We probably all remember the song, “On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree”. I heard it this past weekend and it got me thinking about what we can be sending our true love, and I’m not talking about our earthly true love.
When we were raising our family my greatest concern at this time of year was how could we, as a family, keep Jesus at the centre of Christmas. I love Christmas music, the decorations, time spent with extended family, the smells of cinnamon and pine, all the traditions, and I found it was easy to get carried away with enjoying the sentiment of Christmas and not focus on the actual meaning of Christmas.
Most years we would try and come up with new creative ways to keep Jesus as our central focus point – the older our children got, the more challenging it became. In this article I want to share some ideas that you can use this Christmas, most of these we have done with our own kids. As we consider gifts that we can give our true love, Jesus, I hope that these ideas stimulate your creative juices.
1. Building a manger
First day of Christmas – consider building a manger for the Christ child. When our children were little my husband Andy built a very rustic manger together with their help. I still have it today. We’ve always placed great value on asking questions and so it was a great time for Andy to connect with our kids by asking them well thought out questions while working on a project together. (check out our small talk for kids questions cards).
When we put the manger out it was completely empty and so we were all encouraged to bring acts of service to one another by doing secret deeds of kindness. Every time we did something thoughtful for each other we would then take some hay and put it in the manger; the idea being that lots of good deeds would provide a comforting bed for Jesus when he was placed there on Christmas morning. It certainly cultivated a kind, servant-hearted and positive atmosphere leading up to Christmas day.
2. Bring some cheer and goodwill
Second day of Christmas – bring some Christmas cheer and goodwill to someone who desperately needs it. I don’t need to tell you that 2021 has been a challenging year for most of us. There may be someone you know who has struggled in lockdown or someone who has lost their job, and your recognition of their situation could bring some much-needed encouragement and support. I remember when Andy had his stroke in 1999, it happened in the middle of November.
He was in the hospital for a month, and then when he came home I was caring for him as he was learning to walk, eat and do life again. At the time we had three toddlers and Christmas was looking pretty grim. Some dear friends of ours, David and Joan Cooper, attended the Otahuhu Salvation Army church at the time and one evening a bus full of Salvation Army Christmas carolers (including David and Joan) arrived on our doorstep, brass instruments in hand, and brought the light and life of Jesus to us – we cried tears of joy, appreciation and thankfulness.
I remember doing this as a child growing up in the UK. We didn’t have brass instruments or necessarily the best singing voices, and we weren’t believers, but we still brought our joy and excitement to others.
3. Bring your servant-hearts
Third day of Christmas – bring your servant-hearts. In April 2008 we lost our daughter in a terrible accident and that year was a year of emotional drought, pain and deep deep sorrow. The thought of being joyful at Christmas was more than our hearts could bear. We couldn’t do our normal Christmas traditions, it was just too hard. Instead, we chose to focus on serving others so that for a day at least we could try and forget our pain. We helped serve Christmas lunch at the Howick Salvation Army to those less fortunate than ourselves, and in doing so our own hearts were healed just a little bit more.
4. Bring your compassion for others and your offerings
Fourth day of Christmas – bring your compassion for others and your offerings. Years ago I had a friend who was a manager at one of the Women’s refuge centres. These were women who had left their homes and their belongings to be free from danger. They had their children, a few suitcases and nothing more. It was an opportunity to remind our children of the ease and abundance of their own lives, and so we encouraged them to make some money and use it to buy gifts/food/treats for those struggling families. Dropping them off to the centre was such an eye-opener and deepened their appreciation of their own lives. (www.womensrefuge.org.nz)
5. Bring your devotion
Fifth day of Christmas – bring your devotion. Whenever I think of the nativity scene it just conjures up devotion for me. I can imagine those weary shepherds gazing adoringly on the Christ child, the wise men being overawed and worshipping the miracle in front of them, and of course, Mary and Joseph absolutely besotted, probably overwhelmed, and marvelling at what God was doing in their midst. This is pure devotion. In order to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, it helps to keep this as the centre point of our homes. Consider purchasing a nativity scene if you don’t already have one, or be creative and have fun making your own.
