December in China has almost no hint of Christmas- not in the air (see the post below) or songs or general public cheer, which is just a hope anywhere. We make our own from scratch at home and it is good. This is just one recipe for Christmas and it fits for us. Here's how we celebrate:
Advent: From Dec 1-25th we turn out the lights after dinner, and read Jesse Tree devotions by candlelight (we still enjoy Ann Voskamp's old free devotional), with the magic of the flames capturing attention better than normal, and then hang the next ornament on our banner and nibble some sweet treat while Daddy tells the story at the table.
Cookies: The sweets are important. Not eternally important, but very familially important. This year, several ladies blessed me to share their favorite recipes with me and it made our recipe collection so much brighter and our plates, so much tastier! What joy to see their names and their sweet contributions...
Tunes: I made a Christmas Worship playlist to leave on repeat for, well, the whole month (or as long as Marian could go between spells from the "goofy kids songs" list.) These are the songs I want our hearts and souls nourished by. I don't care if we never play a dozen or so songs that I grew up hearing at some point every year, but the true ones, the real Christ-mas ones? Yes, please. Some favorites…. Paul Baloche Christmas Worship, Fernando Ortega, Jadon Lavik and Andrew Peterson Behold the Lamb (a Christmas must).
Christmas Eve feast-less: not exactly a fast but we want to eat simple together this evening meal to remember Mary and Joseph, their long journey to Bethlehem, and their hard hunt for housing with their final find… lodging in a stable.
The Nativity Story movie: We love it…. we might not watch it every year, but it's just so good. Really grateful for the story here and for how they kept to the Biblical text.
Prepare Him Room*: And since we really are celebrating Christ, we want to give to Him (as you do for the least of these, you do to me). This is the greatest celebration. Giving for the joy of giving, for lasting benefit, with no thought of receiving in return. We enjoy this as our happiest way to prepare room for wonder, worship, and a gladness that bursts wide open on Christmas morning with no gifts under our own tree. This is the joy that lasts well beyond fashion and batteries, wood and straw.
Kindness & Thankful Stockings: The kids wrote notes all December of things they were grateful for or moments of kindness between them or just plain happy notes (I love God, I love bananas…) and on the 24th we gave them money for each note. That money was their own giving fund. So fun! They picked some fun toys to give...
Royal Birthday Breakfast: We are celebrating the King! He has come!! He didn't have to, but he did. He came for us! He entrusted himself to the most vulnerable of births, and we are the glad recipients! JOY! Best breakfast of the year! For birthday festivities, we'll try to include a shout out of scripture memorized…. us enjoying Him, glorifying Him, trusting and praising Him and His Word.
Epiphany Stockings: Just more to look forward to… we plan to give our kids some small stocking gifts on January 6th that will stoke their heart fire for the Lord, just like the wise men's gifts were given to prepare Jesus for what was ahead for him. And there will probably be sweets, again, too.
Mix everything above with generous games together, dancing, read alouds, prayer, invitations "Come join us!" and "how can we help?"…. Take pictures and keep those stocking notes to record the joy. We are the people of the King and we celebrate His glory and our gift in Him. May our celebrations be rich with worship and wonder, service and joy!
* Funny, I read back, a post from Dec 2011, when I wrote how we still want to give some gifts on Christmas. Yea, that can be fine. But to release Christmas completely from material gifts, for us this year, this has been the best joy.
It reminds me of Joseph's line to Mary in The Nativity Story movie, as they are walking through Jerusalem, near the temple that was filled like a circus-crazy market: "and this was supposed to be a holy place?" We've got elves, reindeer and the fat man and sales, sparkles, and "I know you don't need this and maybe you won't even like it but I had to buy you something." The same could be said of our cultural way at Christmas…. "This was supposed to be a holy day?"
But I am happy for our kids to learn to give to each other too. I am really stoked for gearing our kids to be excited for their needs to be met rather than only for their wildest, materialistic, usually not-the-least-bit-necessary dreams to come true. For our family, we don't get to drive down the street to Wal-mart when all the socks are holed up or when every last T-shirt is torn. So for us to make things last and then celebrate when a good old fashioned need can be met in a nice way, that is joyful gift giving, as is thoughtfulness and generosity among us too. I'm happy for our kids to have this joy as well! We'll have Family Gift Day (and it probably should be given it's own fantastic name) every year… it will probably be our flexible holiday, whenever we might get a visit with grandparents or be with family or maybe a surprise day. The key is that it we just don't want gifts for us to distract from the Worship-Focus, the Christ-Center of CHRISTmas. Some years, I know we will do our family Advent - Christmas early and then join with extended family for their happy rendition of Dec 25th Joy. There will be joy and worship there too…. we have so very much to celebrate!