Haddie riding the donkey on Bubba's head. LOL
Bribing them with puffs and yogurt drops.. works every time.. lol
Grab a cup of coffee for this, or in my case a Spark or some apple cider, because I started typing and then just couldn't stop! All of the things you might like about this post are not from me but from women a few steps ahead of me but I wanted to pass them on because they were like hearing little treasures last week in this season! This is all coming from a believer in Christ's perspective on Christmas.
Last Friday I went to one of our church's ministries events for young moms called "The Nest." If you live in Fort Worth or Dallas, you should seriously check it out! It is a one time event each month for mamas focusing on biblical parenting and equipping moms to train up their children in the way of the Lord and follow Christ. I had no idea what to expect when I signed up to go last Friday but I was blown away! I was so encouraged and felt like I learned such practical tips from mothers who have children older than me and who are wiser than me and so I wanted to share them all with you!
So when I had no idea what to expect, I mean I seriously didn't know if we were eating, talking, playing games, making crafts, knitting, going somewhere, or doing bible study. LOL I literally just dropped off my babies at 10 and showed up in the correct room ready to connect with some other mamas of young ones. We were put into group tables and then they had three older women in our church, (one with grown kids, one with kids in college, and one with high schoolers) up on stage and the topic was Christmas. Over the next hour and a half these women answered questions from four categories; traditions, sharing the story of Christ, boundaries and expectations, and home.
At first, I was like... oh my.. we are going to be here for an hour and a half listening to these ladies Christmas traditions, but then by 10 minutes in, I grabbed a pen and was jotting notes down as fast as I could! I mean... I'm so THANKFUL I had the opportunity to sit in that room last Friday and learn from these ladies because they totally changed the way that I (and Seth would agree) would like to lead our home at Christmas time for my children.
With Haddie only being 2 1/2, we have yet to have a child with a real understanding of Christmas and have not really even tried to explain it to her. Louie just celebrated his birthday this past weekend and while he was opening presents, we told her she would be getting some at Christmas, or that she could ask for something at Christmas, but she still keeps thinking it is her birthday. lol She sees the Christmas lights, the Christmas tree, and the manger but we have yet to explain all the reasons we do it, except that it's Christmas and Jesus's birthday. We read the nativity story in her books and talk about baby Jesus but how am I supposed to relate that to the tree and the lights and the presents for a 2 year old? The most embarrassing thing so far is probably when Seth, Haddie and I turned on Elf one night and when Santa came on the TV she goes, "Hey! That guys on my jammies!" since she was wearing her santa and snowman jammies. LOL
All that to say, I have been rolling with the punches. We put up the tree, we hung some garland, bought some jammie's but that has been all. I was stopped in my tracks Friday at all that the Lord put on my heart for my kids and family during this season, so here we go.
Don't mind that baby Jesus got soaking wet during these photos!
The girl facilitating the questions asked the ladies some of their favorite Christmas traditions. One of the ladies first asked us back, "Think back to what you remember most about your Christmas traditions?" Most of the time we remember a few things we consistently did that we loved but we also remember the atmosphere of Christmas most. Was it stressful, rushed, or calm, peaceful? Loud, crazy, or quiet and lazy? And do we remember what we got each year or do you remember the time and things you did with your family and loved ones? They mentioned that rarely did their kids remember the gift they got last year but they remembered that they went caroling, or had a long baking day where they then delivered their treats to neighbors, or that they spent all day putting lights on the house with their dad. I thought this was so true thinking back to my own growing up, and it was such a great reminder of creating the memories and not focusing or putting so much pressure on the temporary gift. Some other great traditions they shared were
-Giving. Most of their children remember the times they went and served and gave back instead of received. One mama gave their children some of their Christmas budget at the beginning of December and they were commissioned to give that money away to someone in need, or however they saw fit, before Christmas. Then on Christmas morning they would all share how they gave their money. How neat to teach your kids about giving on their own, and even sometimes giving anonymously!
-The Nativity. Another mama has what they call the "pagent" every year. She said they use this term loosely but that every year, everyone in the family has to be apart of acting out the Nativity scene. Her kids are grown and they even have 4 grandkids but everyone is something! Even the babies dressed up like animals and shook little tambourines and patted drums for baby Jesus. Everyone else wears bathrobes and are either the shepherds, angels, Mary or Jospeh. While this might be a bit too much for every family, lol, I seriously thought this was a great idea if it was even just for Haddie, Louie and I in our home (and I'm sure I could convince Seth Higgins to join in too!). Haddie loves playing dress up! Why not dress up and act out the greatest gift and story ever told with her! What a better way for her to understand Luke 2 at her age!
