Keeping Christ In Christmas–7 Family Traditions
Published: December 24, 2009
This Christmas, The Georgia Bulletin asked parishioners at
St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs, to answer a simple question: What family traditions do you have that keep the focus of Christ in Christmas? Following are their stories and photos. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means arrival. I learned this while teaching my oldest son Latin. Advent is also a time of waiting. I know this because my children spend every day of Advent asking “Is it Christmas yet?” Every day of Advent we are waiting for the arrival of Jesus. It is this lesson that we want our six children to learn, not that Santa Claus is coming.
There are many traditions we have in our family, which help us stay focused on keeping Christ in Christmas, like going to Mass on Christmas Eve so we experience Christ’s birth before presents are opened and having a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas day.
Two of our traditions really remind us every day of Advent that Jesus will be arriving.
One tradition we have involves the Angel Tree at church. Every week of the year, our children put some of the money they earn in their “Give” envelope. Throughout the year, this money is used to buy groceries for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and school supplies for kids at C.A.M.P. (the kids love picking which canned goods and pencils to buy with their own money). But as Christmas approaches, the money is saved for several weeks. When the Angel Tree is put up at church, the oldest four children each pick a person from the tree. Some pick a child their age, while others select a person from the nursing home. They then use their “Give” money to purchase presents for this person. They search the aisles for the perfect gift. They wrap the gift and take great pride in placing it under the tree. They look forward to this act of giving all year long.
The other important tradition we have involves our Nativity scene. The set is unwrapped on the first Sunday of Advent. The stable scene is barren; an empty manger, an ox, and a stable. The sheep and shepherd are nearby, but not at the stable. Mary and Joseph are across the room with their donkey. The Wise Men are in a different room. Jesus is hidden. As they traveled two thousand years ago, so they travel across our family room. Every day Mary and Joseph move a little closer to Bethlehem. The children take turns moving them and look forward all day to helping them on their journey. On Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph arrive at the stable. On Christmas morning, baby Jesus arrives in the manger, the shepherd arrives with the sheep and the Wise Men start their journey. Again, they move a little closer each day of Christmas and arrive at the stable on Epiphany. In a concrete way, we are reminded daily of the journey made by Mary and Joseph.
Of course our children enjoy the getting part of Christmas. But we hope that by emphasizing the “Christ” part of “Christmas” that our children will learn that the giving part is even better.
—The Goslow Family
When we talked about what family traditions we have for keeping Christ in Christmas, frankly we came up with a blank. I grew up in New Jersey with snow, Christmas caroling and hot chocolate. Maritza comes from a very different culture having grown up in a small town in Panama called Pedasí. Her Christmas included a beautiful neighborhood tradition of taking a small figurine of the Christ child door to door while singing hymns, greeting each neighbor and spending time with them. Every year the families of Pedasí would reenact the story of the Annunciation and of Christ’s birth.
But it is difficult to point to a family Christmas tradition today. The thing is, life for us is a bit dynamic; there seem to be changes each year. Our children, Stephanie and Chris, have seen Christmas in North Carolina, Georgia and in Bolivia, South America—each year distinct from the last. Of course we’ve had the shopping, the presents and the bright lights. We’ve had the visits to Santa and the drives around the neighborhood to see the wonderful decorations put up by friends and strangers.
But is that really Christmas? How have we fit our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into the celebration of the Christ Mass? I can think of two ways.
Christmas is first and foremost a celebration. It is a celebration of the greatest event to ever occur summed up in the name Emmanuel: God with us. God’s Son took on our humanity and walked among us in order to bring us back to his Father when we were lost. The festive spirit and shared joy is very appropriate as long as we remember why we are celebrating. So we traditionally celebrate with others. When we were in Georgia or North Carolina we celebrated with family and when we were in South America we celebrated with our closest friends, among the sisters of our local parish. Wherever we find ourselves though, we celebrate as a family in the Mass.
