What simple Christmas traditions and activities have helped you and your family focus on Christ during the holiday season?
In our home there is a box. It is not a terribly large box, and it certainly isn’t an expensive box. However, it is nicely presented and is the most priceless box we own. Why? Because of our family’s simple tradition centered around that humble box.
On Christmas Eve, just before tucking everyone into bed, we gather around our box with pen and paper. We have spent the past several family home evenings preparing for this moment. After a prayer, we each write down our intended gift to the Savior. Respectfully, we fold up our papers and place them into the box. No one reads them, and no one tells of their gift. It is a personal and sacred promise. When everyone is through, we close up the box and put it in a special place under the tree.
This simple box with its contents becomes our first gift of the season, and it goes to the One who gave us everything!
One of the most important things our family has done at Christmas is to change the emphasis from gift getting to gift giving. We know that we remember Christ most when we act like Him—when we give and love and serve. As adults we enjoy Christmas because we are giving to others. We haven’t wanted our children to miss out on this experience. Instead of asking, “What do you want for Christmas?” we asked, “What are you going to give for Christmas?”
We explained that Santa could be anyone who wanted to give a gift to others but didn’t want them to know who gave the gift. We had fun as a family when our own little “Santa,” complete with a red hat and cotton ball beard, would drop off a goodie at a friend’s home and then run!
The weeks before Christmas go quickly. It is a busy time filled with secret plans and present making. My husband and I keep our decorations, food, and present buying simple (just one present each), so we can enjoy helping our children make their presents. Even the baby can give her handprint on a piece of paper.
Keeping our Christmas preparations simple and giving small presents help us remember our Savior at Christmas and bring His Spirit into our home.
Not everyone is able to enjoy ideal circumstances during the holidays, surrounded by loving family members. One Christmas, when my husband and I felt in need of comfort ourselves, we tried to think of others we could help. We gathered our lonely friends, all of whom happen to share our love of music. We spent Christmas afternoon together, visiting others who might need comfort and companionship on that day. We went to a local charity for families with critically ill children awaiting treatment at nearby hospitals. We went to several nursing homes that were filled with elderly people waiting for children and grandchildren who never came to visit. We were a jolly group, singing carols and shaking bells and taking pictures to leave behind as mementos. We shared special moments of joy together, lifting each other’s burdens and feeling true healing in our souls.
I love advent calendars and watching the anticipation of my children as we count down the days until Christmas. I wanted the focus of our countdown to be more spiritual, though. I came up with the idea of wrapping inexpensive treats, one for each of the 12 days before Christmas. I labeled each one with a scripture reference describing a gift Heavenly Father has given us.
Every night for family scripture time, we have a child select one of these wrapped presents. We read the scripture references on the package and bear our testimonies of that gift in our lives. The 12 gifts I chose the first year were the Creation, agency, prayer, opposition, charity, scriptures and revelation, prophets, the Holy Ghost, eternal life and exaltation, the Resurrection, families, and Christ’s Atonement. After family prayer, our children open the present and share the treat inside.
The excitement of counting down the days until Christmas is still there, but it is tempered by reverence and appreciation for the great gifts we have already received from a loving Heavenly Father. Each year we select different gifts to focus on, but always we end on Christmas Eve with the gift of our Savior’s life and Atonement.
As part of our Christmas traditions, we go to a live nativity pageant that members of the Church present every year at a local heritage park. Then we go home and read the Christmas story from the scriptures. During Christmas dinner, we all take turns around the table saying things that we are grateful for and what Christmas means to each of us individually. In the past we have also prepared gifts for neighbors to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.
, Alberta, Canada
Every year my mother’s entire extended family gets together for a big Christmas Eve gathering. When I was about eight years old, my mother and aunt began to feel that our Christmas Eve celebration focused too much on gifts and not enough on the Savior. It’s not easy to change long-standing family traditions, but Mother and Aunt Pam were able to make our family gathering more Christ centered.
First, she and her siblings began drawing names instead of giving gifts to everyone. The cousins did the same. We began another tradition when we started acting out the Christmas story, complete with simple costumes. With so many child actors, our Christmas play is always plenty of fun.
Although the excessive gift giving has greatly diminished, there is still the fun and excitement of our Christmas Eve, and we all are reminded that Christmas is really about Christ.
About five years ago in November, we received a letter from some friends describing people living in poverty in their area. They asked for any help we could give. I e-mailed our adult children and told them about the letter. I explained that instead of sending gifts to family members that year, I wanted to help these people. I encouraged our children to do the same. They all did, and we had such great feedback from our friends that our family has continued this tradition.
Each year since, a different child has chosen our family Christmas project. We have donated cash to doctors who travel to other countries to donate their services, we “adopted” a single mother and her children and purchased their Christmas gifts, and we have donated to charities.
My children have young families, and they are not wealthy. Three of my children are not members of the Church, but all have chosen to participate each year. It has been a unifying experience for our family, even though we are scattered in several states, and we always look forward to the next year’s project.
Name Withheld, Utah
The year our eldest son was to leave on his mission, he expressed a desire to spend Christmas in Nauvoo instead of exchanging gifts. Christmas Day in Nauvoo was quiet and almost deserted. While there, we noticed how different it was to be away from the materialism and worldliness of Christmas as the world celebrates it. In the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, it was a Christmas “without toys or trees or tinsel.” 1
This was the beginning of a tradition we have kept for many years: leaving the commercialism of the season behind and celebrating this holy day in a place as far removed from the world as possible, worshipping quietly as a family, thoughtfully setting goals that would bring us closer to Him whose birth we celebrate.
No matter where we are on Christmas Eve, we also include a most beloved tradition that we call our “Joseph and Mary dinner.” We prepare and partake of a few simple foods that Joseph and Mary might have had with them on their journey to Bethlehem: broiled fish, flat bread, olives, figs, cheese, grape juice. We spend this quiet evening reflecting upon the humble circumstances into which the Savior was born and in which He spent His life.
Following Christ at Christmas
“There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord our God with all our heart—and our neighbors as ourselves.” President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “The Gifts of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2003, 5.