Taming the Christmas Beast
by Kimberlee Conway Ireton
Fifteen years ago, Anna, whose boys were then 6 and 8, had a disastrous Christmas: “There were piles and piles of paper and boxes,” she said. “Everybody was glassy-eyed by 9 a.m. I found myself sitting there in the middle of the chaos, almost in tears, thinking, ‘This is awful!’”
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. I know I have. When my son was 2 years old, he tore through all of the presents from his grandparents, barely stopping to look at them before ripping into the next one. When he got to a box of clothes – a shirt, vest, and pants – he chucked it over his shoulder. I was horrified. My sweet little boy was a greedy gluttonous monster!
If you’re feeling like Anna and I did, take heart. You can tame the Christmas beast that lurks in your children’s hearts (and, possibly, in your own). Here are some ideas:
- Observe Advent. Advent is a season of waiting: we’re waiting for Christmas, waiting for the birth of Jesus, waiting for Jesus’ return at the end of time. During these four weeks leading up to Christmas, practice waiting with your children. You can wait to open presents or to eat a special kind of food or to put up your Christmas tree. Be creative. And let your kids know why you’re waiting: “We’re freezing these lemon bars because they’re our favorite, and we want to save them for Christmas, so we can eat them to celebrate Jesus’ birthday!”
- Spread out the gift-giving. There are twelve – yes, twelve! – days of Christmas. You don’t have to open every gift on the 25th. My kids open two or three on Christmas morning and one per day until Epiphany (January 6). While this may seem like more presents, it has actually diffused the wretched excess of that horrible Christmas morning four years ago: the kids play with the toy or read the book they’ve opened, rather than tossing it aside to open the next gift.
- Shift your focus. During Christmas, Hayley, who has two school-age boys, wants the focus to be on Christ. She has 12 ornaments, one for each day of Christmas. Each ornament represents a name of Jesus and has a Scripture passage that corresponds to it. Every evening during Christmas, one of her sons chooses an ornament, hangs it on the tree, and reads the Scripture.
- Keep the crèche up. In Hayley’s house, the baby Jesus goes into the crèche on Christmas Eve. The next morning, the Magi begin their journey to Bethlehem. Over the course of 12 days, the boys move the Magi and their camels ever closer to the stable, until they arrive at the manger on Epiphany (the celebration of the Magi’s coming to the Christ-child). This tradition reminds them that Christmas is about seeking – and finding – Jesus.
- Get your family on board. Obviously, none of this is going to work unless you get a buy-in from your family members. Change isn’t easy, especially when you’re tweaking – or tossing – time-honored traditions. Be flexible, and gentle. What’s aggravating to you may be precious to someone else. Don’t expect to change everything in one year. Instead, find one thing you can change – and do that. After several years, you’ll have a whole new set of traditions.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton is a mother of two and author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year (InterVarsity Press, 2008)