So, bearing in mind the principles of out-celebrating the secular world, praying about our activities, teaching the truths of the Christmas story repetitively with variety and creating gospel-laden traditions, what are some practical things to do with children to steer them towards the real meaning Christmas when they are surrounded by secular commercialism?
Here are a few things we came up with at the Bible study. But before you read on, may I issue the standard health warning that comes with all lists. Do not attempt to do every item on this list in one year. Nor feel guilty if you do none. And so, to the list...
* Make sure you actually read the Christmas story to them!
* Go to a performance of the nativity if there is a good one near you. Or put on a performance at your church. Or put one on at home - act it out, do it with puppets (you can make a pretty good set of nativity story puppets with popsticks, textas and cloth)...
* Emphasise that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birthday. So do some of your own family birthday traditions on Christmas day. A popular one is to have birthday cake on the day...and of course the best time to do this is at breakfast because there is often little opportunity after that!! Cake at breakfast time will surely create a great memory! But if you can't stomach cake for breakfast, it makes a child friendly alternative to pudding if the kids aren't up for that.
* Have a nativity set at home. When the children are young have one that isn't too precious and let the children play with it, act out the story with it and generally engage with it. Our nativity set doesn't have a stable so in the past we have found a cardboard box and made our own - a new one each year - and the quality is gradually improving!
* Look for the nativity scenes set up in shopping centres. Make a point of going and looking at them and talking about them with the children. Be seen in the shops doing this! And send a note of thanks to the manager for including it in the decorations. (Couldn't resist an opportunity to write a letter!)
* Have an advent calendar. There are lots of good ideas popping up at Nicole's blog - she is featuring advent calendars during November. These are good for including daily readings, activities, treats and so on and children LOVE them.
* On advent calendars, if you are a godparent or aunty (or uncle...not sure if any men read this blog!) or grandparent...if you have a special child in your life who is not your son or daughter, make an advent calendar for that child and provide the contents for it every year as your special gift to that child. What a great tradition. How did I think of this idea? Well, I didn't! Our boys' godparents (both boys have the same godparents) did. They gave R the actual calendar with the pockets for his first Christmas and every year they supply the goodies for the pockets. It is a wonderful, wonderful gift. Thanks guys!
* Tap into the great Christmas CDs and DVDs that are available. Have Christmas carols playing in your house and car (the real deal, not Jingle Bells!) Colin Buchanan has a great CD/DVD called "The King of Christmas" and in the Veggie Tales series there are some good Christmas DVDs. I also like their "Easter Carol" DVD which is worth a peek - it goes through the Christmas story at one point, making the point that there would be no Easter without Christmas.
Think about church first, presents second?
Just before opening presents, talk about why we have presents - remembering Jesus birthday and reflecting the gifts the wise men brought. (Always interesting to the think about the gifts of the wise men - gold...something precious, frankincense...incense for worship and myrrh...oil for cleansing used in the embalming process, predicting Jesus death.)
Look at the story of St Nicholas (the origins of that man in the red suit) and observe his emphasis on giving rather than receiving. "The Grinch who Stole Christmas" by Dr Seuss also encourages looking in an outwards direction and thinking about what else is important at Christmas rather than just being greedy for gifts.
* Get the children to make Christmas cards that feature the real meaning of Christmas to give to...their teacher, best friend, grandma, their godparents, someone they know and love, someone you would like them to thank.
What other ideas are there?