The God of festivals
God loves celebrations, festivals and feasts. In the Old Testament God proscribes seven annual feasts for the Israelites:
- unleavened bread
- weeks (pentacost)
- Day of Atonement
This is in addition to the New Moon feasts, Sabbath year feasts and Jubilee feasts. Indeed part of their tithe was a saving to celebrate these occasions (funny how Pastors don’t mention that part!). God loves celebrations as it’s a reminder of His goodness and faithfulness to us in the past and it’s a taster of the heavenly wedding banquet to come.
As Christians who are like our perfect Father, we should also be a people of celebration. However, Christmas has been taken by society and changed into a consumerist beast.
As a parent I want my children to experience a godly celebration but I don’t want them to get sucked into a selfish mindset and miss the grace that’s available to them.
Here are some ideas which I hope will bless you and your family and enable you to redeem this celebration and put Christ back into Christmas.
We never wanted to lie to our children about Santa as they may then think we were lying about other aspects of Christmas or Christianity. However, we also didn’t want them to miss out on this aspect. So how do we redeem this?
On Christmas Eve we read them the story about St Nicholas about how he gave his money to help the poor (here’s the Amazon link to the book we use but it’s out of print and the prices quoted are just silly). After reading about it we then do the same as St Nicholas. We put some money in envelopes†, one for each child and then ask the children to ask the Father to tell us which house number to deliver to and what message he would like to say. We then go out together and post them and run away giggling.
In addition, we still do stockings at home. Our children also get to pretend to be St Nicholas to us. So I give them the presents for my wife’s stocking and they get to wear a beard and put them in her stocking. She then goes into her room feigning surprise – “who has put presents in my stocking?” and the children giggle. We then repeat this but this time she gives them presents to put in my stocking.
We then tell them that we will return the favour when they are sleeping. “Will you wear the beard, daddy?” “Of course” I reply winking.
Who’s birthday is it?
It’s so easy in the excitement of giving and receiving presents that we forget whose birthday it actually is! So two things that we do to help. The first is that just like at any other birthday we have a cake and we sing happy birthday to Jesus.
As is normal on a birthday, we give presents and tell the recipient how much we love and appreciate him. But this time it is Christ’s birthday, so we “give gifts to the Lord!” After a time of prayer and praise, we take turns to bring our presents to Jesus. It may be a new song, a newly written poem, a personal Scripture, a drawing, painting, or performance of a new drama. One time a group got together and bought a table-tennis table for the rest of the community. They figured God would delight in seeing the enjoyment their brothers and sisters got from it! All of us choose the most personal way we can of expressing our great love for Jesus and our joy at being able to celebrate His birthday.
So typically the children make some craft or put on a show. I often write a song or poem and my wife creates something beautiful. It’s a great opportunity to ensure Jesus takes centre stage.
Personally I love the advent candle that has the names of Jesus on – that we burn at dinner and talk about. However I saw this picture and thought it was fab:
Alternatively, we just prepare a Christmas hamper for a local needy family and deliver it to the recipients. We have an excellent local charity called Besom, who allow us to actually deliver the hampers. This is so important as I want the children to experience the joy of giving and meeting people whom something we take for granted means so much.
I want to ensure that my children aren’t insulated from the world around them – they need to experience first hand those who have less to balance out media which shows those who have more and fuels the spirit of covetous. To quote one of them after a visit, “why don’t they have any carpet in their house daddy?” – such a precious question to talk about how much we have.
Waifs and strays
Usually we pick up those who are on their own and invite them to stay over Christmas Eve and share Christmas with us. Jesus’ birth brought in all sorts (shepherd’s renowned for their lies and Pagan astrologers) and Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt. God is the friend of the widow, orphan and the foreigner (eg Dt 10:18
) and so our celebrations should, just like in the OT, welcome those:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Giving starts young
It’s easy to think that our children need to be older until they can give gifts – or that we buy it for them to give to their siblings. But to quote King David “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
(2 Sam 24:24
We want our children to experience to cost and joy of giving. So they might make something or, a common idea in our family, is to give a token that says something they might do for the other. Such as one of their chores around the home (eg laying the table or washing up) or a game or treat that might do (eg take them to the park to play soccer or play a board game with them for 30 minutes).
We have a budget that we won’t exceed (if you’re interested it’s £10 for all of their stocking and £30 for all of their other gifts). For many years we spent a silly amount of money on stuff that didn’t really bring happiness. Once we brought in the budget it not only simplified this Festival and removed the covetousness, it also forced us to be creative and thoughtful with our budget (See the tokens idea above). We let our children know this budget – so when they ask for outrageous things we can simply say that it’s outside our budget but we can give you the £30 cash towards it and you can save up. This instils the concept of saving and working for reward. Though often the children realise that just having cash won’t be as much fun.
This last idea we’ve just started. Often our children would compile lists of what they want. But we have found that these are driven by fads, ads and wants. So we experimented with asking them not to make lists. This does two things. First it forces us to think and listen and ask ourselves what would bless them. It’s so easy to just throw money but not thought. Secondly, we get to help our children experience a taste of our heavenly Father who knows us intimately and gives us good gifts. They learn to trust that we love them and know them well enough to choose things that will match the way God has made them (eg one year I bought my eldest son some wood and nails as God has given him such a practical gifting – he then used this to make a skateboard ramp).
I hope that these ideas help you out – if you have any more ideas then please do share them in the comments below to bless other parents. May you experience God’s love during this season.
† We go for £50 in each envelope as we want people to experience a taster of the lavishness and the overwhelming grace available to us through Jesus and also so the children see that we give away to others more than we spend on each of them.
*Please note that I am an Amazon affiliate which means I receive a small commission if you buy a book after using my link. This helps me offset the costs of publishing. It doesn’t influence my recommendations of the books I recommend though.