We’re in the thick of the Christmas season, well, the secular Christmas season. We all know the Christmas season doesn’t start until after Christmas, right?
That was a little obnoxious, but as Christians, some of us might be tempted to think we stand above the “secular” Christmas. Like, “Ugh, you buy your kids Christmas presents? That is so pre-conversion. My kids donate to this charity, you’ve probably never heard of it.”
Look, I get that many in the world take Christmas as an opportunity to worship the golden calf of consumerism, to place Santa before the savior, and focus more on presents than prayer, and I don’t want to condone that. The focus of this time should be Jesus. As someone who grew up in a home that wasn’t exactly all about Jesus, though, I have to wonder if in order to be authentic Christians we have to forsake the secular Christmas all together. Can we find ways to lead our children to Jesus through what might be considered “worldly” traditions?
Keeping that in mind, here are five ways we can sanctify the season in our families:
1. Santa: The Generous Saint
How can we go through the season without Santa? He is, after all, the guy who brings the gifts, right? Do I have to tell my kids not to be excited to see Santa or send him their Christmas list? Does every mention of Santa have to be quelled with a lecture about how Christmas isn’t about gifts? How about instead of making Santa the bad guy, or the judge of what list we are on, we take the opportunity to tell the story of St. Nicholas? I bet kids would love to hear about how he defended the truth of the faith and about his generosity and selflessness. Celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, encourage kids to be grateful and, take opportunities as a family to show generosity in a special way.
2. Get the Elf Off the Shelf…and Give Him a Rosary
The Elf on the shelf can get a bum wrap. I mean, who want’s one of Santa’s little elves making a mess all over the house and judging everyone all day? Don’t we want kids focused on Jesus, not some mischievous elf? Sure, but that doesn’t mean we have to scrap the elf all together, especially if all of your children’s friends have one. Why not use the elf to show ways to prepare for the coming of Jesus like we all should? Place the elf kneeling at the nativity, lighting the advent wreath, reading scripture, or praying the rosary. Have some fun, and show your kids that even Santa’s helpers know that Christmas is about Jesus.
3. The Chocolate Calendar
What kid doesn’t like an excuse to eat chocolate every day? Why not join the chocolate calendar with a Jesse Tree, a daily advent prayer, or lighting the advent wreath? Schedule a time every day to pray together and eat some chocolate. Hey, maybe the Pavlovian association will pay off some day, right?
4. Christmas Stories and Specials
The Christmas stories will be on the shelves and on TV non stop for a few weeks. Why not choose a few to read and watch with the kids? They will be paying attention to these stories that they only hear during this season, so choose a few to focus on. Talk about the importance of treating others with dignity when you watch Rudolph. Learn generosity and the importance of community as you turn the pages of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. Struggle along side Charlie Brown to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Those little lessons will stand the test of time.
5. For Goodness Sake, Get the Kids Some Toys!
For a kid, life doesn’t get much better than a new toy. And really, what is wrong with that? Children are innocent. They take joy in play, they learn in it. That’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s what God made them to do. Why wouldn’t we take this chance to give them that gift? You don’t have to feed greed or selfishness. Get them something small, educational, something that doesn’t cost much, something you can share with them. Take the opportunity, as Pope Francis said, to play and waste time with your kids.
Each family will celebrate Christmas in different ways, but when all is said and done, I think we all want our kids to experience and understand the immense love of God and the mystery of the Incarnation during the Advent and Christmas seasons. However, if your young children are more excited about presents under the tree than going to Mass on Christmas morning, that doesn’t mean you’re not focused enough on Jesus this Christmas; it means they’re kids. Don’t worry about teaching them profound theological truths just yet. Worry about teaching them joy, even if it’s in the form of a present. Teach them about anticipation and hope, even if it’s just the new location of the elf that they’re looking forward to. Teach them peace, even if that means simply cuddling up with some hot cocoa and a Christmas movie.
One day, sooner than we think, they’ll move beyond wondering what will be waiting under the tree to wondering what is waiting for them in their lives, and whether or not they should have any hope in what is true, good, and beautiful. I am hoping to teach my children that there is hope in waiting, that their desires and longings can be fulfilled, and they can have peace. For now, that means stockings, sleigh bells, and milk and cookies. Someday, I hope it will be the child in the manger, who died on a cross, and gave them the gift of salvation.
Until then, I’ve got to go move the elf.