Christmas traditions can be fun, exhausting, or family-focused. Or they can be Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus. Or they can be all of the above, even at the same time. Our family’s best Christmas traditions varied with our time of life. And one fun one has no focus on Jesus and originated in my needing to save time.
One Christmas Eve, I had been too busy with Christmas errands to make dinner. So I suggested to my husband that we make a fire and roast hot dogs. It turned out to be great fun. The next Christmas Eve, as I was making my girls’ favorite spaghetti dinner, my oldest said, “Aren’t we roasting hot dogs? We always roast hot dogs on Christmas Eve.” I laughed at the notion of our sudden tradition but was glad to keep the spaghetti for another night.
Our roasting-hot-dogs tradition is not one of our Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus. It could be a tradition for any night of the year. But it’s one our family has chosen to keep for decades, because it’s something that begins the evening in an unusual way. And it’s our personal family tradition now.
One of our first family Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus was introducing our little ones to the story of Jesus’ birth through pieces they could play with. My first set was made of wood, hard to break and fun to use to tell the story. Our little ones later enjoyed telling using the set to tell the story too. I look forward to having my two-year-old grandson celebrate with the same set. As they got older, the girls enjoyed nativity sets from various countries, some tiny enough to be Christmas ornaments. Later they even enjoyed finding good places to display each one.
Birthday Cake for Jesus
When our girls were elementary aged or younger, they loved making a birthday cake for Jesus. The recipe we made was similar to this one and ready to share with others. Each year we made one cake for ourselves and one for neighbors or friends we wanted to share Jesus with. The recipe used three cake mixes and made two three-layer cakes. The chocolate layer designated our sin. The red cherry layer symbolized Jesus’ blood shed for us. And the green pistachio cake celebrated our new life in Jesus.
We frosted the cake in white for Jesus’ righteousness, which he gave to us through his death and resurrection. The decorations highlight Jesus’ role as Jewish Messiah, by having a gold foil Star of David in the middle of the cake. Through that a red candle stood, revealing Jesus as the light of the world. Circling the top of the cake, round like the world, were red heart-shaped candies. These candies represented Christians standing together, united around the world. I know of no better Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus.
Reading the Bible Story Aloud Before Opening Presents
A tradition that we included for many years was reading the story of Jesus’ birth as the beginning of our celebration. In the early years, we read the story from a good storybook Bible. When the girls were older, we read the account from Matthew 2. We wanted to set the gift giving in context. As the girls got older, they often took turns reading the story out loud.
Recently, I learned from a new friend about another great way to tell this story with tiny ones. She reads the story from a book which comes with six key figures wrapped in special boxes. A child opens each one as that character is introduced. Unfortunately, I can’t find that set to purchase for myself this year. So, I’m planning to act out the story with my grandson with a nativity set, while my husband reads it out loud.
Taking Turns with Giving
One tradition our girls will never outgrow. Many years ago, we began emphasizing the importance of giving gifts. We began taking turns to give, rather than taking turns to receive a gift. It changed the focus instantly. Our girls already knew that we gave gifts because Jesus is the ultimate gift. They knew no gift was greater than salvation. They also knew that Christmas was not about the gifts they received. But up until this change, it was sometimes too easy to focus on who was receiving what.
Once we switched to taking turns with giving,their excitement was contagious. Immediately, they clamored for the privilege of giving the next gift. Now as adults, they also look out for who hasn’t received one recently. But even when they were young, changing this tradition changed the focus wonderfully for our whole family.
These days I eagerly look for new traditions—and resurrect old ones—as I seek to pass on to little ones the joy of Christmas and of Jesus as the reason for the season. I would love to hear about your Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus. This year I am going to make a small simple cake for Jesus. My grandson is not yet old enough to understand or remember the symbolism of the many-colored layers. But he LOVES singing “Happy Birthday,” and this year he’ll sing it to Jesus.