By Cheri Fuller
"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" goes an old familiar Christmas song. An informal survey of moms shows that what grown-ups want is different: it's two more weeks to prepare for Christmas!
For several years, we lived near a big mall, which gave me a new perspective of how crazy the Christmas frenzy is. The mall was decorated to the hilt and opportunities abounded to spend money (money that financial counselors tell us people may not have and will pay off till next Christmas and beyond).
It's inevitable: Christmas is coming. How are we going to spend it? What really matters? What makes lasting Christmas memories? College students were surveyed about their holiday memories and what they remembered best, and not one mentioned presents. That may be hard to imagine when your kids are begging for a new Playstation, a new cell phone, or other electronic toy they saw on TV. But the favorite holiday memories college students rated were: being with grandparents, being with family, decorating the tree, singing carols, and eating a special meal.
In another survey, 15,000 kids around the country were asked, "What makes a happy family?" At the top of the list they didn't answer designer jeans or new video games but DOING THINGS TOGETHER. Doing things together as a family can naturally evolve into traditions and become a way of building continuity and security. Traditions are also part of the glue that holds families together.
Here are some low-stress, low-cost but yield a high return on warm memories:
Reach out. One of our most memorable Christmases was when we invited an international student from a local university to spend the holiday weekend with us. Otherwise, she would have been alone; Zhu Hong jumped at the chance to be in an American home. After ice skating with our kids and helping us make sprinkle cookies on the day she arrived, Zhu Hong sat around the table with us for our Christmas eve meal and then entered right into our family traditions of candlelighting, caroling, opening gifts (including her first Bible), and reading the story of the first Christmas from the book of Matthew together.
Share a Christmas Classic. One of the loveliest and easiest traditions is to put your favorite holiday books in a big basket with festive bow and set it by the Christmas tree or fireplace to be enjoyed by all. Having the basket of Christmas classics close by, you'll be encouraged to sit down and read a story to your children. In our basket I started with an old copy of The Littlest Angel from my childhood, and each year I added a new Christmas book to the basket: A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg, Polar Express by Chris Allsburg, and others. Our kids are grown, but now I'm reading the Christmas books to our grandchildren, and add a new one to the collection each year.
Engage in "Christmas Straw." A great way to encourage kindness in your kids is by starting the tradition of Christmas Straw: collect some straw and put it in a basket by the side of an empty cradle or basket representing a manger. Draw names, and then in the days before Christmas each person does a thoughtful deed each day (without their recipient knowing it), like making his bed, leaving a treat or love note. When the kindness is done, the child (or parent) gets to place a bit of straw in the manger. By Christmas Eve, Baby Jesus (a doll wrapped in blanket) or nativity character has a cradle full of straw on which to lie.
Make a Christmas Photo Album. Our kids always headed for this when they came home from college, and still enjoy looking through it and chuckling at their angel or shepherd costume when they were eight. The album is a special place to keep all of your Christmas keepsake photographs; it doesn't have to be a fancy scrapbooking type. We started ours with a few old pictures of my husband and me under our own childhood trees, our first Christmas as newlyweds, the children's first Christmases, school and church plays, friends and family who joined us for holiday gatherings.
No matter how busy we are or how grownup our kids become, we all spend some time perusing the Christmas album each holiday season. Take a standard or large photo album; cover with a bright holiday fabric. Fill with photos and enjoy year after year!
Keep Christ in Christmas. Look up a few verses on each of the names of Jesus, such as the Light of the World, the Door, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, Savior, Lord, Emmanuel, and read them as a family around the dinner table each evening.
The Santa Letter. Write special letters of appreciation and love to put in each kids stocking. Include little reminders of the past year like how proud you are of progress your child has made or a character quality you've seen developing. Write on holiday paper, enclose in an envelope, and the letter will become one of the favorite stocking stuffers at your house.
Give intangible gifts: like the gift of an open door. Look around and see what new folks on the block are in your neighborhood and invite them for hot cocoa and cookies or to accompany you to a Christmas play or event at church; the gift of encouragement: find someone to compliment or affirm: a waiter in a restaurant, a friend who was thoughtful; or the gift of prayer: take a pocketful of time to pray a special Christmas prayer for your children, spouse, friends, those you care about. Your prayers will make an eternal difference and be a gift that will last far beyond the holiday season.
If you find yourself in a whirlwind, getting stressed or exhausted, take fifteen minutes to take some deep breaths, sip a cup of tea. Reread the Christmas story from Matthew 2 and think on the One whose birthday you're about to celebrate. As you do, you'll find yourself refreshed and ready to enjoy the rest of the season.
Talk about with a friend at Starbucks:
What were your favorite childhood memories of Christmas or your family's holidays to date? What traditions do you want to keep and which ones end up being stressful that you could let go of?
Author Cheri Fuller adapted this column from her books The Mom You're Meant to Be: Loving Your Kids While Leaning on God (free book group guide available on christianbookguides.com) and Christmas Treasures of the Heart. Visit her site, cherifuller.com for free Bible study, inspiration, ideas on praying with kids and more.
(Use only with permission of author.)
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