Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 4


Part 4 of 4

2014 calendar #2In my three earlier posts regarding Christmas traditions that teach our children leading up to this final installment, I dealt with the reality that our kids learn by our example and specific illustrations and activities; about how we first need to focus on Jesus, then focus on others instead of ourselves. But we also need to set the tone for Christmas all year. Following are some ways to do that:

Prepare for Christmas All Year

  • For your child’s own birthday, plan a special day with presents, activities, and individual time. This will set the stage for doing the same for Jesus on His birthday.
  • During the year, buy things your children are asking for in the way of clothes (both necessities and treats) as you can afford them and give them to the kids before Christmas. Each time you buy them something, explain that Christmas time will be time for giving to Jesus. Set them up for it – create excitement and expectation by the following:
  • Save money in a special bank all year for a Christmas gift to Jesus (have everyone in the family contribute toward this gift, or have each family member save in their own private bank) — and give the money or the gifts which you will buy with the money just before Christmas either to your church or to a particular mission or para-church organization, for use to bring Christmas joy and the message of Christ to a child or family. Think Christmas Child or Angel Tree or World Vision or the Salvation Army, for instance.
  • If you give to the general ministry of an organization, have your kids write an accompanying letter or card with the gift(s), explaining how they saved all year toward this gift for Jesus and His work.
  • Encourage your child to make gifts — have the whole family make their Christmas gifts for others. Plan time in September or October to decide what gifts the family will make and to whom they will be given. Have a gift-wrapping night for these homemade gifts when the whole family does wrapping together (except for those prepared for family members who are present at the time.)

Additional Suggestions

1. Set realistic prices on purchased gifts for family and others – refuse to go into debt to satisfy your child’s every whim or to buy “guilty conscience gifts”. Buy some things during the year and take advantage of some great sales during the “off season” of retail sales, but wrap them closer to your gift-giving day so you don’t forget what you already bought.

2. Keep individual gifts to family members at no more than 2 or 3 gifts each, if they are purchased ones.

3. Create a festive atmosphere during the two weeks before Christmas – in preparation for the big celebration. Plan time for fun things together– like a special musical, a play or movies with the Christmas theme, (i.e., A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.). Make a huge family bowl of popcorn to share together.

4. Help your children look forward to the season, without gifts to them being the focus of their attention.

  • Give special privileges during the holidays, such as taking turns with the lighting of the advent candles;
  • Plan all-nighters or late nights watching videos together as a family or doing a fun activity with special friends;
  • Get together with other families to attend special church Christmas events or Christmas exhibits;
  • Spend an evening driving around to see Christmas lights;
  • Go caroling to neighbors or shut-ins or patients at convalescence facilities.

Realize that if your children are already older, the re-education will take time and work. If you do this joyfully, they will soon enter into that joy. Both parents must be equally enthusiastic about it. Encourage your children to ask their friends to join your family for some of the special occasions.

Share these ideas with other families in your church, with your extended family and with your close circle of friends. It would be very encouraging and helpful to the cause of a Christ-filled Christmas if your kids can see others doing similar sacrificial, life-instructive things during the Advent season.

Ask God to help you to come up with creative ideas for your own family with it’s own special needs. Keep the themes of “joy” and “praise” in your thoughts, speech, actions and activities during the Christmas season. For God Himself inhabits the praises of His people.

Hope this four-part series has been helpful and encouraging.

Have a wonderful, Christ-filled, blessed Christmas season!!!

©2011, Marcy Alves (edited 2012)

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 3


Part 3 of 4

In two earlier blogs I began to share some ways to make your celebration of Christmas a joyful time, instead of a period of tiresome, meaningless rituals that have little to do with the birth of Jesus the Christ, and leave you an exhausted, bundle of raw nerves. You and your family need to first refocus on Jesus. Then you can properly . . .

Focus On Others

1. Emphasize to your kids that Christmas is a time for giving, not getting. Teach them how to be generous toward God by giving to others:

a. As a family, help to serve a meal in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day.

b. Let the kids help to make and serve a special Christmas meal in your own home to which you invite homeless people, or neighbors who have no place to go for the holiday, or people from your church who have no family in the area–single people, elderly adults, or foreigners and aliens residing in your town or neighborhood.

c. Visit someone in a nursing home or a children’s hospital on Christmas Day.

d. Bake cookies for neighbors, shut-ins, or service people (the postman, garbage collector, etc.), considering dietary limitations if you are aware of them, such as those of diabetics.

e. Send a money gift to a Christian organization that deals with world or national hunger, housing for the homeless, etc., in the name of someone on your list who is hard to buy for. Have your children write a card to the person in whose name you are making the gift, explaining what your family did in that person’s name.

