Even young children can enjoy the true story of Christmas. Here are some ways that parents have found to teach their kids in an age-appropriate way:
A Shepherd's Tale
My husband, James, came up with a fun way to make Christmas more meaningful for our kids. He dressed in a bedsheet, put a towel on his head and then headed outside, where he grabbed a stick and a little lamb from our Nativity scene. Minutes later, the doorbell rang.
Imagine our children's surprise when James the shepherd told our kids the Christmas story from his perspective. This worked so well that the following year I dressed as the mother of Jesus and told it from her perspective. Our mini dramas help our children more clearly understand the Christmas story.
—Monica Faith Vernot
Putting Christ Back Into Christmas
As my 3-year-old daughter tore through Christmas gifts, I was reminded that the world doesn't look to Jesus for its celebration of Christmas. We have Santa, trees and the ecstasy of unwrapping gifts. My daughter could give the Sunday-school answer about why we celebrate Christmas, but she wasn't excited about that. To achieve that kind of enthusiasm about Jesus, I realized, would take more intentional parenting. Here are some things I do to set the right tone for the Christmas season:
Talk about Jesus early and often. Scripture reminds us to talk about the teachings of God with our children constantly (Deuteronomy 6:7). My daughter tends to pepper me with questions before bedtime. I know she's often stalling, but when she's asking questions about Jesus, we take all the time she needs. I'm happy to speculate about whether Jesus can play soccer if it helps my daughter learn about His love. With a strong spiritual foundation, the observance of Christmas is truly something to celebrate.
Focus on experiences more than gifts. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, Americans estimated spending nearly $800 on Christmas gifts. But another study concluded that life experiences actually make people happier than material purchases. I can't tell you what I got for Christmas when I was 9, but I can vividly recall watching movies and looking at lights with my family on Christmas Eve.
Make giving a priority. Christmas provides a special opportunity to model for our kids how we can serve others. Every Christmas season, our family works together to give to someone in need — either through Operation Christmas Child (filling a shoebox with gifts for a child in another country) or Salvation Army Angel Tree (buying gifts for a child in our local community). Choosing a child who is about the same age as our daughter is a fantastic way for her to feel connected to the child.
A Stocking for Jesus
To help our children celebrate Christ's birth and to teach them to be concerned about others, our family hangs a Christmas stocking with Jesus' name on it. On Christmas Eve, we talk about what Jesus would like in His stocking. Our children have come up with ideas such as obeying their parents the first time they're asked, treating others with kindness, sharing with their siblings and showing respect to Mommy and Daddy.
A Bed for Baby Jesus
The children in my church group sat in a circle, and I showed them a basket, cotton balls and a ceramic baby Jesus.
I explained, "Each time you do something kind for someone, we'll put a cotton ball in the basket. The more cotton balls that go into the basket, the softer the bed will be for baby Jesus. On the last day before Christmas break, we will have a birthday party for baby Jesus — with cake — and we'll put Him in the soft bed."
All the children wanted baby Jesus to have a soft bed. So each day, the children went out of their way to do nice things for one another. I even had to purchase more bags of cotton balls.
By the time we were ready for baby Jesus' Christmas party, the bed was filled. We put baby Jesus in the basket and sang "Happy Birthday" to Him. Then we enjoyed birthday cake.
I started using a little manger containing a baby doll wrapped in "swaddling clothes," and this became a meaningful tradition for a number of years. When my 20-month-old son, Ben, saw the manger for the first time, he reached for the doll, picked it up, cuddled and patted it. When he did that, I said, "Jesus loves Ben." Many times, during the days before Christmas, Ben picked up the doll and cuddled it, and each time I affirmed God's love for him.