Today is December 1st. Today is the first day of new traditions with my family.
I was raised in a family that did not observe traditions. To make things even more complicated I was raised in a moderate Jehovah’s Witness family that sometimes celebrated Christmas and sometimes didn’t. I am not entirely sure for the reason of the inconsistency but I am assuming it might have been due to whether or not my single parent mom had a job or not. Nevertheless, I grew up void of memories of having a Christmas tree, decorations, eggnog, presents or Christmas music playing in the background. As a matter of fact, I was semi-brainwashed that all of the things I mentioned were actually pagan derived and should be avoided at all costs.
After becoming a Christian it still took several years for me to feel like it was “ok” to celebrate Christmas in any form. It took 6 years after my conversion to actually put up a tree and not feel guilty. Our tree was always pretty simple and plain looking. It was a plastic tree with built in lights and most of the time we got our ornaments from the Dollar store. One year I actually had the kiddos make ornaments out of paper and string. As much as I love to be creative with colors and fabric, I could never figure out how to make a tree look nice. My kids did not know the difference so they gave me grace in this department. They were just happy to have a tree up.
Funny thing happened once the tree went up. I began to feel the “pressure” to fill the space under the tree with gifts. I began to get obsessed with who was getting what, how much dollars went into each child and the desire to try to be “fair” with how much we were spending on each child. I began to feel guilty for only getting the children items and then began looking for things for the hubby, ignoring the fact that he HATES spending money on gifts for himself. After the hubby had gifts under the tree, I began to look for other people to give gifts to…..friends, other family members…people on the other side of the world. Money had to be spent and gifts bought. The space under my plastic tree had to be filled.
Even in the midst of all this craziness, I had a feeling deep in my gut, or my heart, or wherever it was, that this was not setting a Godly example for my kids. Initially I thought my feelings of apprehension were due to my JW upbringing. I thought there was remnant lingering guilt from my previous brainwashing so I shoved it to the back of my mind and heart and focused on the empty space under the tree. I rationalized and justified my gift buying with the fact that all my Christian friends easily slipped into this Christmas frenzy with ease (or at least it appeared that way) and I should get with the Christmas program…..in all its materialism madness.
All the while I kept reminding the kids of Jesus. I kept reminding them that the only reason we were giving them gifts was to remind them that God the Father gave us the ULTIMATE GIFT of His Son. They heard the gospel more in the month of December than they did the whole rest of the year…which was a lot because we are always talking about Jesus, the gospel and our hearts in our house. In hindsight, it was and it is silly to think that overpriced plastic toys made in China or new technological gadgets, also made in China, would somehow remind them of Jesus. I knew in my heart it didn’t and doesn’t. So I told them with words. ALL THE TIME…..in December. I would even get irritated with them when they seemed to care more about the presents than Jesus. Here I was, giving them an abundance of gifts because that’s what the social norm tells me I should do, telling myself and the kids that the gifts represent Jesus somehow, getting irritated with my kids for wanting….no…. feeling entitled to presents, and then feeling like a failure as a Christian parent for succumbing to the craziness when I know that in my heart and my soul that there should be a better way to remember Jesus’ birth.
How in the world did crazy materialism equate to the impoverished lowly humble beginnings of Jesus Christ being born in a stable where animals lived. If we are completely honest with ourselves….it does not equate. I don’t care what kind of “sweet” spin you put on it.
So…..this year, we will be ON PURPOSE different.
We have been in Bellingham for 2 and 1/2 weeks. We are living in a small rental vacation house and will be here for 2 months. We don’t have access to our plastic tree because it’s in storage. My hubby refuses to buy another plastic tree. I will not have the visual pressure of the empty space under the tree to send me down the “crazy” Christmas road. Living close to malls and a plethora of stores with lots of goodies, I know I could easily go down that road quickly.
I had been trying to figure out what to do for my family to bring Jesus more at the forefront of our hearts and minds without the pressure to go down the road of materialism madness.
My hubby even suggested that we ought to go volunteer at a one of the local homeless shelters (which we still might do).
Before I am labeled as a scrooge for not wanting to buy my kiddos gifts, let me be clear…my kids want for nothing. Throughout the year my kids get gadgets, Legos, books and whatever else suits their fancy. We enjoy giving our kiddos random gifts throughout the year. I just don’t like doing it in December.
The other day I saw a comment on my Facebook feed by one of my favorite female authors, Elyse Fitzpatrick. She has written one the best parenting books I have EVER read and greatly recommend it to any Christian parent that feels the pressure to make sure their child grows up to be a Christian. Boy, the book was and is mind blowing….but in a good way. The title is Give them Grace, Dazzling your Kids with the love of Jesus. This book revolutionized my parenting style.
