This weekend I could have bought all my Christmas cards, and a good number of Christmas presents, yet as I write it is only the second week of September, and schools have only just started their autumn terms. Now that ‘back to school’ deals have come and gone the eyes of the major retailers are already on the next big commercial opportunities.
As believers, do we just jump on the festive bandwagon or do we try to put Christ back into Christmas? It’s certainly true that the season brings lots of opportunities and research by one major Christian organisation shows that attendance at Christmas services is higher than at other times of the year. What can we do in our families to make sure that Christ is at the centre? Here are a few ideas to kick off a conversation about what you could do this year.
Not every church will follow the church calendar, but most households have Advent Calendars for the kids. Do we choose Paw Patrol, Star Wars or Batman or are there other alternatives? Think about buying The Real Advent Calendar, which is based on the nativity story (as well as having chocolate!), and this year a free Christmas Story Activity Book. The website www.realadvent.co.uk gives details of stockists and also discounts offered to churches and schools and School Assembly resources for Key Stages 1-4.
Last year I saw that many households in my street had put up at least one Christmas tree by 1st December. Where my grandsons live in London, trees seemed to go up a lot later. Whenever you put up your tree, it is an opportunity to talk about the origins of the tradition. Did you know that trees were first brought into homes in Germany and were adorned with candles (today it is lights) to symbolise Jesus as the light of the world? Then think about the decorations — cheap ones from the local pound shop can be augmented by your own home-made ones. Following the old tradition of ‘The Jesse Tree’, I have made decorations in a star shape (cut out of old Christmas cards), and on the back there is a picture of something that teaches us more about Jesus. The pictures are: a world (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-5), a snake (Genesis 3:1-10; Romans 5:8), a rainbow (Genesis 6-7; Romans 6:23), stars (Genesis 12:3), a lamb (Genesis 22:1-13; John 1:29), a shepherd’s crook (Psalm 23:1; John 10:11), a tree stump (Isaiah 11:1-5, John 1:14), the cross (Isaiah 53; John 10:15), Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7), an angel (Luke 2:14) and a single star (Matthew 2:10; Revelation 22:16). I’m sure you can think of others to include. This could be linked with family Bible time where you put one or two of these decorations on your tree each day in the run-up to Christmas and base your Bible time around those verses.
Some people dislike these as being biblically inaccurate, but you can work around that. Buying a wooden nativity set is a good way of introducing the story of the birth of Jesus to the toddler age group. Perhaps donating one to your local toddler group or nursery school is a good way of extending these ideas as outreach. There is even an unofficial lego-type nativity set from Cobi available to purchase (at great expense – think about it as an investment!) over the internet. Making nativity characters from cardboard rolls can interest little ones, and they will be happy to display their handiwork in the home.
In some areas, there may be a ‘real nativity’ put on by a church or an animal charity — look out for these. The first nativity scene is supposed to have been the brainchild of Francis of Assisi who wanted to use it to teach his parishioners about the incarnation.
Some people ‘go to town’ on this one, having theme colours or themed ornaments on their trees, but for the rest of us we probably bring the same ones out year after year, and for many children, this holds special memories. There is plenty to talk about here, as many of the decorations are based on the Christianisation of pagan symbols from pre-Christian Britain. For example, the greenery that used to be brought into homes to ward off evil became symbols of new life won by Christ. The holly is a symbol of the crown of thorns (the spikes) and the red berries of Jesus’ shed blood.
These are very popular, and the lovely thick ‘church candles’ are easy to buy around Christmastime. It is simple to put a band of wrapping paper or lace around the middle of the candle and then to put a thinner band over that one with names of Jesus, perhaps using the ‘I am’ sayings on each candle.
Perhaps because of e-cards, we may not receive so many in the post as we used to, but each one gives us something to talk about. Maybe a quiz can be made of looking at the cards – who can spot something on the card that is about Jesus? If there is a nativity scene – is it accurate? Even with the more secular cards, there is the story to tell of St. Nicholas when we see Santa on a card. Even a deer reminds us of God’s world (and the RSPCA was set up by a group of evangelical Christians all those years ago). Each card reminds us to pray for the sender.
Thinking of others
Perhaps your family has been involved in the Samaritan’s Purse Shoe Box appeal. This gives an open door to share something of the lives of children in other parts of the world, and perhaps to pray for them.
Well, this age group has to be more of a challenge! Think of the internet. Some evangelists will put a Christmas video on YouTube (perhaps Glen Scrivener or Roger Carswell) and some churches might too. Carey Baptist Church in Reading often does a ‘take’ on the most popular Christmas TV ad from the big retailers like John Lewis. Websites of some of the Christian publishers, such as The Good Book Company and 10ofthose.com will almost certainly have prepared a Christmas message. Something to look at and something to talk about.
Well, I’ve run out of space, but I’m sure that there are ideas that you have too. Let’s keep Christ in Christmas in our families this year.