Who doesn’t love Christmas traditions with family as a child?
Making cookies and gingerbread houses, trimming the tree and of course, a clandestine visit from Santa are some of my favorite memories. And now that I’m a parent, I’m thinking, What are my kids going to remember most?
I personally love the magic and the joy of modern Christmas traditions like waking up to gifts under the tree. But I’m also aware of the creep of greed and materialism. My daughter recently asked for an “advent” calendar that would give her a little toy every day up until December 25.
You know, because nothing celebrates Jesus’ arrival like LOL dolls.
So how do we make our Christmas traditions more Christ-centered and meaningful for our families, while also fun?
Fortunately, there are a plethora of ideas out there. I’ll get to those in a moment…but first, let’s take a brief diversion into some of the season’s more godly traditions, starting with Advent.
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What Is “Advent” Anyway…and Does It Matter?
Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t know the meaning of Advent until very, very recently. I mean, I knew it was associated with the Christmas season and had religious undertones. But it’s not something I actively observed.
We didn’t really go to church when I was a kid, so while I knew the basics of the “Christmas Story,” the word Advent referred to the cardboard calendar with the chocolate it in; if I were to guess, it meant “countdown.”
I became a Christian in my late teens and started seeing Christmas as a time to celebrate the faith I was living out year-round. It was a time to be generous, to celebrate Christ’s coming into the world, and to be with loved ones. I thought Advent was just an old-fashioned word that people used to describe the season.
Then I discovered another old-fashioned word: liturgy – a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted.
Related to this is a liturgical calendar. It’s basically a worship calendar with different seasons and holidays built into it. Its biggest events are centered around Advent and Lent.
A lot of modern churches have broken away from this tradition, perhaps because it may feel a little stuffy and rigid. But as I reflect on it, I see the value in the rhythms of the Christian calendar.
Something to think about.
Advent starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas each year. The word means “arrival” or “coming.” The Latin word of origin referred to the coming of a ruler. Imagine Caesar riding into town; during his advent, the whole city would greet him as a way to honor and celebrate him (and submit to his authority).
So when we think about the arrival of Jesus, observing Advent means welcoming the King of all kings, as his gospel message announced all those centuries ago. The way Advent has been observed has evolved over the centuries, but I think we can appreciate the sentiment today without getting too bogged down in those details.
Whether you formally observe Advent or not, the Christmas season is a time rich with meaning. Your family has the opportunity to celebrate the arrival of royalty, and you can honor him through your traditions.
Daily Advent Traditions
Don’t get me wrong, I love any excuse to eat chocolate, so dig into one of those sweet calendars if you that suits your fancy.
But there are also many other varieties of true Advent calendars that may be a little more Jesus-y. Here are some lovely ways to “count down” to the King’s arrival!
The Greatest Gift Advent Calendar
A new tradition we started in 2018 was with a beautiful Advent calendar that focused on Jesus’ coming.
Ann Voskamp’s The Wonder of the Greatest Gift comes with a daily storybook that walks through the biblical narrative. The climax, of course, is with the greatest gift, the coming of the Savior.
Each day you get to open a little ornament that corresponds to the day’s story. Our kids took turns opening the calendar each day while I read the story aloud. We all enjoyed it!
Names of Jesus Paper Chain
I love this idea from Future Flying Saucers. Have you ever made an Advent paper chain before? Why not make it an activity to learn more about the words that describe Jesus?
Names of Jesus Ornaments
Here’s another Names of Jesus option for Advent, with ornaments instead for you crafty people out there. Simply print out the words and glue them into mason jar lids; decorate as desired.
If you follow the instructions from the article, you’ll want to be sure you have the Jesus Storybook Bible to do the devotions along with it (a book for kids I highly recommend!)
Other Jesse Tree Traditions
A Jesse Tree is a centuries-old practice in which you tell the story of the Bible from Creation to the Christmas Story over the course of Advent (“The Greatest Gift” is an example); you can hang an ornament with each story.
Check out these beautifully designed ornaments that come with a daily reading guide.
Countdown to Christmas Book
This is another Christmas countdown option that is really cute for young kids. Bring the story of Jesus’ birth to light as you connect scripture and a daily devotional reading with the pieces of your own nativity set up over 15 days.
