Now, I happen to love Santa Claus and the whole imaginative world of the North Pole, especially as presented in The Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen. I also love telling the story of the first St. Nicholas and his generous heart for helping others. But today Santa Claus, and the materialism that has been connected with the jolly fellow, often overshadows the deep and wonderful story of our Christian faith.
While Santa and elves suffice for those seeking a happy secular celebration, for those of us drawn to the Way of Jesus there is a yearning for a faith-filled season that offers a message to the sorrows as well as the joys of our lives. For us, there is no gift greater than the words found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 1, declaring that Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”
Here are some ideas for creating an Advent-Christmas season that embraces the gift of God’s presence in Jesus and reminds us of the amazing story of Jesus’ birth:
- During the Advent season, take time with each of your children alone to do something they love to do. Play a board game they love, watch a TV show they love (even if you can’t stand it), go for a hot chocolate together, or play Barbie dolls or Matchbox cars. Make this one-on-one time with each child—something that is special just for them. This works with adult children, too!
- Brainstorm a list of words that you connect with Advent-Christmas. Write each word on a piece of paper and put all the pieces into a jar. Each day, pull out one word and chat about it with your family, sharing what it means for you and how it connects with waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Or put 24 names used to describe Jesus in the jar and do the same: Light, Word, Way, Prophet, God’s Son, Teacher, Friend… (use the Advent Unwrapped Activity Sheet: Names for Jesus to help you).
- As you put up the nativity scene, retell the story of Jesus’ birth. Don’t put the baby in the scene until Christmas Eve. You can even make a game of hiding the baby and needing to find him. You might read together Unwrapping the Christmas Crèche by Lisa Filinn and Barbara Younger (Abingdon 2005) or Baby Jesus Is Missing! by Dixie Phillips (Guardian Angel 2009)
- Create a heart out of fabric or paper that offers a special faith message from your own heart, concluding with “God loves you and so do I!” and tuck it in the toe of each person’s Christmas stocking.
- Talk about those who were there on that first Christmas. Each Advent week, pick one character to discuss at dinnertime. For example: Imagine what it like to be a shepherd. What would the shepherds do each day? What would they pray for each day? Retell their part in the story. How would it have felt to suddenly have dozens of angels appear in the sky? What would the shepherds have talked about on the way home? Do you think they ever met Jesus again? Use the Advent Unwrapped Story and Activity Cards to help you.
- On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, take time to read the Christmas story together either from the Bible or a storybook. Great versions include Mary’s Treasure Box by Carolyn Walz Kramlich (Thomas Nelson 1998; you could create a special box containing the items in Mary’s box to use alongside the story), The Last Straw by Fredrick H. Thury (Charlesbridge 2009), or Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate (G.P. Putnam 1988). See the Christmas Gift Books list for other ideas.
- Why not read the story of Jesus’ birth from different books on each of the 12 Days of Christmas (December 25 to January 6)? Light a candle welcoming Jesus, read the story, and then share a prayer of thanks and concerns.
- On Christmas Day, invite your family members one by one to a quiet spot to thank them for who they are in your life. Focus more on their qualities that you cherish than on things they do for you.
- Around the Christmas dinner table, place a candle in front of each person. At the beginning of the meal, light the candles one at a time and have everyone say, “(Name), you are a gift to us!” End by lighting a candle for Jesus, saying, “Jesus, you are a gift to us!”
- Hold your own Christmas candlelight worship. You’ll need seven candles of different colours, a Bible, and a hymnbook or Christmas carol sheet. Sing without accompaniment.
Greeting: We gather to welcome the birth of Jesus, who is the Light of the World.
(Light first candle.)
Scripture: Luke 1:26‒31
Sing: “Joy to the World” (1 verse)
(Light second candle.)
Scripture: Matthew 1:18‒25
Sing: “O Come, All Ye Faithful” (1 verse)
(Light third candle.)
Scripture: Luke 2:1‒5
Sing: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (1 verse)
(Light fourth candle.)
Scripture: Luke 2:6‒7
Sing: “Away in a Manger” (1 verse)
(Light fifth candle.)
Scripture: Luke 8‒20
Sing: “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (1 verse)
(Light sixth candle.)
Scripture: Revelation 21:1‒6
Prayer: Hold in prayer your loved ones, those living and those gone before. Give thanks and offer concerns. Where might hope and compassion be needed this year?
(Light seventh candle.)
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2b, 6
Sing: “Silent Night, Holy Night” (1 verse)
Blessing: May the love born in Jesus be carried in my heart to family, friends, and strangers today. May I reflect to others that God is with us! Amen.
- What are other faiths and cultures celebrating right now? Learn about the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah; the African-American festival of Kwanzaa; Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights; the Muslim celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday known as Mawlid an-Nabi; or the Winter Solstice celebrations in the northern hemisphere and the Summer Solstice celebrations in the southern hemisphere. Learning about the value placed in the celebrations of other cultures and faiths helps us value our own.
—Susan Lukey is minister at High River United Church in High River, AB.