Last night, the First Presidency Christmas devotional, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were reminded about the importance of remembering the Reason for the Season — to focus on the Savior, Jesus Christ, and on His love, His life, and His example.
The Relief Society message in my ward yesterday was along these lines. The teacher quoted from Jeffrey R. Holland, who said the following:
Maybe the purchasing and the making and the wrapping and the decorating—those delightfully generous and important expressions of our love at Christmas—should be separated, if only slightly, from the more quiet, personal moments when we consider the meaning of the Baby (and his birth) who prompts the giving of such gifts.
What do you do to help create moments like this at Christmastime? What traditions do you have that help you focus on the Savior during this season?
What a great site you’ve got here. I loved this post about keepin Christ in Christmas.
I have recently created a new site called “AboutTheMormons.com” on which members who don’t have their own personal blog can post their testimonies and others can ask questions to the members themselves.
I was wondering if I could get any promotion on your site either through a post or by adding me to your link library. Any help in spreading the word about this site would be great. Thanks and good luck in everything!
One tradition my parents started when I was young (and had actually received from someone else) is the Jesus stocking.
On Christmas Eve, after we have reenacted the Nativity, we get out the Jesus stocking. We all quietly think of a gift we would like to give to Jesus in the coming year, and then we write it down on slips of paper (privately) and put them in the stocking. Because we keep the gifts and never throw them away, we have a chance to look at the previous year’s gift, as well as years’ past (our own personal gifts). Even the little children who cannot write are involved and an adult will write down their gift for them. I love this tradition because it brings everything into focus –why we even celebrate the birth of our Savior. The miracle of His birth is superceded by His mission, and all He asks of us is to follow Him. Improving ourselves through these yearly gifts is one way we can do this. This is why the Jesus stocking hangs in our home at Christmastime, too!
One of the things we do is have a special dinner on Christmas Eve. We have a tall candle in the center of the table that represents Christ and we read the “I am the light of the world” scripture. Each family member then reads another “light” scripture as they light their own small candle, symbolizing how Christ is the source of light for each of us. We then eat by candlelight.
It’s a tangible way to help focus the children on the Savior and our reliance on Him for everything.
We’re still trying to find a way to incorporate service into our Christmas traditions.
We always re-enact the Nativity as well. We typically do some sort of service project that lasts throughout the month, so we can open and focus conversations on the Savior and our responsibility to take care of each other.
We’ve gotten away from Sub 4 Santa, and typically make meals for the Food and Care Coalition. Making sack lunches is easy and they give them out to patrons in the morning so they’ve got a lunch to eat during the day. Working in our kitchen together has given us a great chance to talk more about why we even have Christmas in the first place. Now the trick is always to keep it up throughout the year!
From my first Christmas as a mom, I’ve searched for traditions, decorations, even foods, that would help us remember the Savior throughout the Christmas season. Putting together this list made me realize how much we’ve collected in 15 years. Thanks for asking.
Here’s what we have/do:
–a nativity advent calendar
–an advent wreath, idea borrowed from a Lutheran friend (with candles, like what Elder Uchtdorf described)
–a Christmas tree ornament that opens up. That’s where we keep our gifts to Jesus like Cheryl’s stocking above.
–all month our family scripture time centers around Jesus, his birth, prophecies, who he is, what he did for us
–probably at least half our tree decorations relate to the real meaning: little sculptured lambs, tiny olive wood nativities, crystal Christmas stars, small wooden angels
–We have a great collection of Christmas books, many with different perspectives on the nativity story and others with relevant themes: kindness, service, friendship
–nativity sets: an olive wood one that’s mine, and two others for kids to play with. The play ones are detailed and realistic and get lots of use all month.
–on Christmas Eve, along with the usual reading of Luke 2 and singing of hymns (accompanied by dress-up pageantry when my kids were younger), we have what we call a “Bethlehem dinner.” It includes things Mary and Joseph might have eaten: flat bread, cheese, goat’s milk, olives, dates, grapes, figs, nuts, and a lentil-vegetable stew.