The second way that we try to keep Christ in the season is to remember that He came to serve and that He requires us to do the same. So we try to learn to serve. In Bolivia we brought the Eucharist to those in the local clinic or we helped where possible to prepare a celebration. Now we are challenged to find new ways to help. Our greatest pleasure though is watching our children, now young adults, as they start to volunteer. Wouldn’t that be a great family Christmas tradition; to take on Christ’s role as servant?
—The Saltzsieder Family
Tradition is a continuing pattern of cultural beliefs, practices and way of life that are usually passed down from one generation to the next. Tradition shows who you are, where you came from, and where you are going. Families have traditions that identify them.
During festivals, the family traditions are emphasized, practiced and passed on to the young from the older members. As a Christian family, Christmas is one of the events that affords us the opportunity to pass on our Christian beliefs to our children. By focusing on the birth of Christ, we teach the family that the birth of Christ was the beginning of our redemption. Following the life of Christ, it maps the path we should follow to eternity in God’s kingdom.
To make this occasion memorable for all of us, we usually try doing fun things that would arrest and arouse the interest of the kids and adults. Our Christmas tree is set up one week before Christmas. It is a very special event with prayers said by the kids. The kids spend an afternoon making homemade Christmas ornaments. We normally start the Christmas celebration with the Christmas Eve children’s Mass, during which our kids participate in the events of the church. Reading a traditional Christmas story before bedtime on Christmas Eve is a tradition that we use to stimulate excitement for the next day. On Christmas morning, before opening the gifts, the kids do a reenactment of the Nativity story. Then we all enjoy Christmas day by singing Christmas carols. The gifts are then opened with the youngest child going first while others watch and celebrate. Under this happy atmosphere, the divine message of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is carefully introduced and emphasized.
We encourage every family reading this article to open up their families to the benefits of this celebration. May God bless us all.
—The Okonkwo Family
As our children were growing up, we made a Jesse Tree each year for Advent. The family made the tree with a dead branch from the woods and made homemade ornaments for the symbols to be used on the Jesse Tree. Each night we would hang one ornament and read from Scripture and discuss the symbol.
We set up the Nativity set under the Jesse Tree with only the shepherds, sheep, cow and donkey. Each child would get their own manger, so there were four mangers in the Nativity.
For all of Advent we took Mary, Joseph and the donkey and had them journey from room to room each night. We discussed how they made their journey and had to stay in different places. Then on Christmas Eve, we would put them in the Nativity in preparation for Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day.
Each child had his or her own baby Jesus, which they would hide somewhere in their room so only they knew where He was. On Christmas morning they would jump up, get their baby Jesus and place it in their crib, even before they opened the gifts.
We usually did not put up our live Christmas tree until Christmas Eve or the day before. We told them that the live, evergreen tree was the symbol of Christ who brought life into the world, that it was evergreen, just as God has no beginning and no end. We took all the Jesse Tree ornaments and placed them on the live tree symbolizing that Christ was here to fulfill all of the Old Testament items we had been reading about during Advent. The lights were put on the tree on Christmas Day to represent that Christ is the light of the world.
—The Blanchard Family
Christ is central to Christmas in our family even though it is difficult not to get caught up in all the commercial events that take place this time of year. In order to stay focused on what it is that we are celebrating—the coming of Christ the Savior—we do several things just to keep ourselves in perspective.
To remind us of why we celebrate Christmas, we light the candles on our Advent wreath every evening before dinner. Our children take turns reading different prayers and reflections from the “Five Minutes With the Word” booklet. This gives everyone a chance to participate in the prayers and leads to conversation about the Scripture during our meal.
We continue with our Christ focus through the Christmas decorations we display during Advent. The focus of our outdoor decorations is a life-size Nativity scene. The scene lights up and is the highpoint in our yard, day and night. The rest of the decorations and lights are presented in a way to draw attention to the Nativity scene. We do not put out any other decorations or characters to “compete” with the birth of our Lord. We live on a quiet neighborhood; however, we notice from our living room many cars going by slowly to view our Nativity. Inside our home, the hand-painted Nativity scene is placed on the fireplace mantel. It is the first thing you see when you enter our living room. Our Christmas tree is placed in our sunroom and is not visible when you come into the home. The Nativity scene is what we look at when we come into our home and when we relax.
