Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Christmas ... It's not that far away!

First, I want to remind you that you are invited to participate in:

The Homemade Christmas
Gift Idea Exchange
Monday, October 23, 2006

(No pictures required, recipes would be appreciated)

All you need to do is a post that shares some of your favorite homemade gifts and even how you have wrapped them or distributed them (like bags, boxes, baskets, etc.).

On that day, I will provide you with: lots of ideas; several links to posts that will have resources where you can purchase wrapping supplies, canning supplies, etc.; recipes you can use; and as many pictures as I can cram into one post without crashing blogger! It should be a fun and busy day!
Now ... on to other Christmassy things!

I don't know about you, but I have always struggled with the whole "Santa" and his elves business ... I hate that many families, in general, place their focus for Christmas around a big fat jolly man in red and white instead of Christ. I also hate that he (Santa) gets the credit for all the Christmas gifts under the tree!

And sadly, our children are inundated with visions and thoughts of Santa checking naughty and nice lists, little elves busily making toys, and flying reindeer warming up to deliver toys, and piles, and piles of toys and gifts under the Christmas tree. It's splattered all over the media, in the stores, in the malls, on t.v., in books ... it's e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. AND IT HAS ALREADY STARTED!!!

Even adults innocently hype our children up with, "Have you been a good boy/girl this year?" ... or ... "What's Santa bringing you this year?" ... or ... "Have you made your list and mailed it to Santa yet?" I know that there are no mean intentions behind those inquiries ... but, it still grates on my nerves that Santa ... Santa, Santa, Santa ... has, for the most part, become the main focus of this all important holiday.

So, what's a Christian family to do? How can we minimize Santa (without fully removing (or ruining) the excitement of Christmas anticipation from our children) while emphasizing Christ, his birth, and the real reason why we celebrate this symbolic holiday?

My husband and I have wrestled with these questions from almost the day I found out I was pregnant... well ... maybe it was a few months later, but we began with the struggle early on in our pregnancy. Then, Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer posted a great two-part Works-For-Me Wednesday post (links below) which caused me to think even harder about some traditions we want to implement! My husband and I have had many lengthy discussions about this, and, with the help of some friends who implement different traditions in their own family, we have come up with some conclusions that I will share with you -- Our TOP TEN Christmas things list:

1) Mom and Dad are the ones that choose the focal point in the home ... what will our focal point be? Jesus' birth? Or Santa delivering toys? Of course, we choose Jesus, and will do all we can to emphasize Christ's birth, rather than Santa delivering toys. It won't be easy, but it is do-able!

2) In the past, I had made an effort to make Jesus real to my niece (she and her mom lived with us for a while), and for many years now, I have had a gift wrapped in gold paper with a beautiful gold ribbon sitting under the tree for her from Jesus. It was a small effort on my part to try and remove the focus on Santa being the one that "provides" gifts for us at Christmas time, and return it to Jesus, his birth, and the fact that HE is our provider. And, this is a tradition I plan to carry on with our children. There will always be a small gift from Jesus under the tree for each child, along with an individualized letter from Jesus to each of them recapping their year, and encouraging them to follow Him closer in their lives with various challenges (like: pray for your family this year, or spend special time in devotions this year, or help the poor more this year) ... Mind you, it won't be a big gift ... maybe a devotional, a story book, a CD, a figurine, a cross necklace ... but what ever the gift may be ... it will emphasize spiritual matters, and will be waiting for them under the tree from Jesus. Last year, Hunter received a wooden nativity set from Jesus. (I'm not sure what he'll receive this year -- maybe a children's devotional or a children's Bible.)

3) Of course, Daddy will read the Christmas story every year. We will make it a special, cuddly time, most likely on Christmas Eve, in front of the fire, with mugs of cocoa and cookies. Why the cocoa and cookies? Ehhh -- no special reason. It just sounds good to me. Here's to another new tradition!