6. Bring your drama
Sixth day of Christmas – bring your drama. I’m not talking emotional drama, there can be enough of that just by bringing family relatives together ☺. I’m talking drama of the theatrical kind. It was a bit of a tradition to do a skit or play on Christmas day to the extended family. One year we performed the Christmas story from the innkeeper’s perspective. It’s a storybook and so funny and entertaining (Jesus’ Christmas Party on Amazon.com). Another year we took some common television commercials and reproduced them with a nativity twist. It’s a wonderful way to build fun and comradery amongst your family members as you rehearse leading up to the performance.
7. Bring kindness
Seventh day of Christmas – bring kindness. Due to its usage during lockdown, many of us may be fed up hearing, “be kind”. It’s understandable, and yet kindness is one of the fruits of the spirit and so desperately needed in our world today. Consider hosting a family random acts of kindness day, such as making brownies, shortbread, Christmas cookies, wrapping them up in goody bags and enclosing a scripture of love and encouragement, and then doing a neighbourhood gift drop.
8. Bring forgiveness
Eighth day of Christmas – bring forgiveness. As you spend time decorating your Christmas tree it’s a great opportunity to share with your children the reason that Christ came to earth. That He came to earth to be with us, to be reconciled, to walk in relationship with us side by side. Consider sharing your own past struggles with forgiveness, and how forgiving others has been key to living a life of freedom and grace. Our personal stories of vulnerability are key to connecting with your child’s heart in a deeply meaningful way. If appropriate or necessary consider encouraging your child to write a card to someone asking or granting forgiveness.
9. Bring light
Ninth day of Christmas – bring light. Consider having a candlelit reading of the birth of Christ from the Bible or a modern storybook that follows the birth of Jesus. Take it in turns to read paragraphs so that all the family are engaged. The candles are a beautiful metaphor for how Christ is the light of the world, and that as followers of Jesus we are encouraged to shine our light. Finish your story by creating and decorating bookmarks with the scripture from John 8v12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.
10. Bring words of appreciation
Tenth day of Christmas – bring words of appreciation. You’re probably all familiar with the book on Love Languages where Gary Chapman highlights the five love languages, namely words of appreciation/encouragement, acts of service, quality time, gift-giving, and physical touch. While all of these are important in building flourishing relationships I want to focus here on our words.
Scripture has a lot to say about the words we use:
“kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24)
“A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4)
It’s no coincidence that the book of John refers to Jesus Himself as the ‘word’, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word brings eternal life to mankind, and our words bring life and encouragement to those we do daily life with. What would our relationships look like if we used our words to inspire, encourage, and cultivate others? What if we took every opportunity to ‘give ourselves away’ by actively appreciating other people, not holding back but going out of our way to notice and thank every gesture? This Christmas spend some time reflecting on your year and recall anyone who has been an encouragement to you and then consider writing them a letter of appreciation. If you have parents still living maybe check out our ‘tribute’ as the best gift you could ever give your parents.
11.Bring your hospitality
Eleventh day of Christmas – bring your hospitality. Our homes have been locked too long this year. If you reside in Auckland then you’ve done 4 months of isolation. We weren’t designed to live in isolation, we were created for community, and there are many people who are struggling with loneliness. This year consider the gift of inclusion, let’s open our doors and invite others in, and feast together on Christmas day. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that feasting at the banquet table is referred to in scripture when heaven is mentioned. It’s a picture of the unity and joy to come.
12. Bring yourself
Twelfth day of Christmas – bring yourself. When our kids were living at home they each had a stocking, but by far my favourite stocking was the small red and white one that we gave Jesus each year. We were each encouraged to consider what gift we were going to give Jesus for the coming year, and then on Christmas eve, we placed an object to signify what the gift was, or a note if weren’t feeling very creative.
On Christmas morning we emptied Jesus’ stocking and each person spoke about what their gift meant and how they were going to grow closer to Jesus. My kids are grown adults now and I’m thankful that we still hold tightly to this tradition.
Now it’s your turn
I’m sure that you have your own wonderful traditions and ideas for keeping Jesus as the focus and we would love to hear them.
May your Christmas be blessed and may your hearts be overflowing with thankfulness as we remember what the birth of Jesus ushered in for us.
Immanuel, God with us, Jesus is the hope we carry in our hearts. May you enjoy sharing the gift of Him with those around you.