2. While your child is still young, teach him/her about personal generosity that reflects God’s generosity to us. Let’s face it: none of us were born with natural generosity. We learn how to be generous by example and teaching from others.

David and I have some friends who encouraged their young son to select a few of his Christmas gifts, before opening them, to take to less fortunate children. He learned to give. Today, as an adult, he donates time and money to such enterprises as Habitat for Humanity. Several other families have their children give some of their toys that are in good condition to children who have none; or to spend some of their own money to purchase gifts to send to a less fortunate child somewhere in the world.

More to come . . . Part 4

©2011, Marcy Alves

edit and re-post 2012

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children Pt. 2


Part 2 of 4:

In spite of the commercialization of Christmas, there are ways to put Christ back into the center of the Christmas celebration. It may take a great deal of effort to correct old, ingrained habits, but the rewards will be great as you find your energy and enthusiasm increasing instead of dissipating during the holiday season.

Here are some valuable tips to aid you as you re-invest the Christmas season with awe for our wonderful Savior; as you teach your children how to celebrate the incarnation — the coming of God to earth in human flesh.

Focus on Jesus:
1. Read the Christmas story together as a family at dinnertime or as a part of other family “together” time. Perhaps combine the reading with the lighting of advent candles and read the Scriptures that relate to each candle. This would space out the Christmas story over a 5 week period. Have a different family member read each time from an age appropriate Bible – i.e., a young child could read from a children’s Bible. Talk about why God sent His Son into the world in a human body and follow it through to the cross and the empty tomb.

2. When entertaining guests during the holiday season, both Christians and unbelievers, emphasize the real reason for celebrating Christmas:

a. sing carols together, with someone accompanying on guitar or keyboard;

b. share testimonies or personal stories from other Christmas seasons;

c. suggest special prayer for others who may not be having a happy Christmas, such as: our troops overseas, the homeless, nursing home residents, those who have experienced recent personal losses, or those who do not know Christ’s love;

d. read aloud stories with a Christmas theme;

e. watch videos or DVD’s with Christmas related themes that teach Christian values. Talk about the story themes.

More to come . . . Part 3

©2011, Marcy Alves

Christmas Traditions that Teach Our Children Pt. 1


As we approach this Christmas season, we are “life-instructing” our kids about what this most holy day signifies. The old axiom may sound trite, but it’s painfully true that “A picture is worth a thousand words”. We are painting pictures everyday with our lives. How we act and react in front of children results in mental image reinforcing mental image, day after day, year after year. What we say often cannot be heard because of what we do and how we do it. What kind of permanent images are you impressing on your children? What kind of “stuff” for tomorrow is filtering into their minds today?

Children learn through a song on the radio that Santa Claus is omniscient: “He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he sees you when you wake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” But do they also know that God is omniscient? That what He sees in our lives is far more important than what a fictional character sees?

How do you handle yourselves during the Christmas season? Harried, rushed, short-tempered, neglectful of your family and your spiritual responsibilities? Do you withhold gifts all year but give more than you can afford at Christmas? Your children are watching and learning what Christmas is all about.

More to come . . . See Part 2


Christmas: Is Something Missing?


empty mangerA young girl who helped me decorate for Christmas this year told me her dad doesn’t allow Christmas decorating at their house. He says that Americans get all involved in the show, but don’t think about what Christmas is really all about. All too often, I see his point of view.

Although I am acquainted with some Scrooge-like personalities, I personally love the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – Christmas being my absolute favorite holiday of the year. I love to decorate house and tree with things that carry memories of people and places of my life. I could write a history based on my collection of decoration items – antique ornaments from my parents’ Christmas collection, gift ornaments from friends and children I’ve worked with in youth groups over the years; home-made and store-bought – many with personal meaning.

My husband and I enjoy a night-time drive during Christmas time to enjoy the creative light displays. I enjoy the warmth of the season, sharing smiles with other shoppers, Christmas music in stores and on street corners. But often I come home with a feeling of “something is missing”.

There is a home-owner on our street who every year does a 1/4 acre Christmas light display, which was featured on our local NH network TV news show. The display is complete with Santas and sled, a minature helicopter, a ferris wheel, candy canes, carolers, and other entertaining light displays – you can even tune into music on the radio dial that the various displays are synchronized to – but amidst all the dazzling, flashing light images, not one image relates to the birth of Christ.

I have attended Christmas shows,  tree lighting events, school concerts, etc. over the years – both indoor and outdoor events -but often in recent years I have gone away feeling that something was missing.

