by Stacey Schifferdecker
Beyond Santa Claus – Teaching children the true meaning of Christmas
All I want for Christmas is… a dancing Elmo and a Kidzoom camera and a Littlest Pet Shop Pet Town and…
It is all too easy during the Christmas season to lose focus on Jesus and concentrate only on gifts, parties, decorations, and fun. If even adults have trouble keeping Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, how much more difficult it is for children entangled by the excitement and mystery of Santa Claus. But you can help your young children learn the true meaning of Christmas. Incorporate some of these ideas into your Christmas festivities this year–
Have a Nightly Christmas Story Time
Libraries and bookstores are full of Christmas books – you can easily find enough to read one book every night of December. Choose books that tell the story of Jesus’ birth rather than a Santa, Rudolph, or Frosty story. Some good choices for young children include
- B is for Bethlehem
- God Gave us Christmas
- Room for a Little One
- Who is Coming to Our House
- One Baby Jesus
Make this a special time each night, perhaps snuggling up in front of the Christmas tree and reading by candlelight or flashlight with a cup of hot cocoa at hand. On Christmas Eve, read the story of Jesus’ birth straight from the Bible in the book of Luke.
Give to Others
Opportunities abound to give to others at Christmas time. Perhaps your church has an “Angel Tree” where you can choose a person to buy gifts for. If not, most malls have a tree or you can contact a social services agency in your town. Children especially enjoy choosing gifts for another child their own age. As you shop together, talk about how happy the recipient of the gift will be. Talk about how Jesus is a gift for us and how we can share his love with others.
Have a Birthday Party for Jesus
Whether or not December 25 is the day Christ was actually born, it is the day we celebrate his birth. So why not have a birthday party as part of your celebration? This can be as simple as a birthday cake as part of your Christmas dinner to a children’s party with games, food, and gifts of baby items that you will donate.
Buy a Nativity Scene your Child Can Play With
You may have a beautiful heirloom nativity set as part of your Christmas decorations – obviously you don’t want your children to play with it! But you can buy plastic or plush nativity scenes and let your children act out the Christmas story. Or the kids can make their own nativity pieces out of clothespins, wooden spoons, clay, cardboard tubes, etc. Lots of ideas are available on the internet or in children’s craft books.
Choose Religious Christmas Music
Kids love music and can learn a lot by listening to it. Songs like “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bells” are fun, but your children will absorb the meaning of Christmas if you focus on more traditional Christmas carols that tell the story of Jesus such as
- Away in a Manger
- Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
- Joy to the World
- We Three Kings
- The First Noel
- Come, All Ye Faithful
- Silent Night
You can also encourage your children to participate in a Christmas pageant at your church or just make one up with their friends.
Does focusing on the real meaning behind Christmas mean no more Santa? Not necessarily. Kids love Santa and his spirit of love and giving is a fun addition to Christmas. The key is to incorporate Santa without letting him overshadow Jesus’ birth. Some ways to do this include—
- Telling children the story of Saint Nicholas, the real man on whom the Santa legend is based
- Separate Santa gifts from Jesus’ birthday celebration. Take a cue from other cultures, where Santa gifts are given on St. Nicholas day (December 6), New Year’s Day, or Epiphany (January 6).
- If you don’t want Santa gifts to be so far from Christmas day itself, make them just one part of your Christmas celebration. For example, devote Christmas Eve to a celebration of Jesus’ birth and let children open their gifts from Santa on Christmas morning. Or go to church Christmas morning and let the kids open their gifts Christmas afternoon.
By making Christ the center of your Christmas celebrations and taking time to teach your children the true meaning of Christmas, you set a firm foundation for their faith in years to come. Give your children the best Christmas gift of all – a life centered around Jesus.
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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