Turning Christmas traditions into teachable moments

Written by Lizzie Laferton
Published on December 13, 2022

I loved Christmas long before I loved Christ. 

I love candlelight and cozy nights. I love card-making and tree-decorating. I love home-made gingerbread and tables laden with once-a-year treats. I love, love, love giving gifts. I even love wrapping them. 

But now that I love Christ, I do look at all those festive features differently. I still enjoy them. And I’ve come to think of them as good gifts from God. But for my kids, I want more Christ in Christmas.

I want them to be excited about Jesus’ incarnate presence among all the talk of gift-wrapped presents. I want them to be dwelling on the gift we most need and the loving, generous God who “gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). I want them to grow in gratitude and give thanks for the gifts God gives us daily. I want them to be learning to give as Christ gives – humbly, sacrificially, looking to the interest of others (Philippians 2:1-11).

But, at the same time, I don’t want more to do! 

Christmas adds all sorts of tasks to an already-teeming to-do list. So, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the one who is both the greatest gift-giver and the greatest gift, how can we keep Christ central? What’s more, how can we actively disciple our kids in Christmas truths when life is at its busiest?

One answer lies in not trying to do extra, but instead, using the season’s festive features in new and creative ways. We can use the Advent traditions and tasks that we’re already doing to:

• Talk in our household about the grace and generosity of our gift-giving God;

• Teach about his many gifts to us and the gift that is Jesus Christ;

• Train our children in the ways of gratitude, generosity and grace that Christ both models and calls us to.

Here are four familiar features of the festive season and suggestions for how to use them as discipleship tools in your home this Christmas:

1. Gift giving

Gift giving is perhaps the most obvious launch pad to talking about our generous, need-meeting, joy-causing, self-sacrificing God, and what it looks like to give as he does. 

If your kids accompany you as you make Christmas purchases, then pray together before you start and thank God afterwards for what you were able to find. Asking your heavenly Father to give you what he knows you need from that shopping trip teaches children that everything we buy is ultimately an act of his provision. 

Involve your children in giving. This might be choosing toys or other items to give away as donations. It might mean saving pocket money to purchase small presents for family members. Even young children can learn to give sacrificially by making simple gifts such as bookmarks or edible treats that cost them time and effort. 

Giving doesn’t have to mean giving stuff, though. Among the time pressures of Advent, generosity might look like your family committing to pray for someone daily, or inviting someone to spend time with you. Older children can contribute to gifts that meet needs and bring joy by offering to babysit, helping to cook meals for another family, or writing a note of encouragement.

Finally, as you wrap gifts with your children or lay them under the tree, ask them what gift they would give God. What do they think he wants from us and our lives? What a great opportunity to discuss both the gospel of grace and what a life lived loving our Father looks like!

2. Advent calendars

Opening an Advent calendar door represents a repeated daily action that you can capitalize on. Each day, as you open it together, you could:

• Give thanks for things God has given you or done for you.. Even very young children can think of someone they love or something they enjoy that they can thank God for.

• Name someone you will pray for as a family periodically throughout that day.

• Nominate an act of kindness you will all commit to that day – helping someone without being asked to, for example, or sharing a comment or message of encouragement. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these heart-filling, joy-giving, God-exalting practices became something our families committed to do together not just in Advent but all year round?

3. Festive food 

Christmas cuisine represents a wonderful opportunity for acknowledging and imitating the generosity of the one who has given us all the food we enjoy.

If you like to bake, cook or host at Christmas, you could: 

• Start a new family tradition of cooking your particular favorites together, and each time you add an ingredient to the mix, give thanks for something God has given you or done for you. 

• Invite your children to help with the extra food preparation Christmas often entails as an act of sacrifice and service to the family on their part. 

• Bake extra to give away as a gift! 

• Talk together about who in your church family or local community you could invite to share your Christmas day meal with who might otherwise spend the day alone. 

4. Christmas decorations

Perhaps the most obvious act of grace I could extend toward my kids this year would be to stop redistributing the ornaments into a more pleasing arrangement after they have put them on the tree! That act of self-sacrifice aside, there are a number of easy ways we can press our Christmas decorations into service as a witness to the gift that is Jesus.

• Invite the children to choose Bible verses that might feature as part of your decorations. As you put them up, talk as a family about each verse and what it tells us about God.  

• Use letter beads, stamps, or cut-outs to make banners or tree decorations bearing the name ‘Immanuel’ or ‘Christ’ or the titles given to the promised Son in Isaiah 9, discussing with your children their significance as you do. 

• If you have a particular time each evening when candles are lit or Christmas lights are turned on, could you make something of that moment by saying a verse such as John 8:12 together and memorizing it over the course of December?

Use your family’s Christmas traditions

The question I’ll be asking myself this Advent will be: 

“What are we going to do anyway that we could try doing a little differently this Christmas?”

Whatever Christmas looks like in your household, there is probably some family tradition you can build on to point to gospel truths. Even matching family pajamas could be a way to talk about imitating Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2), or the qualities believers are to “put on” (Colossians 3:12-14)!

Christmas is a busy time of year. But busyness needn’t crowd out the reason for the season. And it needn’t be an obstacle to creating a Christ-focused atmosphere in our homes. We can let the trappings we already enjoy point our families to joy found in Jesus. We can let the traditions we love to help grow our family’s love for our generous, need-meeting, joy-giving Lord.

Consider a few extra resources:

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Lizzie Laferton

Lizzie Laferton is the author of several resources for families and churches, including The God of Amazing Gifts: Family Devotions for Advent, There’s a Lion in my Nativity, and The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross Sunday School Lessons. She serves on the women’s ministry team and teaches 7 to 11-years-olds at her church in London, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Read more about Lizzie

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