Getting Past the Gimmees
by Lettie Kirkpatrick
The "gimmees" approach epidemic proportions in the Christmas season. Newspapers surrender space for Letters to Santa sections. Long lines lead to Santa's "throne" at the malls as children wait to share their wish list with the red-suited legend. And well-meaning adults unwittingly contribute to the holiday's materialistic focus by asking our little ones, "What is Santa bringing you this year?"
What are parents to do when they want their children to get past the gimmees and see the Savior in this wonderful season of spiritual opportunity? Abandon the status quo, seize this holiday and follow a better route.
A Christ-Centered Christmas
Believers are urged in Scripture not to conform to this world. What more appropriate way to reveal that difference than in our celebration of the birth of the Savior who became flesh and made his dwelling among us? Choose to reject the excess and self-indulgence that characterizes Christmas in America and focus your family instead on Christ.
Consider these suggestions.
1. Have family members draw names among themselves in early December. They will then become a secret "angel" for that person. Throughout the season, they are to perform simple kindnesses until their identities are revealed on Christmas Eve. Angels may do chores for their person, fold back bedding, provide a favorite treat or anything personal and creative.
A wonderful book describing a similar project is The Last Straw by Paula Palangi.
2. Plan family participation in the shoebox ministry established by Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse. This involves filling a shoebox with recommended items for a needy child overseas. A group shopping trip to the dollar store adds to a real sense of involvement in this venture. Personal notes containing a Christian witness can be included. We pray for those who will receive our boxes.
Shoeboxes need to be done early (often by Thanksgiving), but this is a great way to set the tone for the season.
3. Let your child designate a needy classmate to be the recipient of a secret kindness.
4. Encourage contributions to church ministries during these holidays. Our family saves change all year for a Christmas mission offering.
5. Choose a service provider and honor them with a note and baked goods. We have treated our pharmacist, local restaurant employees, a neighborhood grocer and a doctor.
A Prepared Christmas
The most crucial ingredient to a Christ-centered Christmas is planning ahead. Decide early what projects are appropriate and feasible. Perhaps the greatest need for early organization is in creating a spiritual emphasis in the home. An excellent way to do this is through the observance of Advent or other visual methods of imparting truth.
1. Advent means "coming" and its purpose is to prepare hearts for the Savior's birth. The celebration can be as simple as a purchased or constructed advent calendar containing windows to be opened a day at a time until December 25. A gradual depiction of the nativity, accompanied by Scripture is the most suitable for this purpose.
2. Many families practice a weekly Advent activity through the use of an Advent wreath with five candles. This time can be delightfully creative through the use of stories, songs, Scriptures and family participation. The general pattern is to begin four weeks before Christmas and spend an evening each week discussing one of the following:
An additional candle is lit each week until all are burning. The color of the candles may be varied.
3. Decorating a "Names of Jesus Tree" can be very meaningful. This is a small tree covered with ornaments which represent names used for Jesus in the Bible. The daily addition of these symbols while reading their corresponding scriptures provide a brief, but rich, devotional time for children and adults.
We only used twenty symbols to allow for occasional missed days. They can be placed in a basket or wrapped, with one to be opened each day. Jesus can be seen as the Light of the World (a small bulb or candle), King of kings (a paper crown), the Resurrection and the Life (a cross), the Good Shepherd, (a candy cane or plastic nativity figure), etc. The Scriptures are full of such references.
4. Kathy Collard Miller has written about using a gift box containing object lessons relating truths about our faith. Modeling clay triggers a discussion about God's desire to mold us in his image, a picture of the world reminds us that he is our Creator God, a toy boat can lead into the story about Jesus calming our fears, and so on. These are also opened daily until Christmas.
5. Let your children have access to a nativity set -- kids' style. They love to reconstruct their own version over and over. My youngest son enjoyed his plastic figures so much that on one of his birthdays (on January 6) they surrounded his cake to watch, and on the last one (his fifth), they were placed on top of the cake!
It is possible to "prepare" simple and brief ways to keep the focus on Him throughout the season and teach spiritual truth in a fun way.
A Practical Christmas
Too often families incur major debt in this season through compulsion, a sense of obligation or a need to impress. Stewardship sense can depart unless you make the right decisions.
l. Budget ahead, set limits, and if possible, buy throughout the year. This eliminates last-minute, impulse buying and buying under duress. I keep a notebook and list possible suggestions for giving when someone expresses a need or wish.
2. Give thought gifts. Presents that reflect an understanding of a person's interests, desires or individual circumstances are always welcome. But these do not have to be costly.
A friend enjoys honey mustard sauce at a particular restaurant. I requested extra packets and gave her a tin of honey mustard!
3. Be creative, not extravagant. One of the favorite gifts of my children's preschool years is a mini- album I prepare for their third Christmas. I solicit photos from all the people in their lives -- family, friends, babysitters, Sunday School teachers, pets. I place these in an inexpensive, child-sized album, and they love it.
4. Give growth gifts. Christmas is an opportune time to encourage personal growth. Choose appropriate books or tapes that address a need, expand intellect or feed curiosity. Be alert and zero in on areas of interest.
A Predictable Christmas
Probably nothing touches the heart and soul of Christmas more than traditions. Certain foods, family get-togethers and attendance at annual activities strengthen the ties that bind. How appropriate for some of these "predictable" events to point to Jesus.
l. Give Jesus a birthday party. Some churches sponsor children's parties emphasizing Jesus' birthday. My four sons have a party and invite their cousins. We center activities around the Christmas story and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.
2. Pray for the families who send cards. Some homes use these throughout the year to remember friends. We each take a card a day before Christmas and pray for these families.
3. Plan a family night out. Visit a light extravaganza or drive-thru nativity. Community churches sometimes sponsor elaborate reenactments of the Christmas story.
4. Create a tradition of blessing. I use Christmas to celebrate the lives of my five children (one deceased). They each receive an ornament that represents a special event in their life from the past year. An airplane tells of a first plane ride, a nativity heart is a reminder that this son recently gave his "heart" to Jesus. My daughter with Jesus still gets an angel every year because she now dances with them!
The "gimmees" can "get us" if we don't watch out. But, with God's direction and wisdom, we can choose instead a Christ-centered Christmas that is prepared, practical and predictable.
Lettie Kirkpatrick is a widely-published freelance writer living in Cleveland, Tennessee.