Just when you think you have your home perfectly childproofed, Christmas comes along and you have to worry about wobbly trees, tiny lights, and enticing ornaments. So you leave the bottom branches bare and block the Christmas tree off with the coffee table. You put the breakable decorations up high and hope for the best. It’s pretty easy to walk into a home at Christmastime and know that small children live there. The house is decorated, but the special holiday objects are safely out of reach.
Christmas is about a lot more than the decorations, of course. It’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. Yes, it’s important to protect holiday heirlooms from young hands. It’s critical to prevent toddlers from taking a bite out of your poinsettia. At the same time, it is possible to bring Christmas to a child’s level. Even the youngest children can celebrate the birth of the Savior in a meaningful way.
Amid all of the Christmas preparations in your home with the tree, the presents, and the parties, take some time to prepare your children’s hearts for Jesus’ coming as well. While the breakable decorations may stay up high, there are many fun ways to bring Christmas to a child’s level. As a parent, grandparent, or godparent, you can help the little ones in your life grow in faith as you await the birth of Jesus.
Right now, we’re already in the season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent started on November 28 this year. Some families use an Advent wreath to mark the time approaching Christmas. An Advent wreath is usually a candle holder with spaces for four candles. It’s often decorated with greens from outdoors. On the first Sunday in Advent and all the days following, someone in the family lights one candle in the wreath. On the second Sunday, two candles are lit, and so on, until all four are lit during the week before Christmas. As the light grows brighter, the time of Jesus’ birth grows closer. Even young children can say a traditional Advent greeting as the candles are lit: “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Children and adults alike enjoy lighting candles in the dark winter nights. Using an Advent wreath can be a quiet and comforting family ritual during a hectic season. While the candles are lit, you can discuss as a family some of the key words of Advent, such as “peace,” “hope,” and “joy.” You can reflect on questions with older children and teens such as, How can the peace of Christ change the world, your community, your school, your home, or your heart this season? What are you hoping for? How does your faith in Jesus bring you joy? Watching the flickering candles of Advent can help families slow down and take time to talk about their faith as it is now, and how they hope it to be as Jesus enters their hearts anew at Christmas.
Another helpful way to bring Christmas to a child’s level is to have a nativity set in the home that can be played with, rearranged, and loved just like Elmo, Woody, or Dora. There are chunky wood nativity sets that are safe for kids, durable plastic figurines of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, and even plush nativity dolls where the sheep look just like the stuffed animals filling your child’s toy chest.
Put the characters from the nativity where your child can reach them and try to eavesdrop when they play with them. You’ll probably find out which parts of the story of the first Christmas have stuck from your own telling, from Sunday School, or from Christmas worship services. You might also discover some new twists that spring from your child’s imagination. One year our daughter arranged all of the baby Jesuses from our various nativity sets in one barn, so it looked like an overflowing newborn nursery of babies wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in mismatched mangers. Even if they don’t get the story exactly right, the important thing is that your child is engaged with the good news that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He is coming soon to be with you as Savior and Lord, and to love you and your child your whole lives long.
Finally, after lighting Advent candles and playing with the holy family, you can bring Christmas to a child’s level by having a birthday party. This isn’t one more party to add to your busy social calendar. It’s simply a way to remember why we have Christmas in the first place: to wish Jesus a happy birthday. You can make it as easy as buying a cupcake at the store, putting a candle in it, and inviting the children to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Or you can have a more elaborate birthday party. You can include gifts that can be given to charities to help children understand Christmas as a time of giving as well as receiving.
Jesus came down to dwell with us at Christmas. Certainly, Christmas worship services, pageants, and concerts help us hear the story of Jesus’ birth year after year. In your own home, you may have more great ideas for bringing Christmas to your child’s level. Whether it’s lighting an Advent candle or reading your baby a board book of the Christmas story, you have an important role in passing on faith in Jesus.
As you live out your holy calling as Mom or Dad, your son or daughter can catch the hope, peace, and joy of this wonderful season through you. They can trust that God loves them enough to come and be with them as a tiny baby in a manger. Your children can hear that good news from the Bible and from you. They can see the excitement in your face as you say, “Come, Lord Jesus” while lighting the candles. They can hear the joy in your voice as you sing Christmas carols. Faith is contagious. Bringing your faith down to your child’s level is the most important gift you can give them at Christmas, and at any time of year.
For more information the role of families in passing on faith, please visit Vibrant Faith Ministries: www.vibrantfaith.org. •
Paige Evers is an ordained Lutheran pastor and mother to two young children. She served congregations in Maryland before moving to Milford with her family recently.