Many of you are on the same journey our family has been on in regard to living out the Biblical story through the Christian year. It can be a challenge, to say the least. Denise and I did a mini-seminar today on Celebrating Advent and Christmas. It was aimed at younger couples with children who are dealing with many of the difficult choices this season brings with it. Here are some thoughts that may be helpful to those of you who are seeking to make this season a richer time in your faith and for your family.
1) Make a clear differentiation between the secular celebration and the Christian season. Don’t let children be confused about what Frosty and Rudolph have to do with Jesus. Get the secular Santa out of the Nativity scene. Abandon the idea of Christians “reclaiming” the secular celebration. The secular, pagan celebrations roots are deep and it has its own meanings and story. The occasional “contact points” between the secular celebration and our season of Advent and Christmas are superficial. Make this clear to your children and proceed forward to make Christmas about Christ and special to your family.
2) Participate in the positive aspects of the worldly celebration without guilt or needless messages of avoidance. Wherever possible, serve and love as Jesus while drawing attention to him in those “Christmas” activities that you can take part in. Our culture’s celebration of the Holiday has many positive aspects we should appreciate and affirm, especially concerning good will, family, compassion and artistic excellence. We don’t need to despise all aspects of Christmas to celebrate our own way.
3) Advent is the best possible time to introduce the Christian year to your family. There are many excellent resources on the net, especially at Ken Collin’s web site. Purchase the St. James’ Calendar or other good resources for the Christian Year. Start modestly with the major seasons and introduce Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. Move on to other days and to saints as the year becomes more familiar. There are many good books with fun resources for the Christian year. Check out, for instance, The Bad Catholics Guide to Good Living. Full of interesting information, recipes and activities for the Christian year. Also quite funny.
4) Robert Webber’s Book of Family Prayer (Out of print but available) provides weekly devotions for a family following the Christian Year. It also says “Q and A” as part of the liturgy, so it is great for children. This is a book for a lifetime of Advent and Christian year worship.
5) Help your family find the mood of Advent, in contrast to the manic acquisitional madness of the secular Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation, prayer and sensing our need of a savior. Cultivate this in contrast to the world’s mood. Then, when Christmas arrives, celebrate and feast for the 12 days.
6) Advent is a great time to take in church services of different traditions. Musical and meditative worship experiences are often available within a short driving distance. I would suggest you avoid the massive pageants that make the birth of Jesus into a spectacle and often distort the Biblical story. Look for worship that focuses on the Biblical story, not entertainment.
7) Speaking of the Biblical story, Advent and Christmas is a great time to introduce family Bible reading. Many families have problems doing family devotions, but I believe almost every family could use a daily lectionary and have a daily Bible reading. Not long chapters, but the shorter selections in the BCP or a good Daily Lectionary site or source.
8) Consider introducing your children to Saint Nicholas and his legacy of faithfulness to Jesus. There is an abundance of Saint Nicholas material on the net, including stories that children will love, his legacy as a Nicene father and many things that relate to compassion for the poor. By stressing the real Saint Nicholas, you can put the mythology of Santa into perspective.
(One family that has been doing this for several years told us they use Saint Nicholas as a way to limit gifts to three for each child!)
9) Saint Nicholas Day is December 6. In Germany and elsewhere, this is a day to receive gifts of candy, nuts and fruit in your shoes. It can be a day to do all your giftgiving, leaving the rest of the season to focus on Christ. Another good suggestion is to use December 6 as a day to do something as a family for the less fortunate, or to participate in a ministry/mercy project together.
10) Sites like Advent Conspiracy and What Would Jesus Buy? help us to remember that the season of Christ’s coming should be a time of giving more to the Lord, the poor and the Kingdom than to ourselves. The witness of Christians at this time of year is often greatly demeaned by our uncritical self-centered giving, especially in giving far too much to children.
Consider giving to ministries like Samaritan’s Purse, Gospel for Asia, World Vision and World Serve. Give to start and equip new churches and train pastors in India, Africa and Asia. Give to ministries that help the poor all year long through direct assistance, education and development. In all your giving, seek to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
11) Also consider buying your Christmas presents supporting sources that use the money wisely and support local businesses among the less fortunate. Check out the links at RevBilly.com for ideas.
12) Remember that each Christian family can decide how to approach this season in a way that is memorable, but also Christ centered and concerned for others. None of us should be telling our neighbors that the tree is evil or Santa is really Satan. In the same way, we should encourage one another in whatever steps we take to keep the Christian celebration of Advent and Christmas as a holy season and limit the influence of the world’s festival on our children.