From the Dec. 2010 edition of the Body Builder, a newsletter published by Highland Park Church, Kokomo, IN. Used by permission.
A number of America’s holidays have Christian overtones, particularly Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Because these holidays originated as times to celebrate God’s graciousness to us, it is not all that difficult to restore their original spiritual meaning. This will happen only if we value doing so and are willing to expend a bit of energy. I would like to share some considerations and suggestions.
My first consideration is that we become comfortable with the secular. As followers of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves in the world, though we are not of the world. This means we must walk the tightrope of participating in our society and its decent (good or neutral) ways, while at the same time refraining from its wrong ways.
Gift-giving, decorations, Christmas cards, rich treats, a Christmas tree, touring light displays, or gorging oneself with a Christmas meal are all part of the fun. Secular is not necessarily evil, but secular is not enough.
My second consideration is that we remind ourselves that we are not enslaved to traditions that may negate a truly blessed Christmas. We need not incur amazing debts or keep up with our siblings by matching extravagant gifts. Although most of us want Christmas to be a family time, we are free to dissent from family customs when those customs are offensive or counterproductive to our own families.
My third consideration is that we do not expect lost people to appreciate the real meaning of Christian holidays. Although the origin of Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving is religious, the Bible nowhere mandates these holidays; in fact, Christians did not celebrate Christmas until centuries after the time of Christ.
I believe God’s children should consider keeping Christ in Christmas, but they should not scold unbelievers who fail to do so. The annual “Christmas War” in our society is really an American/religious rights issue, not a biblical one.
Just as Christians who cannot even list the 10 Commandments often fight hardest to keep them posted in courthouses, so many Christians who gripe about others taking Christ out of Christmas do little to keep Christ in their own family celebrations. This sometimes frustrates me, I must admit. Rather than scolding lost people, maybe should begin sharing the gospel with them.
How to keep Christ in the celebrations
So how can we keep Jesus Christ in our families’ celebrations? I believe it takes intentionality; it is not enough to say “we should” and then feel guilty because we do not. We must create a system to assure this will happen. Here are my ideas and some methods that seemed to work for us. Perhaps some of them will interest you or get you thinking about your own ideas. Let me being with Christmas.
First, prefer the religious to the secular when possible. I try to purchase Christmas cards that have a manager scene when possible; if not a manger, then at least a Christmas angel or wise men. Use religious stamps when mailing your cards.
Second, if you write up a family newsletter, include a verse about the birth of our Savior and mention something about his relevance to your family in the newsletter. Remember, the Gospel is about Jesus, not going to church.
Third, include many Christian Christmas carols in your play list. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is one of the most Bible-oriented Christmas carols of all time. Don’t throw out your recordings of “Jingle Bell Rock”—just make sure to include the spiritual songs as well.
Fourth, attend the Christmas Eve service. Remember, our faith is not just a private faith, but also a social one. We are part of a Body, and meeting with other believers to celebrate the birth of Jesus is one of the best ways to keep Christ in Christmas. Few ideas are better than this simple one.
Fifth, read the Christmas story as a family. On Christmas Eve day, before church, we traditionally enjoyed a duck dinner. I led in a prayer of thankfulness for the first coming of Jesus. Then, after dinner, we read the Christmas story and opened gifts. Many people open gifts on Christmas morning after a special breakfast and could follow a similar pattern.
Sixth, be on the lookout for opportunities to serve others or remember the meaning of Christmas. Operation Christmas Child teaches children that Christmas is about giving, and doing so in Jesus’ Name. Our community used to hold the “Candlelight Walk” at Delco Park, where the Christmas story was dramatized; our church provided staffing for one scene. It amazed me how poorly supported this event was in a community with so many professing Christians. I think it is because so many Christians do not make a serious effort to keep Christ in Christmas. Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette conducts a living nativity scene. Look for these sorts of opportunities.
Seventh, be sure to include a manger scene as part of your Christmas decorations. Little children love to add new figures to the scene (more sheep, shepherds, etc.).
What about Easter?
Most children in evangelical churches do not know that Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Even if they are told, they forget (I learned this from teaching AWANA and camp all these years). I blame the parents. Parents, go over this with your children annually! For our family, Easter really began with Good Friday. Here are some of the things we did.
First, we ate a lamb dinner every Good Friday. I read a portion of Scripture that pertains to Jesus being the Lamb of God, usually John 1:29. After dinner, we would have a “Gentile Passover,” in which we would take three matzos (available at most grocery stores), hide the middle one, and have the children find it. Then we would break it and eat it, remembering the body of Christ broken for us. We would then pour some grape juice and remember his shed blood.
Second, we would go over the reason we celebrated Easter and talked about Jesus’ resurrection. Marylu would prepare Easter baskets and she would find candy that emphasized the Lamb theme. It is not that we had no chocolate bunnies or eggs, we did. But we tried to have mostly chocolate lambs or crosses. Although these are not available locally (sadly), we would stop at chocolate shops near Chicago. These sorts of candies are available through the Internet, and I suggest you search them out as Easter approaches.
Every year, Marylu would bake a lamb cake, using her lamb mold. She sometimes brings a lamb cake to Sunday School, too. Emphasizing the lamb theme provides wonderful opportunities to discuss the work of Jesus Christ as our lamb.
Third, we sometimes watched a movie about the Life of Christ, particularly “The Jesus Movie” (our kids eventually burned out on that movie because they saw it so often). Movies like “The Passion” are too traumatic, in my opinion (and not all that accurate).
To emphasize the spiritual nature of Thanksgiving, use cardboard cutouts, statues, and pictures of the Pilgrims to decorate your house. Some cardboard silhouettes have drawings of the Pilgrims in prayer. Praying hands is another great Thanksgiving decoration.
Praying a prayer of thankfulness is simple for many of us; for others, looking up and reading a written prayer on the Internet is a good alternative.
I hope my thoughts have been helpful to you. I would admonish you to focus your attention this holiday season toward how you can keep Christ in Christmas within your family setting. The decorations at the courthouse have no bearing upon what you do at home. The opportunities will pass you by if you do not become proactive and put ideas to work, whether the ones I suggest or others.
You do not need to justify all your holiday events as spiritual, but you want to include the Biblical principle behind the religious holidays we celebrate. As for Groundhog Day—some holidays are best kept completely secular! Merry CHRISTmas!