I was ecstatic. I bought the devotional. She emailed me the first three days. Yay. We were set.
So…before I go into what we did, let me just share a snippet of the introduction. This is why I love her writing.
“You can choose to use this devotional any way you like. Let it serve you and your family; please don’t serve it. We don’t want you to end up resenting it or feeling enslaved to it or guilty if you don’t get it done. There won’t be any rules here, just suggestions about how to utilize this celebration in your family’s life……..”
“Above all, please don’t make this a way to earn righteousness or “make a tradition” that will somehow save your children when they, like you, are “prone to wander.” Traditions don’t save us, the Christ-child does……”
“Like we said before, use this devotional in any way you like, and don’t worry if you don’t get this done every day or in the right order. We tell you not to worry because you’re not the one bringing Christ to your children. The Holy Spirit does that. Of course, He may use you as means to accomplish His work…or He may not. You can pray and then trust that He will use this season and your entire life in just the way He chooses.”
Right of the bat, she lets me off the hook from being a slave to the devotional and I do not feel any pressure to adhere to all the days or all the steps. Once the pressure is off I then WANT to do it all. Go figure.
I love how she reminds me that traditions wont save my kids and following traditions do not make us “better” Christians. Love that!!!!
I also love how she reminds us that we, as Christian parents, are not the ones that bring Christ to our children. We may be instruments to get our children to start thinking about Christ….but we do not make our children Jesus loving, Christ followers. We can teach, guide, and mold our children to read their Bibles, to acknowledge and honor Christ with their good behavior, even teach them how to repent of sin. We can teach our children to be outward observers of Christ….but we cannot change their hearts. Being raised in a Christian family does not automatically make our children Christian. The Holy Spirit makes people Christians. The Holy Spirit will convict the hearts of our children. Plain and simple.
I let my kids know that we were going to do something special and they were intrigued. When we were in Target looking for candles Amriel kept asking me why we were buying candles and reminded me that we were not Jewish and we were not supposed to be celebrating Hanukkah. I told her we were not starting the Jewish tradition but starting an advent tradition was “something” like Hanukkah…but not quite.
So, here is what we did.
I bought some long white plain candles. I didn’t feel inclined to get the colored candles so white candles worked just fine. I printed out the first 3 days of the devotional that Elyse sent. After dinner I sat everyone around the table. We don’t have candle holders so we put several long candles in a large glass. Elijah was dying to light the candle so I went ahead and let him. After the candle was lit, I took away the matches because I knew Elijah would be distracted with wanting to light more candles or just strike the matches over and over again. Once the candle was lit and after discussing the meaning of the first candle I had Amriel read Psalm 113. We discussed it a bit. I read the devotional to them and asked them personal questions on what it meant to them individually. I didn’t let them give me easy answers. I probed and guided. The goal was to teach them the idea of praising the Lord continually, even when we don’t want to or don’t feel like it.
I don’t know if any of it felt special to them. I do know that the tricks that my hubby did with the matches afterward seemed to be more intriguing to my kiddos than the actual devotional. I felt let down. But…it was a start….right????
That was it. Pretty simple.
New tradition started. The Word was read. Jesus was discussed.
On top of all this, today I spontaneously decided that we will not listen to the radio this month while we drive around town to run our errands. A few days ago we checked out C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia audio books from the library and this is what we will listen to every time we get in our vehicle. We got through 3/4 of the first book, The Magician’s Nephew.
Amriel has read the books several times and has watched the movies a few times too. She recently started the series again with a deeper desire to discover the Christian parallels.
Due to Elijah’s inability to handle overly emotional movies yet, he has not watched any of the Narnia movies. I figured this was a perfect way to introduce him to the Narnia story.
As we were driving around listening to the story, Elijah stated “mom, this is just like watching a movie”. I think he loved it.
Today is December 1. We started two new traditions today.
1) listening to the Chronicles of Narnia audio books
2) Lighting advent candles and doing a devotional
So far…so good. No guilt and Jesus was at the forefront.
24 more days to go.
Oh…and last but not least….
Seeing as how i am such “rebel” and non-conformer…(joke), I found some awesome Christmas music. We have been listening to it for a few days. We love it. You can buy it here.
(disclaimer- I just want to say that I am not in any way shape or form trying to judge or belittle anyone for adhering to traditional Christmas traditions. Every family is different. This is a merely a glimpse into our family dynamics. My hope is to encourage other Christian families to make small, but hopefully, lasting impressions on their kids as to what the true meaning of Christmas ought to be. If you are feeling frustrated with the entitlement that your kids are showing or hate how materialism creeps into your celebration of the birth of Christ and you want to change but you don’t know where to start….start small…..but start. Don’t wait until next year.)