Often the children sang or played “Christmas songs”, however, not one song even hinted at the real meaning of Christmas – no old standards such as “Silent Night”, “Away in a Manger”, “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – nothing except Santa songs or the old standards like “White Christmas”, “Jingle Bells” or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. Most often kids today don’t even know the lyrics or melodies to traditional Christmas caroles.

I can’t listen to “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” without thinking of how misplaced Christmas awe and worship is in the secular culture today. It’s Santa who is reverenced during the Christmas season, not Christ.

Young children very often don’t realize that Santa is really dad, or mom, or granddad. They see Santa as a magical, mystical figure who watches them daily, or has an army of elves who spy for him, or an “elf on the shelf”  . . . sort of like . . . God and His angels – only not. Which results in being good not to please and be obedient to parents, but to get things they want from Santa.

Many, if not most of todays kids don’t know that there is someone else, someone very real, who is watching them – or should I say watching over them; someone who knows they can’t be good enough to deserve the gifts He has for them, yet He keeps on giving.

We have generations of children who are growing up celebrating Christmas year after year, never being taught that the origin of Christmas is the birth of God’s Son, come to earth in the body of a baby – Immanuel “God with us” – fulfilling more than 300 Old Testament prophecies, made hundreds of years before his birth. They don’t know that this baby, who was named Jesus, came to let us know what God is like; or that this baby grew up to die on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Some of these inadequately informed children are being raised in “Christian” homes – so called.

I’ve written a 4-part series of blog posts entitled “Christmas Traditions that Teach Our Children”, which you can access from the link above. I would like to encourage you to check out these posts for suggestions to help you teach your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or other children in your life the real meaning of Christmas.

If you also feel something is missing in your own celebration of Christmas, I trust that these posts will remind you of where you and your family should focus during Christmas season, and give you a plan of action for future Christmases.

May God bless you as you seek to enter the real spirit of Christmas during this holy season.

©2013, Marcy Alves edited 2015

Christmas Eve Thoughts


????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????It was Christmas Eve; the house was decorated with memory-joggers collected (or gifted to us) over the years; gifts were wrapped; there was quiet seasonal instrumental music playing in the background.

I’d made my annual cornflake/marshmallow died-green candy-filled Christmas wreaths and my special holiday cranberry chutney – to be eaten later with goat cheese on sliced baguettes. And I was about to prepare a pot of venison stew for the main dinner course, as a few friends and family members were coming to spend the evening together.

It was a grey, damp and foggy day here in Penacook, NH – with a rather melancholy feeling, since we would not be visiting our MA, CT, PA, VA or MD family members this year.

If your year has gone like ours, this was a rather lean Christmas. But this lack of piles of gifts and the usual rolls of wrapping paper and ribbons caused me to think more deeply about that first Christmas day/night in Bethlehem.

Until the angels’ pronouncement to the shepherds who were watching over their sheep on a hillside outside of town, huddled around their warm campfire, there was nothing of note to mark this day as different from any other day. A poor carpenter and his young wife birthing her first baby in a humble stable, with hay for a bed and a make-shift bassinette fashioned from the animals’ manger would not have made the evening news.

Yet this night was a very special night – in spite of the lack of the comforts of home and the closeness of family or close friends; in spite of the long trek behind them with a very pregnant woman riding on a donkey, and the purpose of the trip being a Roman census registration for tax purposes (government taxes have been around a long time).

In the midst of the disappointing and less than ideal “guestroom” accommodations for Mary and Joseph, let alone a lack of sanitary birthing conditions, God was at work in the ordinary difficulties of life, adding His brushstrokes of awe and holiness to the rather dismal scene.

The reports of the shepherds who went to find the baby, to verify that they really had seen angels and heard the pronouncement from God, must have recalled to Mary and to Joseph their own angel visitations and words from God some nine months earlier. Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. The shepherds not only spread the word about this unusual event, but were “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told [by the angels]”. Luke 2:13-20

This night was a special night because the Old Testament prophecies of a coming Messiah (more than 300 of them) were beginning to be fulfilled in the birth of this child to a virgin, in this town called Bethlehem.

Most church re-enactments of the events of that first Christmas have the wise men arriving the same night as the shepherds, but the visit of the magi would not happen until sometime later – perhaps as long as two years later. In Matthew chapter 2, then reigning non-Jewish King Herod – appointed by the Roman Senate as King of Judea – a.k.a. “Herod the Great” (who was not so great, but a murderous tyrannical ruler who killed his own wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and a few uncles) realized that the magi had not returned to report to him the location of the ”king” whose star they had been following, so he gave the order for all baby boys two years and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem to be killed – fulfilling a prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:15.

