Last year, after many requests from my husband, I read the book Ancient-Future Time, by Robert Webber. The book led us into a discussion on how we can intentionally foster spiritual formation in our children through tradition and celebrating the Christian calendar. Or put more simply, how can we communicate the mystery of the birth of the Messiah to our boys in the midst of the abundance that surrounds the holidays? There is a chapter in Webber’s book on Christmas. The chapter begins by Webber retelling his two strongest memories of Christmas morning. Here is a brief summary: The first memory is of his time growing up in the Congo. Each year, early in the morning, the villagers would gather at the foot of the mountain, hike up a path and gather wild flowers. Slowly they would proceed down the mountain singing Christmas carols, surround the missionary compound, and plant the gathered flowers all the while rejoicing in the Savior’s birth. His reflections on his African experience were of mystery. The Christians there celebrated something not fully comprehendible in a “poetic and symbolic way.” The second memory was of his family’s sabbatical in the United States where he received an abundance of gifts. That Christmas morning Webber’s father asked the children to wait to open their gifts until after reading the Christmas story and praying. The only word Webber recalls hearing that morning is the word “Amen,” before plunging into the wonderful gifts he received. Webber doesn’t try to belittle the act of gift giving and in fact communicates his American experience as a juxtaposition between the human and divine (the gifts and the Christmas story), the incarnation. These stories and Webber’s further reflections left us asking again, “how can we communicate the mystery of the birth of the Messiah to our boys in the midst of the abundance that surrounds the holidays?”
This is our first year implementing some ideas that were formed through our discussions. Here are some of the things we came up with…
We have been celebrating Advent with our boys; realizing we won’t communicate the full weight of the Christmas story in one morning. Our friends introduced us to the Jesse tree and a beautiful devotional by Ann Voskamp (find more info here http://www.aholyexperience.com). Each day we read through a piece of the Christmas story beginning with the creation, tracing the continual promise that Christ will come through the Old and New Testaments. Each day there is an ornament that the boys hang on their “Jesse Tree” that corresponds with that day’s reading.
We plan to celebrate Christmas Eve with our church community and Christmas morning we will read the final part of the story…Christ is born. Our plan is to dress the parts and act out the story, to sing, dance, and celebrate the birth of our Savior. (Also to eat a lot of yummy food.)
As far as gift giving, we have been reading about the real St. Nicholas. We asked the boys if they would like to be like St. Nicholas to someone this year and give a gift on Christmas in secret. Our oldest is very excited about this idea and immediately chose to give a gift to my best friend’s children. On Christmas Eve, we plan to sneak over to their house and leave the gift on their front porch. We plan on being “St. Nicholas” to our boys and place a gift for them on the porch to find Christmas morning.
We are hoping that learning about the real St. Nicholas will help them not completely ruin the fun of Santa Claus (what some may call St. Nicholas) when they speak to others, help communicate the beauty of giving to others, and at the same time be a fun tradition on Christmas morning, but not the focal point.
These decisions were not easy to make because they required us to change our previous way of celebrating the holidays. We typically alternate holidays with our extended family: spending Christmas Eve and morning either in California or North Carolina. We tried to incorporate our vision for communicating the mystery of the incarnation into our travels, but every scenario we contemplated seemed to take away from either beautiful time with family or intentional time to teach our boys. We plan to travel to visit family Christmas night and on, hopefully still giving our boys time to celebrate with their extended family.
This is definitely a trial year as we figure out what works well and what does not work. As we work through our failures we hope that if nothing else our boys will see in our hearts a love for our Savior and excitement that HE HAS COME and HE WILL COME AGAIN!