With all the glitz and glamour of Christmas in stores, and Michael Bublé getting ready to burst into song at any moment, it’s easy to get swept away in the magic of the season and unintentionally leave what makes Christmas truly magical behind. We spoke to three families to hear the different ways they keep Christ at the centre of the holiday season.
Gathering with God’s family is a priority
Caroline and Rob Freitag love the excitement of Christmas, and long for their children to understand what is truly exciting about this time of year. “We do our Christmas tree, lights and decorations, but we always make sure we say Christmas is a time for celebrating because Jesus was born, and that’s when God came to earth to be Immanuel – God with us,” says Mrs Freitag, children’s minister at St Andrew’s, Wahroonga.
Conversations about why Jesus’ birth is exciting or what it means for people come naturally as they set up decorations or go about their lives in December. “There are lots of handmade decorations on our tree, so some of those decorations will be of the Christmas story,” she says. “One is in the shape of a box and talks about the gift given to us at Christmas… We also use the ‘Names of Jesus’ advent calendar – we’ve had that for a few years – and when my son was young he loved turning the card each day. He couldn’t read but the anticipation that we were looking forward to a day was exciting. Now he will ask ‘What does Lord mean?’ or ‘What does Messiah mean?’.
“Some families have lots of traditions. Our only tradition is that we meet with our church family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. When Jesus came, he saved us to be part of his family, so that’s really important for us to celebrate with our church family, whether that’s at a service or at carols.”
Mrs Freitag believes Christmas is full of naturally occurring opportunities to celebrate Jesus. She encourages people to be on the lookout rather than fret over organising specific crafts, events or teaching schedules for their families.
Christmas is full of naturally occurring opportunities to celebrate Jesus.
“[My three year old] loves music and all the Christmas lights, so we’ve run with that. This is a time for celebration, so let’s crank up the music and fill the house with fairy lights. We’ve got the Colin [Buchanan] Christmas DVD which we love – we watch that maybe twice a day, almost every day in the lead-up to Christmas. He’s into imaginative play, so [we have] those little nativity sets as well.”
Mr Freitag also uses conversations in the lead-up to Christmas to introduce concepts like contentment and generosity with his sons. “The boys can easily focus on the receiving of presents, so we try to keep reminding them that Christmas is all about Jesus and God’s generosity to us – we can be generous because God has been generous to us.”
Play through the Bible to keep Jesus central
For Janet Boardman, it’s about tweaking what her family already does rather than doing completely different things during Advent. “As a Christian, I understand that I provide for my children’s physical, emotional and developmental needs, but most importantly, their spiritual needs,” says the mum of five from Albion Park. “I try and reflect that in our home, and Christmas is no different.”
Regular Christian kids’ books are swapped out for Christmas-themed ones that tell the Bible stories, and she sets up sensory play activities designed to get the kids engaging in a hands-on way.
“They have a nativity set they play with and we do a lot of role play as well. I have a basket of Christmas books… we have Christmas puppets out, we’ve got a donkey puppet and a lady puppet, or a doll with a doll bed, and that’s how my children understand [the stories]. No point in just reading a book and that’s it! They need to replay the book through play, so we try and encourage lots of that.”
With a background in early childhood, Mrs Boardman is a big advocate for learning through play and optimising every opportunity to chat about why Christmas is so special. “Children are bombarded by secular things at Christmas, so we try and have Jesus at the centre in our home. They can do all the other things… but I wanted my home to reflect Jesus and make him a priority.”
She notes that what one parent does will always be different to another, because “you know your children and their interests. We need to give ourselves grace; we don’t want to add extra pressure. I love what my children create and learn, but I’m not doing [activities] every day... We’re already sitting and talking [with our kids], so how can we guide our children’s conversations to reflect our beliefs?”
“My six year old loves cooking, so we do a chocolate slice and we cut it up [at Christmas] and give it to friends at church and to people in the community. My son who is eight loves clay. If I do anything with clay he is involved and will understand the parts of the story we go through. He will make his own sheep from clay. We try and do hands-on activities that go along with the Bible stories that encourage them to reflect and understand.”
Don’t reinvent the wheel
This is an exciting time for Katrina Pritchard and her family, as their two-year-old son James has begun to grasp the concepts of Christmas throughout this year. She is keen to dive into some of the great Christmas books she has on her shelves and use baking, play and craft activities to teach him about the importance of Jesus’ birth.
The family, who attend Dundas-Telopea church, are big fans of books like There’s a Lion in My Nativity by Lizzy Laferton & Kim Barnes and Beginning with God at Christmas by Jo Boddham Whetham & Alison Mitchell – and they also love Colin Buchanan’s Christmas songs. “These resources are brilliant,” Mrs Pritchard says. “They clearly teach the gospel message in creative ways.
“[My son] loves reading, and we often use stories we’ve read as the basis for the activities and play we do at home... I’m hoping to use these Christmas resources as a springboard for an Advent-themed play and conversation starters.”
She adds that the family aims to “have Bible conversations and incorporate Bible stories, music and play in our everyday activities throughout the year, not just at Easter and Christmas. We want this way of thinking and doing family life together to be the norm. [We pray that] through having these conversations, it’ll become a heart thing and not just a knowledge thing.”
Mrs Pritchard really enjoys the great resources that are available, whether it be books or music or other people sharing their ideas and traditions.
“It’s wonderful that people are happy to share their ideas through church or online,” she says. “It’s encouraging to see people supporting each other in this way. “It’s a reminder that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or have an amazing Christian program you follow as a family. It’s about supporting each other as we seek to raise our kids in a godly, Christ-centred way.”