I was so thrilled that Amber agreed to participate in this interview. Amber always challenges me to look at things from a different perspective. One of my favorite things about Amber is she doesn't just do what's always been done just to do what's always been done. She researches and prays about what is best for her family. She is super intentional in how she loves and leads her kiddos and I love that. I have known Amber since I was 18 years old. She is someone I've never gotten to spend a ton of time with (total bummer), but there has always been an instant connection when I'm with her. She has this contagious passion and joy about her, you feel like a changed person after being with her. So I pray that some of her ideas encourage you to try a few new things.
What has been 1-3 of your favorite Christmas traditions as a family?
We try to make a big deal of out Advent by building up the anticipation that surrounds Christmas Day and all of its fun. Through out this season of Advent we talk a lot about the feeling of anticipation and what it means to wait. We talk to the boys about how many emotions Israel must have felt as the waited for their King. Each morning during Advent we light a candle adding one a week. This is a visual reminder of the nearness of Christmas. We also open an Advent Calendar number each morning of December. In the calendar are ornaments that have a name of Jesus on them. We read the passage of scripture where the name is found and talk about Jesus and how the Israelites waited and waited for God to fulfill His promises to Israel through the coming Messiah. About mid month we turn the anticipation towards the second coming of Christ to renew all things!! This brings it more in to perspective for the boys as we talk about the awaited return of Jesus they begin to understand the waiting and longing Israel had for their coming King, Jesus.
Along with Advent at the beginning of December the boys both get a “Shepherd’s Pouch” (I got this idea from Noel Piper’s book Treasuring God in Our Traditions and adapted it to our family). They have all month to learn & save as much money as they can to give away at Christmas. We talk all month about how the Bible teaches us that Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me.” So the way to give to Jesus on His birthday is to give to others. So they collect all month. On Christmas Eve before they go to bed we do the Christmas Story reading then talk about what we would like to give Jesus for His birthday. They leave their pouches underneath the tree and go to bed. The next morning when they wake up the pouches are gone and I have set up a display of all the thing we were able to purchase for others with the money they raised. Here is an example :
When Titus was very young, he would fly through his present opening in about 5 minutes:: All this build up for about 5 minutes of opening and 40 minutes of play. A very dear friend of mine (who has 5 kids who are older than my children) told me that they have always let their kids take as long as they want with each thing they open and make a big deal of each thing, treasuring it, taking it out of the box, letting them play with it as much as they wanted before moving on to the next gift. She said some years it has taken up to 12 days for all the gifts to be opened. She taught her kids to be grateful for each thing. I loved this! Now, I have boys and they are very “in” to opening presents but it has been so great slowing down the process. I feel like through it they have become more grateful.
Another regret is that we have waited until the last year or so to have the boys become involved with the local poor and down trodden during the holidays. Doing what we do and being around the world and seeing the worlds poorest of the poor, I feel like we haven’t done a great job of helping the boys know that there are people in our neighborhood that need help too. This year has had a different feel because of this realization for our oldest son already.
Personally, We, as parents, decided not to major on Santa Claus during the Christmas season, but to major on Jesus. While we major on Jesus, we still find it fit, since we live in a culture that does celebrate the story of Santa Claus, to teach the boys about Saint Nicholas and how and why people came to know him as Santa Claus, the man who flies a sled and gives out gifts. Now I realize that the original story behind Ol' St. Nick has been twisted into an over commercialized craze that drives millions of dollars towards over indulged consumerism, we still find the redemptive story behind the life of St. Nicholas and see beautifully how it can teach our children The Gospel, as they learn how to give and receive. We, however, have SOO many friends and a majority of our family, who do celebrate Santa Claus by teaching them about a man in a red suit who sees them and knows if they are bad and good, etc. We, as a family, want to respect them by not blowing their traditions in to shambles by our child blurting out "Don't you know Santa is not real." So we choose to teach them who Santa REALLY was. This way if someone asks them about Santa, in their mind they think a real man, a real story. Now that Titus is older, we joke around and play with his imagination by reading the Christmas stories of Santa Clause, and pretend to hear reindeer on the roof. This is all in good fun, a magical kid like fun, that he knows and can distinguish. In no way do we or will we look DOWN on any family who chooses differently. To each its own. We feel strongly that the Lord will guide you in your holiday traditions and will let you know how to celebrate Him, if you just seek Him about it.
Here are a few reasons we landed on NOT majoring on Santa:
1.) Christ is NOT Boring:: often adults think, because of childhood experience, that the story of Christ is boring and not amazing. This is SO FALSE. What could be more EXCITING and FULL of WONDER than GOD becoming MAN! Seriously.
2). Lying:: honestly this would have made our decision. We both felt strongly about not lying to the boys. So in this we decided to tell the Truth, both about JESUS mainly and then about the life of the REAL Saint Nicholas. (in as best we know)
3.) Confusion: we thought it was a bit confusing for the boys to distinguish between a God who knows all we do, is always there and always giving good gifts to His Children and a Man who knows if we are bad or good and gives us gifts accordingly. This seemed to be hard to communicate the difference as adults so we thought it would be hard to explain to kids.
We are givers. We love giving things to our kiddos and other members of our family. We don’t want to draw a very distinct line between giving to each other and giving to the poor. We want the boys to grow up doing both. Both are good and both are people who God loves and we can show His love to! Since we don’t do electronics (i.e. gaming systems etc) it frees up a lot of money to get the boys other things. We also do homemade gifts for each other. This is big for Titus (our oldest who is 7). He loves making things for people and LOVES getting homemade things. It is fun for us.
As I spoke above, the boys work all month on getting money for their shepherd’s pouch to give away. Since they see physically what they were able to give to others with such a small amount of money and work before they open all their gifts, our hope is that over the years they will value more and more giving over receiving.
Our kids still have hearts that are filled with greed, our family still struggles with the pull of consumerism but our advice is: Seek Christ, Honor Him and He will guide you in your Holiday Traditions.
Amber has written a few other blog posts on Christmas Traditions here. Reading these posts over the years is what first got me thinking about making holidays more intentional.