December 2014 Posts

What I Learned About Christmas From My Mom

5 books that have changed my life

Some of my earliest memories revolve around Christmas, and I can’t reflect on Christmases past without thinking of my mom. It was my mom who started us all thinking about Christmas and prepping for it by October 1 at the latest. Christmas music could be heard long before Thanksgiving, and you could just see the energy level rising in her small frame. Her eyes had a sparkle that was contagious.

There are many memories I cherish about my mom and Christmas, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned from Christmases past – from my mom.

Christmas is about the good news.

Jesus has come to bring us gifts. He came to bring the gifts of both forgiveness and a new kind of life, eternal life. My mom loved to give gifts at Christmas. There wasn’t a shred of thought about what she would get, but like Jesus, Christmas was a time to give gifts to people she loved.

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration.

The promised Messiah has come. The Messiah of the Bible was promised and forecast from the time of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) onward. For thousands of years people had looked for and longed for Him to come, and when He finally came, the angels rejoiced. The wise men came bearing gifts to celebrate. My mom exuded joy every Christmas. It was a time of celebration. Christmas only came one time a year, but she tried to make it last as long as possible, generally October – January in our home.

Christmas was an awe-inspiring surprise.

Immanuel came in the form of a human baby. Very few people got wind that the Messiah was coming. Joseph, Mary and Elizabeth. But when He finally came it was in a humble manger, not with military parades on a white horse (which will come later). But there was an awe-inspiring element to this lowly arrival, orchestrated by God Himself. There was a star in the sky that led the wise men to the birthplace of this King. Angels appeared to shepherds and made a celestial announcement of Jesus’ birth, and the shepherds joined Joseph and Mary in the stable delivery room.

We always had a live Christmas tree in our home – the biggest that would fit our ceiling height. It was always the centerpiece of our Christmas decorations, and there would always be a few presents under the tree as we approached Christmas, usually ones mailed to us by relatives and a few close friends. On Christmas Eve I was always rushed off to bed very early so I could get a good night‘s sleep before the big day (fat chance that was going to happen). But it was all about giving my mom and dad time to put all the presents under the tree. My dad would assemble some things and make sure batteries were installed where needed. My mom would go to all her “special places” to pull out all the presents she had been gathering since January, 11 months before. They would add a few more touches to the tree and then leave all the lights on the tree lit.

I recall so many Christmases getting up at 5:00 or 6:00am and sneaking into the living room where the Christmas tree stood, tall and festive. The whole house was dark except for this awe-inspiring tree undergirded by many presents. I would sometimes just sit in amazement at this breathtaking spectacle of a tree and its presents decked in cheerful colors and sparkles.

We could look at all these things and see a woman who was caught up in the commercialization of Christmas. Or see the whims of an over-indulgent mother. Maybe. But what I’ve learned from watching my mom and being infected with her zeal for Christmas is that Christmas is about the good new of Jesus who came to give gifts to those He loves. It’s a time of joy and celebration because the Savior has come. It’s awe-inspiring, exciting. It’s Christmas!

5 Family Christmas Traditions

Five family Christmas traditions to start this year.

Family traditions create precious memories that can help shape the next generation of your family.

When our children were still at home, we developed a number of traditions around Christmas. Some were for teaching purposes, some for practical reasons and still others for just plain fun. Here are a few of them:

Daily Teaching Moment

Judy made a felt calendar with pockets in it for each day of the month of December. She would put some kind of trinket – an object lesson in miniature form – in each pocket. Every day one of the children would take the surprise out of the pocket, giving Mom or Dad a chance to share what the object represented.

Pick Out a Christmas Tree 

Getting the tree was a family adventure, and we usually tried to get our tree up right after Thanksgiving (but not during Thanksgiving). After her brothers left for college, Kelly (our youngest) and I would go out into the country to a Christmas tree farm that would let you cut down your own tree. We would measure the trees and look at them from every angle. Then we would pick one as big as would fit in our house and I would cut it down. Then Kelly and I would haul it to the house, prep it and take it in.

Act Out the Christmas Story

When the children were young we would give them the opportunity to dress up and reenact the Christmas story as Judy or I read it. As they got older we would just read the story and have a time to pray together and give thanks.

Give Gifts Intentionally and Open Them Slowly

We had a policy after our children turned 5 that we would no longer buy them toys, except on their birthdays and at Christmastime, so we felt like we could do a little more at Christmas. The problem was there were so many presents for each child that they never really got to appreciate each gift or express appreciation to the gift giver. There were a couple Christmases that they ripped through the presents and were done in 20-30 minutes. So Judy and I started something many years ago that we still do to this day. Only one present at a time is given and opened, and the giver gives the gift to the one they got it for and says, “I give this to you because I love you.” It has taken four hours to open all the presents around the tree some Christmases because we took the time to appreciate everything.

Start Christmas a Little Early 

Along those same lines, we started letting the children open one present each evening starting 7 days before Christmas. It helped build the anticipation for Christmas, helped them appreciate each gift more and it made Christmas morning a bit less hectic.

Keep an Element of Surprise, Wonder and Celebration 

One last tradition we started many years ago was the element of surprise, wonder and celebration. The last present each child opened would not be under the tree. It would be hidden very securely somewhere in or around the outside of the house. Judy and I would hand each of the children a card, and on the card was a riddle that would lead them to their next clue. They had to figure out the riddle and then try to locate the next card with its etched riddled clue. When we lived in Indiana and Oregon, there might be snow on the ground and a wind chill of 10 degrees. They would have to get dressed, get bundled up and go running around in the snow looking for their next clue, which might bring them back inside, and then back out again. It usually took about half an hour for them all to follow their clues to the final resting place of their present. Then we would all laugh, even to the point of crying, as each one told tales of their adventurous trek to find their present.