-Christmas Lights. Make this a time of talking about Jesus being the light of the world. He has come as a city on a hill, that cannot be hidden. Our lights will shine bright in the darkness because of the gift that he is to those who believe in him! Talk about it in the mornings when we plug our Christmas trees in and when there is a star or angel on top!
-Gingerbread Houses. One of the mamas talked about how when her kids were little they would make gingerbread houses and let their kids pick out their favorite candies to decorate. She used this time to talk about how Jesus has gone and prepared a home for us in heaven, and that it is a beautiful home! That her kids would picture their home in heaven as something special, sweet, filled with fun like a gingerbread house.
-Books. Reading books to our kids about the nativity and Jesus's birth during Christmas. They suggested "Mortimer's Christmas Manger" by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman and "The Advent Book" by Jack and Kathy Stockman. I have not read either of these but I am excited to read both of them to my kids. Another book they mentioned was Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, A Family Celebration of Christmas, by Ann Voskmap. My mom has also read this and said it's so good!
-Birthday Party. Whether is it a Christmas day birthday cake for Jesus, balloons, or breakfast morning pancakes with candles, celebrate Jesus's birthday with your kids! Kids always understand birthdays! We can talk about how Jesus continually gives and gives us gifts on his birthday to show us love!
While none of this things were GROUND BREAKING, they were so practical and great ways to add things to what we are already doing! For me, it was more about my mindset when thinking about traditions and Christmas activities and to remember there is always ways to talk about Christ in each one!
The last thing they talked about regarding traditions was Santa. Seth and I haven't thought too much about Santa with Haddie and Louie because they are still so small but I loved a few things they had to say.
"There is nothing in the bible about Santa. There is nothing that says "to celebrate Santa or to not celebrate" and so that leaves it up to us! St. Nick was a real man who had a huge heart for giving and especially loved children. He is a great model for being someone who is generous and teaches us about giving because of his strong faith. The thing we need to be cautious about, as believers, is making sure that Christmas is not about Santa but about Jesus. Santa is a PART of Christmas and teaches us about the joy of giving, but God has given us the greatest gift already with his son Jesus. What we choose to do with Santa and teach about him is up to each couple and family but I loved the reminder to continually make Christmas about Jesus, and keep Santa in the same category as Elsa, Spiderman, or Mickey Mouse, not squelching imagination but not lying either. (This was a good comparison for me mentally!) Having my kids visit Santa and receive a gift from Santa is not unchristian or Christian but remembering that Santa's giving is ultimately modeling God's continually giving to us."
The other things these ladies said, (that I had never really thought about), was not to make Santa a behavioral manager. "If you are good, you will get.." or "If you are bad, you won't get..." When we do this we take away a HUGE meaning of Christmas. God gave us Jesus as a FREE GIFT when we did not DESERVE anything! He gave us his son Jesus out of pure love and (as believers) gives us daily grace, not by anything we CAN or COULD of done, but only by what he has already accomplished on the cross. Christmas is not something to be celebrated because of our behavior. Good or bad, (and Romans 6:23 says "for ALL have sinned") we are all given the gift of free life through Jesus and we are all in need of a Savior.
"Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"
The next category these ladies talked about was Sharing the Story of Christ.
The main thing I took away from this was Luke 2:19 which says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Mary took time to enjoy and bask in the joy that the Lord had given her in her children, and ultimately Jesus. Mary took time to store up mental and emotional "treasures" of this time with her children. Our job as the women role models, wives, and mothers is continually point our lives to Jesus and to model the joy of following Him to others. We are called to lead out with this for our families and our children and daily share with them by our lives what it looks like to follow Christ.
The next category was Boundaries and Expectations.
This topic started out with how many gifts and what kind of gifts do you gift your children with? The ladies all had pretty similar approaches and most of them had some kind of limit for their kids on Christmas. The most popular was something you want, something you need, something you can play with, and something to read. Or want, need and read, along with some stocking stuffers. I really liked this idea to keep it simple and not go TOO overboard with presents as the kids will already receive other gifts from loving family!
The women also encouraged having a big talk with your hubby about everything related to Christmas expecations. You two come from different backgrounds and experiences and will now have to come together on how much money to spend on gifts, how much to decorate the home, how far you will travel and even if you will hang lights up outside! Talking about all of these things upfront will prevent larger problems down the road.
