We had an unseasonably warm October in Michigan this year. Temperatures reached eighty degrees even at month’s end. However, as it always seems to do when October turns to November, the weather shifted. We traded our shorts and sandals for jackets and jeans in a matter of days. I looked at my weather app to see an exciting surprise: the first snowflake icon in the forecast.
I look forward to the first snow of the year with the elation of a child. There is something magical about watching those first flakes float gracefully to the ground. Snow puts me in the holiday spirit, and I find myself anticipating all that Christmas brings: time spent with family, decadent food, colorful light displays, decorating the tree, the excitement of Christmas morning as my kids open their gifts and I cuddle with my husband, sipping coffee.
In the excitement of all the traditions and activities, it can be easy to let Jesus take a backseat.
How do we wait well for the big event, making sure our focus is on Jesus and not all the trappings that come with Christmas? I asked myself this question a few years ago when my children became old enough to recognize Christmas was coming. It was vital for me to emphasize Jesus in our home as Christmas drew nearer. Over the years, we have adopted several traditions that help us keep our eyes on Jesus during the holidays.
The Jesse Tree
We have a Black Friday tradition of staying home and decorating our Christmas tree. We adorn the tree with ornaments from childhood memories, travels, and Sunday school classrooms. Around the same time we decorate the big tree each year, we head out to the yard to find some long, clean sticks to make our Jesse tree. I first learned of the Jesse tree tradition in Ann Voskamp’s book The Greatest Gift. During Advent, our family places a small paper ornament on our twig tree each day and reads the corresponding Bible verse written on the back of each ornament. The verses tell the story of Jesus through the entire Bible narrative, beginning with the prophecy that the Messiah would come out of the line of Jesse, David’s father. This tradition keeps our focus on the story of God’s love and his ultimate gift.
Saint Nicholas Day
My oldest turned nine this year, and I keep wondering if this will be our last year with a visit from Santa. While Santa isn’t the main event in our home, we have enjoyed writing him a letter, leaving out milk and cookies, and discovering the gift he puts under the tree for each of us. A few years ago, we watched a Veggie Tales movie that tells the story of Saint Nicolas, after whom Santa Claus is modeled. Catholic friends of ours celebrate Saint Nicholas Day by leaving a pair of shoes out by the door on the evening of December 5 and waking the next morning to find candy, oranges, or small gifts in the shoes. Last year, we began observing Saint Nicholas Day in our home. Celebrating Saint Nicholas Day allows us to learn about church history and celebrate the ideals of charity and giving as Christmas draws near.
A Gift for Jesus
It’s hard for children (and many adults as well) to recognize the importance of giving versus getting during the holidays. A wise older mother shared with our MOPS group that her family chooses a gift for Jesus each Christmas. The gift was always something that served the poor. We have done this practice for a few years now. It’s one of my favorite traditions. There are so many options to help the less fortunate during Christmas. Look into your local Toys for Tots or Angel Tree to benefit underprivileged children. Donate to a local women’s shelter or food pantry to help families in need. We choose a gift such as livestock or school books through the Compassion International or Samaritan’s Purse holiday catalog.
This Christmas season, whether you start one of these traditions or one of your own, keep God’s incredible gift of a Savior in the forefront of your mind. Let’s embrace activities that celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.
Lindsay Hufford is a writer, slow marathoner, home educator, and mediocre knitter. Her favorite things include books, kombucha, kitchen dancing, natural wellness, Jesus, and nachos. She spends days with her handsome hubby, three adorable kids, a flock of hens, a runaway peahen, wandering barn cat, and rescue dog. Lindsay shares ways to live simply and love extravagantly at www.searchforthesimple.com.
Photograph © Alisa Anton, used with permission