Here’s the million-dollar question every conscientious parent asks at Christmas: How can I get my kids (and myself) to focus on the real meaning of Christmas? Well, if you are asking those questions, kudos to you. You’re off to a great start because you can only find answers to questions if you ask the questions.
I’ve lived through 31 Christmases as a mother, so let me give you my thoughts. Here’s what I have found works for me and I’d love to hear from others who have found pretty good answers too. First, I shift my thinking at the beginning of Advent to see the entire month of December as a different and holy time. I used to focus only on Christmas day but really, if you take the whole month to slow down and re shift your focus, this give you more time to talk with your kids about why we prepare for the birth of Christ. The best way to make sure you bring Advent into your home is to put a simple Advent wreath on the kitchen table. Even if no one’s home with you, light the candle appropriate for the week.
Then, I make sure to put a child-friendly crèche where kids can see it. Find a simple wooden nativity scene and put it on the coffee table in the family room and let the kids play with it. As they do, ask them questions like, “I wonder if it was really cold when Mary rode the donkey that night?” or “I wonder if Mary and Joseph were scared as they took off for Bethlehem?” Asking kids questions that pull them into the story trigger their imaginations and they will come up with great answers. Be ready to listen to them and make sure to let them talk. When necessary, give the correct answers after they are finished.
Even with young children, adopt a family at Christmas several weeks before the day. Then, ask each child to go to the store with you and pick out a gift for each family member. They can come home and wrap the gift or you can. Then, deliver the packages together near Christmas day. If you don’t have time for this, a great option is to go through Samaritan’s Purse and give a gift box to a child overseas. They will help you do this.
Do things to make yourself a bit calmer. I know that every mother wants to make the season special for her kids. I battle with this constantly. But remember, our children would rather have fewer cookies, presents, decorations and special dinners and a happy, pleasant mother. Seriously. If you are overspent (in all ways) you will be a miserable person to be around. (I’ve learned this the hard way.) So, during Advent, skip a party or two. Answer emails only once per day. Shut your phone off for an hour and listen to Christmas music. Make only two kinds of Christmas cookies rather than five or- yikes! – buy some. Buy each child one present not four and give yourself a break. And hey- I don’t mean to be Scrooge here, but skip Elf on a Shelf. God changing himself into a person and holing up in a teenager’s womb for 10 months is mystery enough- and the real kind- so you don’ t need to dumb it down. Even for little children. Because they, too, can understand this in an elementary way.
Elf on a shelf is a cute idea and won’t harm kids but it will make your life far too complicated, so give yourself a break. Besides- what if the elf in your house doesn’t give presents that are as nice as the ones he leaves at your neighbor’s and your kids find out?
Friends, Christmas is the gift of all Gifts that was given to us. All of the work has been done. Our job is to simply receive it, enjoy it and celebrate it, not make ourselves crazy. And teaching our children that is the greatest success any of us parents can have this Advent season.