Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Traditions bring families closer together, create legacy, and can be symbolic. As our family grows and as the kids get older, it's important to Derek and me to establish some family traditions.

Though we each had our own unique family customs growing up (he is from an angel-atop-the-tree family, and I have a star-atop-the-tree background), we've worked to blend the parts of Christmas that we treasure and added a few new ideas to create family memories and traditions for our own little crew.

We want our children to find a sense of awe in Christmas, having it be not only a time of family bonding, but a reminder of the importance of Christ - a celebration of His majesty.

In my experience so far, it has been helpful to start this early - Emma is just over 2 years old, and Bryson is just coming up on 7 months - so we have a few years to add to and change our ideas, as well as work out any kinks before the kids are really old enough to understand.

Coming from a family that sets up an artificial tree each year, (my mom and sister have allergies) it's been a fun experience to drive out to a tree farm and cut our Christmas tree. We make a day of it, and spend way too much time picking out the perfect tree. Many of the tree farms we've been to also have horse-drawn sleigh or hay rides, as well as petting zoos, visits from Santa, and even complimentary candy canes and hot cocoa! Then we haul the tree home and cover it with lights and homemade ornaments. Last year and this year, Emma got to put the star on top of the tree. We decorate it together and reminisce about each ornament and its origin.

If you take time to think about and talk to your children about your family customs and the rituals of Christmas, traditions can be a wonderful way to pass down stories of faith for generations. As you decorate your Christmas tree, remind your kids that an evergreen tree is a symbol of the cross and the everlasting life of Christ.

If you listen to Christmas songs on the radio, talk about the words in the carols and remember the proclamations of rejoicing! When Emma plays with her nativity "window stickies," I have the opportunity to talk to her about how God came down to earth as a baby and lived and died as a man to take away the sins of the world, and as we wrap and give gifts we repeat the story of the three wise men who came to adore the baby Jesus.

I know some other other Christian families will disagree with this, but this year, we started doing Elf on the Shelf. If you're not familiar, the story is that your scout elf comes to see you at the beginning of the Christmas season and returns to the North Pole with Santa on Christmas Eve. Every night, your elf flies back to the North Pole to report the day's activities to Santa.

You find your elf in a new location every morning when your elf returns. There are two rules: you can't touch the elf, and the elf can't move while you're watching. Since we have a busy, active toddler, and a baby who recently became mobile, we've kept our elf out of reach so far to avoid the issue of touching.

Day 1: Elf arrives with snowman pancakes!
Day 2: Resting on the mantle
Day 3: Sitting up on the chandelier
Day 4: Hiding in the Christmas tree
Day 5: Peeking out from the coffee bar

I know that Elf is not for everyone, and if that is you, I completely respect your opinion. We emphasize Jesus in our home at Christmas, but we are not anti-Santa. Personally, I really don't think the concept is worth all the arguments I've seen back and forth from both sides. The reason we do Elf is a chance to teach our children about one of the many gifts given to us by our wonderful God: joy.

Day 6: Hanging from the kitchen cabinets
Day 7: Looking down from the curtain rod
Day 8: Hiding in the plant
Day 9: Elf with the apples
Day 10: Sitting on the lamp shelf

When I see the bright smile on Emma's face as she wakes each morning to find our elf, who she named Flynn, I'm reminded of our Savior, Jesus, who took a break from his very important teaching to spend some time laughing with a group of children. Everything I know about God says that he likes to see his children laugh. So we read Bible stories of the birth of Christ and also get our nightly visit from "Flynn the Elf" who reminds us of the multitude of gifts given to us by God out of love, joy and laughter included.

As I mentioned briefly in the previous paragraph, the other tradition we began December 1st was a Scripture reading each evening together, and a chocolate treat from our little advent calendars, as we count down to Christmas Day. Emma does a pretty good job of sitting still and listening as she waits for her treat. We try to distill each section for her when we finish, whether it is a prophecy about Jesus, the story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, or the angel appearing to Mary. A short Google search will bring up dozens of Bible advent plans, so it's easy to find one that's right for your family.

As fun and memorable as decorating the tree or searching for the elf may be, I cherish our Scripture reading each day above all the others as it helps us all remember the point of the holiday season and redirect our eyes on Him before we go to bed each night.

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