It’s that time of the year when our schedules fill up quickly, and we usually can slip into one of two ditches if we are not careful. One ditch involves never slowing down long enough to consider and choose family rhythms and traditions due to the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the things. When will you have the time? How can you do it? What should you even do? And the ditch on the other side of the road usually involves trying to do far too much. We browse and window shop online, if you will, spending far too much time observing what others are doing to the point that we assume we are failing if we cannot emulate all that we see around us or on social media.
May I encourage an alternative path to take this Advent and Christmas season? Rather than feeling the need to do it all, or throwing your hands up because you know you simply cannot, instead try walking the path of remembrance and worship that fits your family dynamics, calendar and season. Read and consider, but don’t spend too much time looking at what others are doing. Discuss with your spouse which rhythms and traditions to incorporate into your family life. Below is a list of ideas, but they are simply that – ideas which fit well for some families and not for others, which make sense in some seasons but not in others.
Methodology differs from family to family – and what a gift that is! We are each unique and creative and reflect God in a variety of ways. Family traditions, recipes and celebrations do not look the same from family to family and that is to be celebrated! So before we venture into some specific ideas for family traditions this Christmas, let’s first and foremost lay a groundwork of principles for our rhythms.
Noel Piper writes, “Traditions are a vital way of displaying our greatest treasure, of showing what – Who – is most important to us.” Let’s consider this as we move forward through these principles. How do we establish rhythms and traditions that redirect our hearts to Christ as our greatest treasure? May this be the heartbeat of your traditions this holiday season. In Christ alone.
Gather together. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God made man with the need to eat and drink in order to live. And what a creative gift this is! Three times a day (or more if you have hungry, growing boys like in my house), there is a need for us to sustain ourselves with food and drink. Rather than grabbing something on the go, let’s see these meals as opportunities to gather at a table and look each other in the eye and have conversations. This is also a great time and place to do many of the rhythms listed below. When we must pause out of necessity to eat and drink for provision, let’s also sit down and gather and take the opportunity to express gratitude to the Lord together. Acts 2:46-47 says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Open your Bibles together and read the Christmas story. Read highlights of the meta-narrative of scripture and discuss how all of the Bible points to the story of Christ. Read it over and over and over again. John 1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Scripture is how God reveals himself to us so let’s open our Bibles together daily!
There are many daily reading plans available, as well as accompanying Advent devotionals. If you have younger children, consider using alongside your readings some Jesse Tree ornaments. These are simple visuals that can be found almost anywhere. I encourage you to search Etsy, Amazon, or even consider making your own. This linked Etsy page is the store where we bought ours years ago, and we used a small $5 tree that I got from Target that year. Even though we’ve done this for about 5 years now, our children love taking turns reading the daily scripture and choosing the ornament that goes with the story to hang for the day.
In addition to scripture, reading other Christmas literature can be a fun way to reinforce the truths of the incarnation of Christ. Our family has enjoyed daily readings throughout Advent from books like Jotham’s Journey, Ishtar’s Odyssey, Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels. If you have preschool aged children, be sure to check out the list of picture books at the end of this article. If you have several Christmas books already, consider wrapping one for each day leading up to Christmas, and let your family unwrap it and read it together.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” There are so many incredibly rich Christmas songs and hymns! Don’t know where to start? Simply choose a song we sing on a Sunday morning and sing it together throughout the week, over and over and over again. A few of our favorites to focus on each week include:
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Worship together and focus on the truth from scripture in these rich songs. Music stirs our emotions to worship in a unique way – let’s enjoy these songs together this Christmas season! A favorite of our family is Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God album. We try to attend in person each year that we can, but regardless, we have it playing in December almost non-stop. Discover your favorites and worship together to the truths in these songs!
Another Christmas music idea is to consider listening to Handel’s Messiah, using a guide like this one by Cindy Rollins, which includes daily scripture readings to go along with the songs. We did this last year before bedtime each night and it was a sweet time together as a family slowing down and listening to truth being sung by lamplight or candlelight.
Create together. Revelation 4:11 reads, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We serve a creator God! And he made us in his image. So create together this season with your families. Cook together, craft together, build together, shop together, play music together. For years our young children have helped create these M&M pretzel bites along with the Christmas story to give away to friends. How can your specific family be creative with your time, energy and resources? However creativity for your family looks like – do it together this Christmas season!
Give together. There are more ideas in the article on serving together, but remember that this season should not be focused on us – it’s an opportunity to cultivate a giving heart! Consider reading or telling the story of Saint Nicholas, which is focused on generosity. And what better way to do that than to serve together as a family during this season. So consider the opportunities available, choose something to do as a family, and give together!
Remember – consider, discuss with your spouse, and then put aside looking at what others are doing. Sit down with a pen and paper and consider how you want your family to celebrate. Be diligent to plan and create and cultivate with a focus on remembrance and worship for your family this holiday season. These are efforts that will bear fruit if they remain focused not on the plans themselves, but on the heart to worship God this Christmas. He is our greatest treasure, so may your traditions reflect that in the upcoming weeks and beyond!
Some of our family’s favorite rhythms
Many of the elements mentioned above can be done in a variety of ways, but our family enjoyed incorporating them into a weekly Sunday night Advent tea and cookies last year. Given the idea by a friend, we would turn out the lights and my husband would say, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” I would then light the Advent candles for the week while the children and I would respond, complete with copious giggling and usually some sort of dramatic accent, “Behold, the light has come!” Then we would read scripture together, sing a hymn, and read a Christmas poem before enjoying some cookies and hot drinks. I baked a different kind of cookie each week and always froze ½ or ⅔ of the batch. Then on Christmas day I pulled out four different kinds of cookies for everyone to enjoy.
We also began a new tradition last year on Christmas Eve – observing a Shepherds Meal. We intentionally choose a meal with simple components, guessing at what the shepherds might have eaten on the eve of Christ’s birth. This idea comes from Sally Clarkson, whose family Shepherds meal contains potato soup, herb bread, roasted nuts, cheeses, and sparkling apple juice! The simplicity of this meal is refreshing before we begin our 12 days of celebration that is quickly coming. A Shepherds Meal requires very little preparation on my part, and the simplicity eases our spirits into discussing and retelling the story of the souls God chose to first inform of Christ’s birth, and what this means about who God is and who he came to save.
For resources that incorporate the aspects above in an organized manner, consider the following. Most of these include daily/weekly scripture readings, hymns, poetry, paintings that depict the Christmas story, and craft ideas or recipes that can be given as gifts.
Advent Plans by A Gentle Feast
Advent Plans by Brighter Day Press
Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions with Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins
Remember – consider, discuss with your spouse, and then put aside looking at what others are doing. Sit down with a pen and paper and consider how you want your family to celebrate. Be diligent to plan and create and cultivate with a focus on remembrance and worship for your family this holiday season. These are efforts that will bear fruit if they remain focused not on the plans themselves, but on the heart to worship God this Christmas.