4) We will find other ways to bring the excitement and anticipation of Jesus and the celebration of his birth into our home throughout the month of December. One sure way of doing this is by putting together a Jesse Tree. This awesome idea was posted by my friend Shannon in a two part post - here are the links: Part 1, and Part 2. What an awesome and amazing idea! Each day in December has a devotion that you do with the kids, and there is an ornament that you make to hang on a tree that correlates to each night's theme. I'm not sure I'm really doing it justice with this explanation, but you can go to this link (thanks, Shannon) to check out the details and to get the instructions, symbols to make into ornaments, the text, and the scriptures. I plan on making some ornaments out of fabric, some out of sculpey clay and painting them, and probably even purchasing some, and who knows what else I'll come up with. We will be able to use them year after year. (I'll post a picture when I'm done) Thanks again, Shannon, for this awesome idea.

5) In the future, I want to have annual birthday parties for Jesus! It doesn't have to be a big to-do, but as my children get older, they will be welcome to invite their friends over for a "Happy Birthday Jesus" party. I'll provide them with a Christian-themed craft (like an ornament for their tree) that they can make, and party-type kid food with a birthday cake for Jesus. It's a great opportunity to share the concept of salvation with the neighborhood kids!

6) We acknowledge that Santa can not be removed from the whole Christmas equation, but Santa CAN and WILL be minimized in the celebrations here in our own home. One way we have thought of doing this is by having a Santa Bag for each child ... like the one pictured ... which can be found at Pottery Barn for Kids. Of course, in the effort to cut back on spending moolah, I will not be buying it from Pottery Barn. I will be making it ... or trying to make it. It won't have his name embroidered on it ... but that's not really important! I will make it big enough to hold a few boxes of toys, games and/or books. Anything in that bag is a gift to the child from Santa, and trust me, they will not be all those expensive "electronic x-boxy" kind of gifts (those will be from us, if they do get them!). Anything else (with the exception of the gift from Jesus) will come from Mom and Dad. (I'll post pictures of the bag once I'm done)

7) I want my children to grow up not only experiencing generosity from others, but I want them to be generous also ... after all, God was so generous with us that he gave us his son to become our savior! I'll teach them how to make homemade gifts and cards for family, friends and neighbors. Hopefully, this will also teach them that Christmas isn't all about buying gifts -- you know -- commercialism (grrr!). Hopefully, they will learn that generosity comes from the heart, not the pocket book. And, along with giving and receiving, comes the lesson of gratitude ... and ... thank you cards!

8) Each year, we will also participate with the Salvation Army's Holiday Angel Tree (go here for more info). Each year, our church gets some names of children who have parents in jail. They come on an ornament with their age, sizes, likes, and needs. We will choose one child in close age to ours, and will purchase gifts for that child. We might even be able to get one per child ... eventually!

9) We'll still do Christmas dinner and holiday cookies and goodies. Those will never go away. After all ... the smell of baking sugar cookies wafting through the house, and the sound of Christmas tunes on the radio is almost enough to drive me over the edge! Almost! Oh, and did I mention ... driving around town looking at all the Christmas lights?

10) And of course, we will focus on the various functions offered by our church and churches around us: Christmas pageants, cantatas, song-shares, caroling, live nativity scenes, etc. How exciting is that?!

So ... that's what our family plans to do. I know it sounds like I've got high expectations, but when it comes to our children's spiritual development, you bet I've got high expectations!

What do you think? Do you have an ideas you'd like to share?? Because I'm all ears!


Donnetta said...

What a GREAT idea for a post. So I won't do a complete post here and crash your comment box. I'll plan on putting up our ideas soon! BUT, I would like to give you a sneek peak. Here is how we deal with Santa.

None of the gifts have ever been from him. Very few of my decorations are Santa and elves. (I'm trying to remember if I even have any. I'm not so sure I do).

We talk about who St. Nicholas really was. He was a man who really lived. He had the heart of giving. When we give gifts we are celebrating that spirit of giving and ultimately celebrating the greatest gift of all... God sending His son.

By talking about Santa this way it has allowed us to not "ban" Santa from Christmas... but to also not have our focus on him. His spirit of giving is just a part... a very small part.

