No, Kids, It’s Not About the Decorations

The less fortunate deserve our attention this Christmas

A few days ago, my daughter walked into the midwifery college where she’s been studying to be a labor doula. She saw some women decorating the room with ornamental lights, poinsettias, and a snowman. She impulsively blurted out, “Oh, you’re decorating for Christmas!”

One of the women turned and gave her a puzzled look. “No, we’re decorating for the holidays,” she said.

My daughter is 20 years old. She loves Christmas — and she’s never been keen on efforts to neutralize its meaning or its joy. She tends to call things as she sees them.

Related: Grounding Our Children in Gratitude

She knows there are other winter holidays. As she shared this experience with our family, she expressed amusement that for some people, decorative lights, poinsettias, and snowmen (or should it be “snowpeople”?) are no longer associated with Christmas. While these symbols didn’t originate with the holiday, they’ve become part of the Christmas tradition. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice have traditions and symbols of their own.

As she related her experience to her parents, I was happy to hear she’s not ashamed to express her enthusiasm in spite of other people’s views. My wife and I have raised our daughter and our teenage son to recognize Christmas for what it is:

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1.) Christmas Is About Jesus Christ
Without Christ, there is no Christmas. Jesus Christ is real. It’s a historical fact. Wherever Christmas is celebrated, it’s intended to commemorate Jesus’ birth, and the fulfillment of God’s promise of a redeemer to save us from our sins.

Annual celebrations of Jesus’ birth appear in the historical records of Europe and North Africa as far back as the fourth century A.D. Opinions vary about how Dec. 25 became Christmas Day. But in the United States it is a federal holiday, voted by Congress and signed into law in 1870 by President Ulysses S. Grant.

2.) Christmas Is About Receiving Gifts
When I was a child, I lay in my bed tossing and turning on Christmas Eve. Pumped full of excitement, I could hardly wait for Christmas morning. At first light, I’d slip out of bed into our living room, anxious to see what filled my Christmas stocking and the wrapped boxes under our tree.

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Eager to claim their Christmas gifts, our kids have had that same kind of excitement. We’ve encouraged them to receive all gifts with gratitude. Gratitude is a perfect antidote to selfishness when we recognize that the gifts we receive are possible only because the giver chose to make a personal sacrifice for our happiness.

We tell our kids that the best gift to receive at Christmas is Jesus. God made this personal sacrifice so that we can receive other gifts, including the gifts under our Christmas tree. As the Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

3.) Christmas Is About Giving
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without giving. The best gifts are the intangible ones. Most of the gifts under our Christmas tree will be re-gifted to charities within a few years. The gifts that will matter most and have the greatest impact are the gifts that model God’s gift — the gifts we give of ourselves.

Our kids have learned that the gifts that have the greatest meaning are acts of kindness to others. They usually don’t have money of their own to spend, but we encourage them to give of themselves by serving less fortunate people all year long — and especially during the Christmas season.

Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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