So, I was talking to a women's Bible study group about kids and Christmas last week. The questions they gave me were...
What are some helpful ways to explain what Christmas is really about to children?
What are some useful traditions?
What are some ways to steer children towards the real meaning of Christmas when they are surrounded by secular commercialism?
I started out by talking about four principles to consider as we seek to put Jesus' birthday at the centre of our Christmas celebrations:-
1. Determine to out-celebrate those in the secular world
Christmas is great. Catching up with family and friends, the presents, the cards in the mail, the food, the decorations...it's all good. But for those who know and love Christ there is so much more. This is the day we celebrate that God sent His Son to earth "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16b). The presents, the tinsel and the food are great and fun (and wonderful for creating terrific memories for our children and ourselves!) but the first Christmas day was an INCREDIBLE moment in history. We have much to celebrate. Those who know and love Christ should determine to out-celebrate what the consumerist world presents as Christmas. On that very first Christmas God sent us His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That's as big as it gets.
To that end, I would say, especially to fellow introverts, choose which invitations to functions you accept during December with wisdom. This may come as a contradiction having just said, "Head out there and out-celebrate the rest of the world!" But read on. There are plenty of Christmas parties to attend and if you dwell in the southern hemisphere, there are all those "winding up the year" events too. And have you noticed the "We must catch up before Christmas" phenomenon? I smile every time some sweet friend says this to us and then invites us over to dinner during December. And then, except in exceptional circumstances, I usually say, "December is kind of busy for us. But January is really slow. Can we catch up some time in January instead?" I want to save my energy - and the energy of my family - to really make use of this gospel-laden month. Maybe I miss out on a few fun opportunities (and now I will probably never ever receive a single invitation to anything in December, having put this comment out there on the internet) - but December is a really good month to accept invitations thoughtfully and intentionally.
Before we do anything we should pray - pray that our children will truly grasp what Christmas is all about and that they will embrace the gospel. This could be a special prayer project for December. And we should pray about each of our endeavours to steer our children towards the real meaning of Christmas as we plan them and put them into action.
3. Teaching is all about repetition with variety
If you ever wanted to be a teacher you will need to know the single most important technique that lies at the heart of this job. Get your content and then present it to the children in as many different ways as your time and creativity will allow. That's it! December give us a great opportunity to take the content of Christmas - the birth of Jesus - and present that story in as many ways as possible.
But the key is repetition with variety. The repetition is vital because it has been found that if you are trying to convince someone of something new and important, it can take between seven and twenty exposures to that information before it is taken on board. The variety caters for different learning styles (visual, aural, tactile), capabilities (concrete vs abstract thinking for example) and works on different parts of the brain.
So present the Christmas story in as many ways as your time and creativity will allow.
4. Traditions are important
When I think of Christmas, my immediate childhood memories centre on decorating the Christmas tree and house, opening presents on Christmas morning, the food... And I guess I remember these things because there was a tradition built up around of each of them.
So if we can develop traditions with our children that have the gospel "trapped" within them, then in years to come, when they reflect on their own childhood recollections of Christmas, they will have a recollection that is infused with Christ. If they are, we pray, still walking with the Lord, this memory will be a warm encouragement to them. If they have wandered, then this will be a gentle prompt. Christmas traditions infused with Christ are powerful. It is well worth spending some time thinking and praying about, planning carefully and implementing Christ-laden Christmas traditions that can occur every year with all the Christmas joy we can muster.
Next time, some practicalities.