Our family actively participates in many volunteer organizations and events to collect food, clothing and gifts for those less fortunate. Through church organizations, Girl Scouts and at work, we all get involved because one of the lessons Christ taught us is that giving is the greatest gift you can receive.
On Christmas morning, some of our family joins us for breakfast. Each family brings a dish to pass to share with everyone. Before breakfast, we light our Advent wreath and the children are excited to finally be able to light the Christ candle. We thank God for the blessings that we have been given and the blessings given to us through his Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Only after we have given thanks to God do we then open and exchange gifts with each other.
—The Butler Family
An expression of my own family traditions begins with my parents. Married 43 years this December, they taught me love and respect by the love and respect they showed to each other daily. They taught me to honor Christ Jesus by bringing me to church weekly and by being fully active church members and believers in the Word.
So naturally, my parents taught me that Christmas is all about Christ through the traditions that we carried out at Christmastime and all throughout the year. From the bumper sticker that reads “Keep Christ in Christmas” and the yard sign that reads “Christmas is a birthday,” to the Advent wreath at the dinner table and the recitation of the rosary, I learned to celebrate my faith freely and proudly. To my parents I am forever grateful.
My husband and I are the parents of three amazing children. In an attempt to pass on to them what we learned from my parents and his, we have always placed more emphasis on the coming of Jesus’ birthday on Dec. 25 than the arrival of the jolly guy in the red suit.
When we are out shopping or making that list of wants for the year, we remind our children that the reason that everyone is getting presents in the first place is because Jesus lives in our hearts. What we do for others is what we do for Jesus. And even if all those shoppers out there won’t admit it, they are buying gifts because it is Jesus’ birthday!
Reading is a regular part of our nightly routine. During the month of December, sure, we read books about the guy who comes down the chimney, but we also read books about the stable, the wise men, the star and the birth of Christ.
Making Christmas cookies is another of our traditions. We bake them, paint them and pour on lots of sprinkles. While we do leave some out for the fat guy on Christmas Eve, we always make a birthday cake for Jesus and place it in our best cake dish for all to see on Christmas Day.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus stand next to the fireplace, just across from the Christmas tree that is covered with ornaments made at school, photos, angels, wise men and those from special places that we’ve visited. In the bathroom stands a glass carving of the Holy Family. In the dining room sits a wooden Nativity scene that the children walk by and play with. They move the shepherds and wise men around, stack the animals on top of each other and try to change it all before the next sibling comes in and notices that they’ve changed the last scene.
At dinnertime, we pray the weekly Advent prayers and light the Advent wreath. We attend the children’s liturgy and pageant on Christmas Eve. And we celebrate the glorious birth of our Lord and Savior with all our hearts.
—The Bermudez Family
Many people forget the true meaning of Christmas and skip Advent. Some people don’t even know what Advent is and think, “Oh, it’s a few days away from Christmas, better get done shopping.”
However, our family has established traditions to keep Christ in Advent and in Christmas. Every year a week before the Advent season begins, we put up an Advent wreath. During the Advent season we volunteer with a “How far to Bethlehem” drive through. We imitate the journey to Bethlehem and help bring people’s focus back to the real meaning of Christmas by retelling the story.
One of our main traditions is giving to people: thinking of others and their needs and wants. We imitate God by giving to people, as he gave his only Son for us. We give presents to people in the nursing homes and families that cannot afford presents. We also bake many different candies and cookies to give to people.
The way we decorate our Christmas tree is another tradition we have. We put candy canes on the tree. The white represents Christ’s purity and the red represents the Holy Spirit. Also, we put a star on top of the tree that represents the star that the three wise men followed to find Christ in Bethlehem.
Our last tradition comes after Christmas has passed. Many people at our church love decorating the Church—they make it their own piece of artwork. However, after Christmas has passed, there are few people that help take the decorations down, box them up, and put them away. So our family spends one afternoon at church cleaning up all the Christmas decorations and putting out all the everyday decorations.
—The Riney Family