By Linda Gilden
Christmas is a time for making memories—memories that will last a lifetime. But Christmas memories don’t have to require elaborate preparations. Anyone can create memories that will deepen family relationships, keep the real focus of Christmas, and not cost so much money you spend a lifetime paying for them.
The hectic pace of today’s family life can leave little time for planning creative activities for your family. Mom and Dad barely get home from work in time to get dinner on the table, help with homework, and complete bedtime. But time, or lack of it, can be overcome with a bit of preplanning.
It’s easier than ever to document events and create lasting Christmas mementos. Digital cameras, camera phones, and other devices make it easy to take, store, and share your photos and to make photo albums. It is not necessary to plan formal photo shoots unless you want that look. Candid photos taken with the kids sitting in a discarded gift box, decorating the Christmas tree, or with flour from Christmas cookies all over their noses bring enjoyment and laughter years after they are taken.
For many years I tried to carry on traditions my mother started. My mother loved to make sure we had enough pictures to remember every Christmas. In fact, the hallway leading to the family room displayed them so we could enjoy them all year. The photography sessions began Thanksgiving afternoon when we assembled for the Christmas card pictures, often amid groans and scowls from the children. Now as adults we are happy to have our childhood Christmases documented. We are able to see babies added, hairstyles evolve, braces come and go, and more.
The family “processional” began on Christmas Eve: “Everybody line up!” Families grouped in the kitchen. One by one each family came through the dining room and entered by the Christmas tree. When the tradition began the only participants were my grandparents, parents, my brother, sister, and me. Over the years we added spouses and then great grandchildren. Several years ago my sister compiled the processional from several decades into a video timeline of the growth of our family.
When you think of Christmas, several things come to mind: Jesus, presents, snow, and music. In fact, stores begin to play Christmas music even before the weather turns cooler. Maybe a family band is just the contribution you need to make your Christmas more memorable.
One year all of my children’s first cousins were playing musical instruments. So just before Christmas I gathered music for a few easy carols. We had a French horn, two trumpets, a viola, two drums, a triangle, and a piano. What I didn’t anticipate was that no one would practice before the “performance.” So as we gathered on Christmas Eve to practice one last time it was amid giggles and copious words of encouragement. Parent videographers could hardly hold their cameras still enough to get a stable movie!
“Hey, what happened to the viola? Keep playing. We need you!”
“Nice solo note trumpet!”
“Play a little louder, triangle. We want to hear you.”
When they tired of the orchestra, we had to find another way to make a family musical memory. Inexpensive kazoos had adults and children participating in the Christmas kazoo-a-long together.
Jingle bells are also an easy way to involve the whole family.
Memories are all about relationships—those warm, fuzzy feelings you get when something sends you back to a memorable time in your life. Christmas is a wonderful time to strengthen relationships. After all, the reason we celebrate is because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to honor him in everything we do at this special time of the year. For sure he is pleased when we celebrate in a way that is fun and builds family relationships.
Sometime the preparation for the season causes a lot of stress. One year when I realized I was trying to do everything myself, I created a new “game.” I asked the family to give me an hour to help get ready. The game was simple. I put all the jobs on separate pieces of paper and put them in a jar. At the start of the game, each person drew one piece of paper and read the job on the paper. Options included wrapping presents, making candy, putting candles in the windows, decorating the tree, putting out the nativity scene, and so on. Each person had 30 minutes to do his or her task. When finished, we each drew another slip of paper. So with five of us working, 10 jobs were either completed or nearly completed in the hour. Of course, there was plenty of fun, teamwork, and sampling of the goodies throughout the hour. There was some job swapping as well! And even though getting a head start on Christmas preparation was important for me, everyone was a little more excited about the things they were involved in.
It’s always good to involve others in your Christmas celebrations. When you make cookies, take some to a neighbor who isn’t able to bake. Invite a single friend over to decorate the tree and then reciprocate by going to his or her house to do the same. If you have time, volunteer your family to host or help with a Christmas party at a local shelter or children’s home.
Christmas dinner brings one of our favorite traditions. Because I love and collect nativity sets, my family gave me a set of Christmas china that had the Christmas story from Luke written around the rim of the dinner plates. In the center were depictions of the Scripture. The year I received the china we sat down to dinner and one of my children said, “Are we not going to read the plates?”
Read the plates? I hadn’t thought of that. We always recite the Christmas story together several times during the season, but I hadn’t realized the plates were going to give us a new and unique way to reinforce the story. When I arranged the place settings, I didn’t think to put them in any certain order, so reading the plates became a test of our knowledge of Luke 2!
“Okay,” I said. “Who has the first one?”
“I do. At least I think I do. ‘And Joseph went up from Galilee, unto the city of David called Bethlehem; to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.’”
And so the plate reading continued until we had the entire Christmas story in the correct order. We have done this for years at our Christmas table. In fact, people are careful not to cover up the writing as they fill their plates!
If you don’t have plates to prompt you with the Christmas story, create place cards with a sentence or two of Luke 2. When you gather at the table, review the Christmas story by having people read their cards at the appropriate time.
Another meaningful way to celebrate mealtimes is to have advent lunches. Our children gather every Sunday after church in December to celebrate advent as we prepare for a special season of the year. If Sunday doesn’t work for your family, pick another day and time when all family members are available.
Christmas is not a time to stress. Don’t succumb to outside pressures. Your family may only be able to do one extra thing this year. Decide what part of your Christmas tradition is the family favorite and concentrate on building that memory. Other years you can add something different.
You can do many physical things to your homes, with your families, or with friends to celebrate the season. But the most important thing to get ready for the Christmas season is your heart. Christmas can be celebrated without a single sparkle of tinsel or a note of music if you are celebrating the Christ of Christmas in your heart. Without him, the season will be meaningless. So celebrate Jesus today, at Christmas, and every day of the year.
Linda Gilden is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Exploring Christmas Around the World
• Pray that Christ is glorified in each culture’s Christmas celebrations.
• Adopt a new tradition from the list or from someone else you know.
• Write (or have your children write or draw) the story of one of your own family Christmas traditions.