–our Christmas dinner is fish. Since some of the kids have decided not to like fish, we’ve added in alternatives so everyone can enjoy Christmas dinner. 🙂
–this year after the broadcast my 10 yo son gave a FHE lesson from the Friend and got us thinking of some ways we can serve. We decided to give secret gifts to ward members that might need to feel loved, and we’re being secret helpers for the person in our own family whose name we drew for the gift exchange.
For better or worse, I’m not one for traditions. I find out more and more as I grow up.
One that’s been as fixed as anything (which is to say erratic) has been reading Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol, in Prose” at the beginning of “the holiday season.” I’ve read it more than any other book. I was able to share it with my daughter Stella who’s now 5. When I got about halfway through this part she looked up and asked “Aaah Daaady are you really crying? Oooh, it’s OK.”
It’s didactic as can be, so it’s not even cool to admit reading it, let alone swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. But what can you do?
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as though they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And, therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
And speaking of falling for it. I read a good deal, but this has been and will be always one of my favorite passages in literature:
“Business!” cried the Ghost wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
What does that do for me? Well, to explain it might just wreck the already preachy poetry of it.
However, the bit where the Ghost of Christmas past takes him to his bording school sums the story up for me. Scrooge gets all psyched up seeing the ‘people’ –Ali Baba, Valentine, Friday, and Robinson Crusoe–with whom he’d spent that Christmas. It’s palpably pathetic and shows how he became who he was, through the self-perpetuating cycle of offense and neglect that is so often the hallmark of human interaction.
Christ’s business was mankind. And therefore, my business is mankind; compassionate involvement is my business.
And yet I fail. TIme after time, day after day.
That’s why the Ghost of Christmas Past’s warning hits me so close the heart:
“Your reclamation then. Take heed!”
It’s fairly trite among Christians to remind each other that we should keep the spirit of Christmas all year. We still don’t.
But as the narrator tells us of Scrooge on Christmas morning, “The time before him was his to make amends in.”
Last year my husband and I bought a nativity just for the children (2 and 4). We allow them to play with it but they have to treat it with respect. We try to talk to them about it while they are playing with it so they understand why we have it. We also have family home evenings on the reason for the season each Monday in December to try and teach about Jesus and why we celebrate Christmas. I have also found that many opportunites come up as teaching moments if I am looking for them.
My friend just showed me a really neat idea for helping kids to learn to follow the example of Christ over the holidays. She has a little manger in their family room and next to it is a bowl filled with pieces of straw. Each week her children draw names, and that week they need to do small acts of Christ-like service and kindness for their sibling whose name they drew. At the end of the month, the manger is full of straw, prepared to receive baby Jesus.
Give. I try to give more and not think about any receiving. There isn’t anything that I really need that I don’t already have so I try to give what I do have to others. My R.S. came up with this great little gift bag that they gave to all of us. You draw a strip of paper out each day till Christmas. On the paper it has things that don’t cost much, if anything at all, and are fairly quick to do.
stop and play with a child for 15 minutes (uninterrupted),
stop and say a prayer of gratitude,
send a thank you card to someone who has done something nice for you,
choose to forgive someone for something they have done,
read the Christmas message in the Ensign,
Find a way to wish your V.T. sisters a Merry Christmas…
and on and on. I was thinking to take it one step further and write about each thing that I did, and I feelings about it. The things inside the bag are ways we can show our love and gratitude for Christ throughout this season. They are very small but become addicting to do. I find myself wanting to take more than one paper out at at time.
We do a Christmas Eve flashlight show. We tape pictures of the Savior on our wall and turn the lights off. Each member of our family has a flashlight which we all shine on picture after picture depicting the Savior’s life. When the picture is lit we tell the story behind it or sing a hymn that comes to mind. It is such a cozy way for us to remember the real reason we celebrate.
We also do secret elves. Each year we prayerfully pick a family or individual to be secret elves to. We purchase a 12 piece Nativity set and wrap each piece individually. We then secretly deliver these pieces as the 12 days of Christmas. We save the baby Jesus for the last delivery (on Christmas day) and we give it in person. We have made many wonderful connections with people as we’ve done this. We’ve come up with a theme song, secret elf code for two-way radios, agent names, etc… It’s been such a fun thing for all of us.
