Tuesday, December 6, 2011



"Now may the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ" has been my prayer this week for myself and my children, and it is now my prayer for you....may the Lord use these ideas to direct your children's hearts to the Love of God!!!!!

Living as we do in a culture steeped in materialism -- the longing for and love of things -- I have spent many Decembers thinking about how to help the focus of our home be on the gifts Christ gives more than the gifts you get, and the gifts Christ wants more than the gifts you want, and the gifts you give more than the gifts you receive.  Mostly I have just kept open eyes and open ears, and copied great ideas from others, which I will pass along now to you. 

The Gifts Christ Gives 
The gifts Christ gives to us are so many -- forgiveness, acceptance, identify, hope, purpose, belonging, beauty.  One simple tradition we have been doing for many many years is making and using  a Jesse tree.  It is a simple felt wall hanging with velcro ornaments that I made with our kids.  It looks like this.

Jesse Tree. Every night we read or paraphrase the summary (when they are younger), or read the Scriptures, and let one of the kids place the velcro symbol for that reading on the tree.  The kids have their 'special' symbols now which they often beg to be 'mine' to put on!  It may be the angel they made, or the 10 commandments, or the dove with the lop-sided eye, or the apple that they always place in  exactly the same spot each year -- until the brother walks into the room the next day and tricks them by moving it!  Then I get to arbitrate a disagreement!  All in all, this daily tradition in December helps weave the truths of the gospel, from creation in Genesis, through the hope of the resurrection, in our hearts.  It is a way for God's written word to be sown in our minds and hearts during this wonderful season of birthday celebration for our Lord!  Invariably there are nights we miss, and we just double up on those. (There are quite a few books available on Amazon that give the patterns and readings for your Jesse Tree. It is a fun project to do with other families in your church!)

Advent Wreath. We also have an advent wreath that we light each Sunday of December during either lunch or dinner, and we discuss the symbolism in the wreath.
Christmas music and stories and ornaments: We like to use these a lot!  I typically buy one new Christmas album and one new kids' Christmas book every year.  We often make ornaments together at home and talk about meaning...one year Jonny made a pig out of styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners, and sequins. We talked about God's creation - and the pig looked soooo funny that it became a favorite over the years.

Act It Out. Every year we get up, have breakfast and open stockings, read the Christmas story from Luke 2, pray, and then begin to share gifts. Usually at some point during the day, we act out the Christmas story reading from a simple version of Luke 2....kids always enjoy acting out stories....we have some funny family memories of "the year Cristi was the donkey, Anya was Mary, and Anya fell off." 

The Gifts Christ Wants
Gifts for the Least. We have talked a lot over the years with our kids about the gifts Christ wants.  Matthew 25 is a great passage for this: "I was hungry and you gave me food;  I was thirsty and you gave me drink;  I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me."  We know the rest - when we give these gifts to the least, we give them to Him.  At times we get up early and make biscuits with friends and take them down to homeless folks early on Sunday morning.  Other times in the afternoon we go down and help with Hosea Williams 'feed the homeless' meal in Atlanta.  One year we went over and carolled for an older woman who was a shut-in.

Gifts of Kindness and Service. We also talk about the fact that Jesus loves it when we give to Him in secret. (Don't let your right hand know what your left is doing.) Some years we decorate a gold box and put a slit in the top. We encourage everyone in the family to look for ways they give to the Lord when others are not looking....maybe make your brother's bed or do his chores; maybe give a compliment to someone looking sad and then write this down on a slip of paper, unsigned, and put in in Jesus' gift box. At times we read them later in the month and at times we just leave them secret.

The Gifts You Give

I always disliked the typical talk between kids at school that goes like this. "So, what do you want for Christmas?" or "What are you gonna get for Christmas?" Then the answer, "Well, I am gonna get a computer." In our family of 12, folks don't get computers for Christmas! Also,this focus flies in the face of Jesus' words that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." While I wish I could say, "All of my kids were content simply focusing on giving and not receiving," that is not the case.  The creepy creeping materialism often made them feel pressured, different, since that is not our family focus. But we were able to come up with an answer that helped A LOT!  We decided, together, that we could say something like this, "In our family we get big presents on our birthday, since that day is about us....but on Christmas we focus more on giving, since that day is about Jesus' birthday." 

Gifts We Make.  A number of folks have asked me, when they learn when have a family of 12, "What is Christmas like?...Is it just out of control?"  I feel sad when I hear it, as we have so lost sight of the One who we are celebrating.  I usually say, "No, Christmas is really a fun time in our family. We approach Christmas like this.  Each of us draws 2 names out of a hat, and then makes a gift for that person."  Here is an example of gifts kids made for each other last year...the hand tied UGA blanket, the sweat pants with "ACC" on them, standing for Atlanta Christian College. We have many examples....home made jewelry, funny videos, picture albums, poems, stories, golfballs painted to make them personalized, paintings, knitted scarfs, home made peanut brittle or candy.

The impact of focusing on making gifts is that we spend lots of times at home together working with our hands for each other, rather than out at malls walking aisles.  Over recent years some of the non-artistic kids have begged to buy their gift and we have agreed to that, since they do seem spent on ideas after many years of doing this...the focus, though, still is more on the gift we give over the gift we want.  It carries over into Christmas morning like this.  From youngest to oldest, or vice versa, we start by finding a wrapped gift we made and taking it over to the family member we made it for. So even then, we are looking for what we will give.

May your family enjoy many gifts in this next month--gifts that bring joy in the giving and in the receiving! 


  1. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. We already do a few of these, but I would love to incorporate even more.
    Blessings to your family this Christmas.

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  3. I have 2 young married daughters, who are now continuing some of these traditions in their own families! Soooo exciting....we are building GENERATIONS! God bless you!

  4. I realize you wrote this two years ago, but I just found it while doing a search for Jesse Tree ideas. You have moved me - deeply - to meet the challenge of serving the least of these and to teach my children about it, too. Just this year we have started to give to homeless people regularly (bags of socks, granola bars, water, toothbrush, etc) and I really want to change our family to really try for Kingdom Living! Thank you for your inspiration here. It was from the Holy Spirit for sure :)

    1. Jennifer, so so glad to hear this post was helpful to you! Don't you love how wonderful Holy Spirit keeps growing and expanding us?! I also love Susan and Brian's ideas and have, like you, made changes in our celebrations to be more kingdom-minded. Blessings on you and your whole family!