Oh, I am so going to do a complete post on our Christmas traditions. I have so much to share about what we do on almost every item you listed here....

Coming soon....

Cheryl said...

You have covered so much covered. You have been busy just putting this post together. Great job too! I can't wait to venture to some of the links you included.
We don't include Santa ornaments or anything like that representing Santa.

Barb said...

I guess I settled on a combination of both that worked for us. My children knew Santa brought their gifts. But they also knew Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Some of our traditions are the same as yours.

We have always done two things (and they became such a tradition we still do them). Christmas Eve we watch A Christmas Carol. I have several versions but our favorite is the one with George C. Scott.

And we read the Christmas story.

Somehow this has always worked for us. Christmas is a happy joyful time but we definitely keep Christ in Christmas.

Jan/ said...

Many great ideas here. When I was a child, our family read the Christmas story from Luke on Christmas Eve, with hot chocolate and home made cookies, so of course our kids grew up with the same tradition. Also, the Advent wreath, making gifts for family members, making ornaments. Another thing you might consider is annual ornaments. Each of our kids (and now our grandkids) gets an ornament every year. By the time our kids married, they had the beginnings of their own Christmas decorations. We love looking at their trees and remembering the year we bought this or that ornament. Put the year and the person's name on the bottom or back with a paint pen to help jog your memory in later years.

Anonymous said...

Excellent ideas. I plan to blog about our Santa-handling in a post when I get back from my blog-break.

Laura said...

You have some excellent ideas there. I too loved Shannon's Jesse tree idea. I honestly had never heard of that before. I'm looking forward to some homemade gift giving ideas too! Laura

Jeana said...

My kids know who the real St Nicholas was and they know who the "fairy tale" Santa is. I don't ban santa decorations and books, I just make sure they know that it's pretend.

I think you've got some great ideas. The Jesus letter and gift make me a little uncomfortable, because it seems to mix real with pretend. I am pretty hesitant to put words in Jesus mouth or say they came from Him when they didn't. If I were to do a Jesus letter it would have to be pretty much scripture--I wouldn't mind substituting the child's name for "the world" in John 3:16, for example. Beyond that I wouldn't do it, personally.

I guess the other thing is, one reason Scott and I don't do Santa is because we don't want to do anything that even smells like lying. I don't want them to wonder, "If she would lie about that, what else would she lie about?" I want them to know I will always be honest with them; and the Jesus letter seems deceptive to me, claiming he wrote it when he didn't.

Not that you asked me. Well, kind of. Just thought I would throw that out there.

We do the advent wreath, and I love that. We light one new candle each week, but we do it every night that we're home so they get review on what the candle represents. We pray and read scripture to go with that candle. Afterward we sing Christmas songs by candlelight, and it's like a family devotion time.

Susanne said...

I got a cool "book" from Costco when the kids were little. Two front flaps open to reveal a bunch of tiny little board books number 1-25 with a little gold ribbon looped into each. Each book contains about a sentence or two from the Christmas story. After reading one each day we hung it on a little 2 foot tree or the big tree, depending on our mood that year.

We were like Jeana in that we made a clear distinction between the real St. Nicholaus and the "fairy tale Santa" and the kids knew he was just pretend from when they were little. At home we kept it the true story but they were able to participate in Santa stuff at school, grandparents, etc.

Susannah said...

Nice post! We have a book called "Santa's Favorite Story." In the book, Santa tells about the birth of Christ. It's very effective. Blessings!

Becky said...

Hi GiBee,

I'm SOOOO with you on this one (anti-Santa sentiments)! I feel the same way about Easter, which is my favorite holiday, and big pink bunnies get the attention...not in my world, they don't!!! I think much of the struggle of the Christian life is to maintain just that: CHRIST in our life -- many times in the face of societal pressures and even "innocent" traditions like Santa Claus. I used to be vehemently opposed to anything Santa Claus, but since watching "The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe," I've reconsidered a teeny-weeny bit. C.S. Lewis masterfully used the IDEA of Santa to emphasize the TRUTH of Christ. So now, Santa doesn't bug me like he used to. However, his image still won't be decking my halls!!! Thanks for a great post.

mamashine said...