We have a phone caroling party every year around Christmas. We invite several families over to our home, share a story, pick several Christmas songs to practice, then we invite people to think of someone who would enjoy hearing a song. As the requests come in we call the individuals on the phone and sing to them. We all stay warm and can carol to many more people this way. We finish the evening with hot chocolate and treats. So many people have commented on how much they loved their phone carols.
I’m hoping my children are old enough to start this tradition… I’d really like our stockings to be filled with notes of love and appreciation from each other. I’m going to have cards and pens available so we can write the things we love about each other on notes and stuff them in the stockings. Then on Christmas morning we will read them as part our gifts.
We share many of the traditions you have already mentioned. It was fun to read them all!
We have a nightly Christmas story throughout the month of December. We read it by Christmas tree light. We also read scriptures that pertain to the life of the Savior, and we sing a Christmas hymn or Primary song. I made special books containing those songs so they would be readily available, and we use them every year. I think the kids could say the scriptures and even the stories by heart now, but they still like to hear them. (One year my sister tried to introduce new stories, but my children said no thank you.) We have an advent calendar that says “Kiss away 24 days ’til Christmas”, and they get to eat their chocolate kiss while we read the story.
Under the Christmas tree is a wooden manger with a little bag of straw beneath it. Each time a person in our family does something to quietly serve another, they are invited to put a straw in the manger to add “comfort” to the Savior. It’s fun to see the pile of straw building and know what it represents.
One year I was asked to give a talk particularly for children in our Christmas Sacrament meeting program. I wrote a story called “The Empty Birthday Box”, and I made flannel board pictures to go with it. The story is about a boy who is concerned that we only give gifts to each other on Christmas, but never to Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate. His mother suggests that he fill a small box with slips of paper containing ideas for service and choose one each day to accomplish in the week leading up to Christmas. Then she suggests that he put the empty birthday box under the Christmas tree for Jesus. We’ve made birthday boxes for the kids and encouraged them to have them empty for Christmas Eve. When I was in the Primary Presidency, we also did that for a Sharing Time early in December.
Following the same theme but with a different angle, another year we had a Birthday Box under the Christmas tree. I made up slips of paper that read, “My birthday gift to you is ________________________ (fill in blank with a sacrifice for Jesus.) The slips remained anonymous, and on Christmas Eve we opened the box and read the slips of paper to celebrate His birthday.
We generally have a reverent little birthday party for Jesus on April 6th. I make a birthday cake, and we have a simple Jewish meal on Christmas Eve, and we talk about how appropriate it is that Jesus was born in the spring of the year, not on a winter day.
We also have a birthday cake for Joseph Smith on December 23rd, and we discuss with wonder and awe the things he contributed to our world.
We have done the “Adopt a Family” thing, also, and that has been a special experience every year we’ve done it. We take the gifts to the door and run and hide.
We invite my parents, who are alone now, to spend the night on Christmas Eve. I sew or buy pajamas that match for everyone every year, and those are given to them on Christmas Eve. We take a family pajama picture. The children have a brother/sister gift exchange, and they get to open that one present on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we make pizzelles and peppernuts and other Italian cookies. And oh! this is my favorite tradition of all, probably because my dad started it of his own free will. He was raised a Catholic, but he was “excommunicated”, in a sense, when he married a Mormon girl. He was told the Catholic Church would not recognize his marriage to my mother. He has some pretty bitter feelings about organized religion, but he still loves and believes in a Heavenly Father. We never read scriptures or prayed together when I was a child, but one year, he gathered us together on Christmas Eve and read the Christmas story from the Bible to us. He did it again the next year, and a tradition was born! I usually bawl through the whole thing. The best gift in the world to me is hearing my father humbly reading the beautiful words from Luke. After he reads the scripture, he reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, which is also a tradition we love.
I have a bag of costumes we use to re-enact the Christmas story each year, and we like to see how the costumes “get smaller”. Sometimes we videotape it. I also have a nativity set made from stuffed animals and dolls, and the little kids are allowed and encouraged to play with it.
On Christmas morning, we sit in a circle, and gifts are opened one at a time while everyone watches. Boy, that took a long time when we had thirteen people in the house! But it stretches out the joy just that much longer. Even though the gift-giving is a commercial thing, it always seems to have a spiritual feel to it which we all notice and enjoy.