© 2009 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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