My daughter is only three, but we've never really mentioned anything about Santa in the context of presents. When people ask her what Santa is bringing her she just looks confused. Santa is a decorating idea, like there a lot of flags out at the fourth of July or pumpkins in October.

We have cupcakes for breakfast on Christmas morning and have a little birthday party for Jesus before we open presents. It's fun and feels decadent and also helps her remember that the presents are because of his birthday rather than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Growing up, I always loved the time when my brothers, sisters and I would make our own Christmas cards with crayons and bond paper. I still love doing my own greeting cards—except for one thing. Instead of crayons and bond paper, I use Photoshop and Painter.

My 3-year old is embracing the practice. He won’t go to a birthday party unless he draws his birthday card first.


Ms. Kathleen said...

I LOVE this Homemade Gift Idea Exchange. Perfect. I have never visited your post before but am so glad I stopped by! I'll be back!

God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I've read your blog a bit over the past month or two - but have never commented. My husband and I are in a little bit of a different situation - while we are Christians, we do not celebrate Christmas in a religious way. We believe that we celebrate Christ's life every day - and particularly on Sunday when we celebrate his life, death, and resurrection through the Lord's supper. We do not do nativities or "happy birthday Jesus" cakes, or the like. Instead, we choose to celebrate these things every day and focus on them in depth each Sunday. (we don't do "Easter" either - "Easter" for us is every Sunday). We obviously don't condemn others who do keep these days, but as they are not Scripturally binding, we choose not to (Romans 14:5 & Col. 2:16&17).

That being said: the whole idea of Santa has always seemed to me kind of "dangerous" - in that we teach our children that their is the man, who lives at the top of the world, who sees everything and knows everything, who cares how we act, who can grant us our deepest desires. Sounds a lot like God! Then...when they are a certain age, we tell them that, "Of course Santa's not real. How could you believe that?? Those things aren't possible!", yet we fully expect them to keep believing in God. Now, I grew up believing in Santa, and I am still a believer in God - so don't get me wrong. But in our family, we are choosing not to go the Santa route. Our son will know the Santa "figure", and we might reference him, watch Santa movies, etc., but he will always know that gifts come from dad & mom because of the goodness of God.

Anyway - just my two cents! I love all the conversation in the blogging world about how to incorporate Christ into our holidays - but I think what really should be under discussion is how to incorporate Christ into EVERY day!! =)

Unknown said...

It CAN be done. We didn't want to remove Santa from the equation altogether, but I certainly didn't want him to be the focus. So, from the time my daughter knew about Christmas, we just downplayed the big jolly man. She did have her picture taken with Santa (I love the tradition), but didn't talk about what Santa was bringing her etc etc. And yes, I hate everyone asking about the Santa thing--strangers in the store in Nov. When she was 4 or 5 years old, the dental hygeniest (in Nov.!) asked her about what Santa was going to bring her. She looked at me, and said, "Santa's just pretend. Right, Mommy?" I was sort of floored, because it was exactly the response I wanted, but I never had to have the chat that he was pretend and some of her friends thought he was real etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Over the last 10 years or so I'd really grown to hate Christmas. I know that sounds horrible but because of the over-commercialization (if that's a word) and the fact that as we began having children we also began having less money at Christmas. The financial issue in the midst of the STUFF just made money so much the focus and that frustrated me sooo very much to the point that I dreaded Christmas, couldn't wait until it was over.
Last year someone gave us an Advent wreath along with scriptures to read each night and we actually made the Christ (white) candle so that was very special.
This made all the difference for me - beginning several weeks before Christmas and each and every night we were all eager for the time to light the candles after dinner and pray and read scripture together!
For this reason I am excited about Christmas - we don't have any more money than we usually do this time of year BUT we do have a different focus - JESUS!