Help Your Child Discover the Real Christmas

Christmas! The word itself stirs feelings of extraordinary excitement. And rightly so. Everywhere there are reminders of the holiday season. But let's be sure our children know what the excitement is really about.

How can parents help a young child realize that Christmas is a celebration of gratitude to God for His wonderful gift of love? Here are suggestions for ways you can make the Biblical and spiritual aspects of Christmas meaningful and attractive to your child.

Help your child know the simple facts of Jesus' birth.

Read the story of the first Christmas to your child from Bible storybooks or from an easy-to-understand version of the Bible. Tell your child that they will hear the story again in church on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
Attend the Nativity Vespers and Liturgy as a family, no matter how busy your schedule may be! Listen to the gospel and sing the troparion together.
Visit your Christian bookstore and choose "Baby Jesus" books and/or videos that will appeal to your child.

Help your child feel that Jesus is God's best gift of love.

Remember that much of a child's response is a reflection of the attitudes he or she sees at home. Nurture feelings of joy, love, and thankfulness in your child.
Avoid (as much as possible) the hectic holiday bustle that makes a young child feel alone or "left out." Concentrate instead on preparing for Christ's birth in a spiritual way by praying together and observing the Christmas fast (Advent).
In the presence of your child, give thanks to God for Jesus.

Help your child express joy, excitement, and feelings of love.

Include your child in making Christmas decorations, foods, gifts, and cards for family members and friends.
Show gladness to your child as you sing the songs of Christmas. Learn the songs your child is singing at church school so you can sing them together at home, too. Emphasize Christ-centered songs rather than secular ones like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Jingle Bells".
Be sensitive to moments when it is natural to talk about God, and encourage your child to talk to God with thanks and praise.

Celebrate the Nativity

Keep the meaning of Christmas clear throughout the holiday season by frequently commenting, "Christmas is a happy time because it's Jesus' birthday."
Bake and decorate a birthday cake for Jesus. Children will understand that because Christmas is Jesus' birthday there should be a cake! Sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and plan together what your family can give Him for a gift of love. [Katie and I made a birthday cake decorated with poinsettias and candles for Jesus last year. Both our Orthodox and Roman Catholic relatives and God families were very happy to join in and sing "Happy Birthday"! - NTK]
Give Jesus a birthday present as a family, by doing something extra special for others. Make cookies (or even a whole dinner) and deliver them to elderly relatives and shut-ins. Take canned foods or personal care items to a rescue mission. Adopt a needy family through a local charity. [An evangelical family I knew in college made a practice of selecting their favorite present Christmas morning, and re-wrapping it to give to charity. This seemed a bit extreme to me, but making a point to save for and purchase a special gift for an adopted family member sounds like a great idea! It emphasizes the giving rather than the getting. - NTK]

Keep Santa in the proper perspective.

Explain that Santa legends are based on the real Bishop Nicholas, who loved God and gave generously to the poor. Learn about this saintly man and celebrate St. Nicholas Day (December 6/December 19). [You can even move some of your family's gift-giving activities to December 5th: small presents, coins, fruit, and nuts "appear" overnight in shoes or stockings, left by St. Nicholas. - NTK]
Avoid the "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" and "Be good for Santa!" emphases.
When your child wants to talk about Santa Claus, listen attentively. Then return the discussion to St. Nicholas, the real "Santa", who loved Jesus very much. - NTK]

Adapted from "Help Your Child Discover the Real Christmas," Gospel Light, 1992.

© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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