Before the killing of the innocents by Herod, there was another appearance of an angel to Joseph in a dream, warning him to take Mary and the child and go to Egypt until Herod died, fulfilling another prophecy found in Hosea 11:1 “out of Egypt I have called my son.” No one knows how long the “holy family” was in Egypt, possibly for several years, before returning to Galilee to live in Nazareth; hence Jesus was called a “Nazarene”, which in his day was a term of disdain and derision.

Meanwhile, back to the magi: when they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph and Jesus were living in a house, not in a stable, and “when they saw the child with his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him”, then “presented him with gifts“. (Matthew 2:9-11).

I started thinking about how we give gifts to each other – many of which we don’t need or want. And we feel a bit guilty when someone gives us a gift and we don’t have one for them, whether or not they are on our regular gift list.

Many people who are into Christmas gift-giving have never realized where this gift-giving idea came from, nor have ever received the gift that God sent that very first “Christmas” – the gift of His Son, Jesus – “Immanuel”, which means God with us. If we miss this, we’ve missed what Christmas is really all about.

Anyway, these were some of my Christmas Eve thoughts.

Now that Christmas Day has come and gone, I hope that with your Christmas activities in past tense, you will have time to contemplate with me, how to approach Christmas a little bit differently next year, perhaps more “spiritually”? That the reason for the season will permeate your pre-Christmas planning and your celebrations commemorating this truly God-directed holy event – that the meaning of Christmas may penetrate the space/time where you live each day. And that the gift of the Holy Spirit, sent by this holy child of Bethlehem when He grew up, died on a cross, raised from the dead, and assended into heaven, will find room in your heart to birth new life that will last into eternity.

Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year!!

©2014, Marcy Alves

‘Tis the Season


Thanksgiving is over; Black Friday has come and gone – thankfully. Family and friends have  departed and quiet prevails in the house. Guest rooms are cleaned and back in order and the family dog has eaten his share of turkey.  Leftovers have been served until no one wants to face them again. No more gravies, stuffing, pies or eggnog until Christmas.

I’m glad we don’t eat this way every day.  But  the community effort in preparing the Thanksgiving meal, the family fellowship around the table, the camaraderie at the kitchen sink and dishwasher, and the shared football experience in the TV room, all add memories that are a part of the fabric of our lives. Shared experiences, shared memories are so important to remind us that we have lived – that our existence has been significant, if not to the world, than certainly to each other.

There is something special about the Thanksgiving through Christmas season. Year after year as we celebrate these two important events there is a nostalgia in the air that moves us to keep  in touch with each other – family with family, and friends with friends. We telephone to or receive calls from out-of-town family, thankful that the aging ones are still with us. Calls, cards, notes, or emails come from friends with whom we seldom communicate at other times of the year.

There seems to be a yearning to reconnect in a more tangible way during the holiday season. It’s different from Facebook communications, which is so general – a kind of put-it-out-there and see if anyone reads it.  Thanksgiving and Christmas communications are more like, “we think of you specifically, care about our relationship with you, and want to renew our personal connection”.

There is also a spiritual element to this season that is unlike other times of the year; the awareness of a God-connection. It’s a mystical sense of the “other world” that runs parallel with this physical one – the invisible, unseen dimension that came into our space-time zone some 2,000 years ago in the person of a little baby boy named Jesus.

Even though the spirit of this world has tried to get our attention off of that original gift from God, the light still shines brightly and the darkness has not been able to extinguish it. When we see the decorations in stores, on houses, and other buildings – and though their themes may be purely secular, they still remind us that something happened those many years ago that changed the course of the history of the world, and continues to change history as each new year is added to that history.

We are reminded in John 1:6-7, 9 of the entrance of this supernatural light:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

and in John 1:14 of God in a human body:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

and in John 3:16 the reason that He who is light took on human flesh and brought a gift to us from His Father:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

There is a sense of joy and expectation in this season – and it’s not about material things – it’s about the God who loves His creation, who came to us to demonstrate that love.  The sense of the uniqueness of the this season goes beyond cultural, national and ethnic boundaries. Wherever there are those whose hearts have been entered by the Spirit of the Christ, Christmas will continue to be more than trees and lights and wrapped presents;  Christmas will be a time of embracing this God of love and His gift of life; a time of gratitude and generosity toward others. No Grinch can steal this memory from hearts that have been touched and transformed by this gift; which is in us light, love, and eternal life from our Creator God.

Welcome to the season of Christmas!

©2011, Marcy Alves

edited 2012

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