I like this idea because you can use it as a personal method of worship, or extend it to your entire family—and you can adjust your approach for different ages.
Other Christ-Centered Christmas Tradition Ideas
There are some other fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Jesus around the holidays. Here are some of my favorites that I came across:
Christmas-Themed Bible Verses
Not all Christmas verses need to come from the actual “Christmas Story” recorded in the New Testament. Here are 100 Bible verses to you and your family throughout the holiday season.
You can create any tradition you want that is centered around these verses; read some of them during the holiday dinner table or before bedtime. Send them in notes in your loved ones’ lunch boxes. Do a calligraphy project with them. Pray through some them together before you travel. You choose!
If you want something to help your kids focus on the meaning of Christmas, check out 25 Days of Christmas Copywork (ideal for homeschooling or keeping kids busy over winter break).
Picking a “Prophetic Word” for Each Family Member
This is a beautiful tradition explained by Shelemah, in which someone prayerfully picks a meaningful word for everyone in the family. Don’t be thrown off about the word “prophetic;” there’s nothing “woo-woo” or weird about this. I love the idea.
Christmas Story Family Scavenger Hunt
If you’ve never done a photo scavenger hunt, you are missing out! This seems like a fun activity to do with kids who are a bit older and can have a good discussion about the deeper truths behind Christmas.
Find things that relate to the Christmas Story, have some great conversations with your family and others, and even enjoy a little friendly competition with Arabah Joy’s Christmas Scavenger Hunt.
Christmas Felt Crafts
If you have the crafting itch (I have a child who does), there are some beautiful things you can do with felt from Faith and Felt Obsession including a felt Christmas tree and an Unto Us a Son Is Born felt book page.
You can do so much more than a tree and garland, right? Get Christmas decorations that tell God’s story. These Christmas printables from Peaches & Prayer will point you in the right direction.
We like to set aside a day to decorate as a family during the weekend after Thanksgiving. It usually involves Christmas music and yummy leftovers!
Christmas Traditions for Your Family to Give to Others
What better way to honor Christ than with Christmas traditions that are a blessing to others? This is certainly the time of year to “give back,” as there is a myriad of opportunities to give globally and locally.
Encouraging Others Who Work on Christmas
Nurses, doctors, firefighters, police officers…some people are sacrificing to serve their community during the holidays. Make them cards or bring them Christmas cookies. See related ideas here: Small Ways to Serve Close to Home This Christmas.
Giving Gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Did you know that these traditional gifts of the Christmas story are rich with meaning? And you can infuse your own gifts with the same meaning. Living Our Priorities explains how.
Giving Christmas Gifts to Others in Need
We also enjoy giving to children in need via local gift drives—it helps my kids see that it’s not all about them! It’s also fun for them to pick items out, knowing that they’re going to bring joy to someone else.
We love this classic way to encourage people like our neighbors or residents of a nursing home. Print out a few of the classics like Silent Night or Away in a Manger and head out! It’s really that simple (even if you sound terrible, it’s the thought that counts!).
More Inspirational Christmas Tradition Ideas for Every Family
This is obviously not an exhaustive list of ideas for family Christmas traditions, so here are a few more tips for families from some fantastic bloggers:
10 Ways to Have More Christ in Christmas: Devoted to Maker
33 Things to Do with Children Before Christmas on a Budget: Married by His Grace
Christmas Traditions for Pastor’s Family: Fishbowl Family
The Ultimate Advent Guide for Preschoolers and Toddlers: Mama Needs a Manual
10 Meaningful Christmas Traditions for Christian Couples: Insta Encouragements
Christmas Inspiration Mini Ebook with activities, crafts and recipes: Denise Sultenfuss
Practical Advent Ideas for Busy Families This Christmas: The Joyfully Imperfect
20 Old-Fashioned Christmas Traditions to Recapture the Magic: Healthy Christian Home
30 Ideas for a Christ-Centered Family Christmas: Vanessa Myers
Now it’s your turn: what are your favorite family Christmas tradition ideas! Share them (or link to them) in the comments.
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