Next they talked about expectations and pressures we get from Christmas parties, visiting family and friends and just the busy time of the season. John 7:38 says "To the one who believes in Me, it is just as the Scripture has said: 'Streams of living water will flow from within him.'" One woman told us, "As believers, we cannot get to the most joyous season of our Saviors birth and have our stream dried up because we overcommit." It is hard to look ahead at our schedules and know what we are capable of and what we are not but also very necessary. They suggested sitting down at the beginning of the month and mapping out your families plan for Christmas so that you and your husband are on the same page. Are you going to a Christmas concert, caroling, serving, work party, small group party, block party, Christmas tree lighting, driving around to look at lights, traveling to see family,... whatever! Get it all out on the calendar so that when something unexpected does come up, you can tell them that you are able or that you have saved that time to spend with your family because you had prioritized family time on the calendar that day. Having scheduled days on and off are wise to not let our streams dry up. They suggested to remember Philippians 2:14, "do everything without grumbling or complaining" and that we should know ourselves and our families well enough to know how much we can and cannot handle. These women also reminded us not to "run in vain" (Phil 2:16) and challenged us to leave the Christmas season feeling renewed and joyful, not exhausted and deprived. Ask yourself, "What leaves you tired and deprived? and be aware of those things."
Lastly in this section, they talked about how to manage expectations with your family and in-laws. Basically if I could boil this down into a paragraph it was to be on the same page as your husband. Talk about what traditions you want to keep from your childhoods and try to incorporate those. As far as visiting family, they said that first and foremost you need to remember Genesis 2:24, "that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." As important as Grandmas and Grandpas are, and great grandma and Uncle Joe, that now as a married couple, you are one flesh and one unit and you come first. Families need to agree to do what is best for their immediate family. For some that is spending Christmas with one sides family every year. For some it is trading off. For some it is celebrating Christmas a week earlier every year at the same time and then spending Christmas in the home. For some it is always letting family come to them and never traveling. One lady said they always spent Christmas morning together as a family, and then at noon family was welcome to come over and visit. Every single person's family situations are different and can be complicated but your marriage and immediate family and what you and your husband agree on should be your first priority.
The last topic was Home.
Something I had never thought about until these women talked about it was hospitality vs entertaining. The bible calls us to be hospitable which means having a home that is warm, kind, or helpful to others. It's about an environment that is warm and welcoming, not about having a perfect home, a perfectly set table or a perfectly decorated mantel. Good mindset for me! Especially when I am in a season of wanting to "finish" off different decorating spaces of my home! It was a good reminder that it is not about what is decorated well or when a place feels "finished" but about the spirit of my home and if I am welcoming people in with warm, kind, and helpful graces.
These women also talked about making the home a place people want to run to. What does it smell like? What music do you keep playing? What familiar things do you put up each year that your kids will love and remind them of Christmas memories? Do you have reminders of Jesus around the home with manger scenes or books for your little ones next to the presents? Have tangible things young kids can touch, feel, and play with!
Lastly, the home cannot be led well by you unless your cup is full and your heart is prepared. We, as the women, can only lead our home well when our hearts are focused on the thing it was created to focus on, and that is Jesus. Meet him every day, ask him for help in this season to make him the focus, and lead with his spirit. It's all about loving him and keeping our eyes fixed on him!
I'll leave you with a story one lady shared near the end. She said that one Christmas when her kids were younger they were driving home from their in-laws a few days after Christmas and were pulling into the driveway and she just felt a sense of heaviness. She saw her Christmas lights in the driveway, walked into her beautifully decorated home with garland and trees, and watched her kids play with their new toys joyfully, but she didn't feel right. She felt as if she had celebrated this Christmas as a pagan, as someone who didn't' know Christ, but just went through the traditions and the motions of the season. She vowed never to do that again, and never to let the busyness and the traditions get away from her that she would forget to remember her Savior and the reason that we celebrate. She then said, "Don't execute Christmas, EXPERIENCE IT!"
I share all this to ENCOURAGE you and not to put you out, frustrate you, or make you feel even more behind in this crazy life where we are all trying to keep up, stop comparing, and where everyday we can feel inadequate and fallen short. I hope we can choose one or two things to concentrate doing WELL this Christmas season as we continue to make Jesus the main focus. Let us remind each other of this reason as we continue our race. After all, he is the only thing worth celebrating! Life is so full because of him!
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels' voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine