Christmas Traditions and Children

Posted by Mom on December 13, 2016

Ahh… Christmas… Is it not a magical time to be a child? I have fond memories of Christmases past and want to give similar memories to my children. What I remember is not the gifts I received but the emotions of expectation, an atmosphere of restfulness; of a sacred time set apart for the family.

I recently read H. Clay Trumbull’s book, Hints on Child Training (1891), in the months leading up to Christmas. Within the book Trumbull has a chapter on why it is worth the parents’ energies to make Christmas a special time for children. The holiday is a great opportunity to bestow love upon children. I for one don’t want to miss this chance because I’m caught up in the busyness of the season. Upon reading Trumbull, I find myself encouraged to embrace Christmas and once again look forward to the season from a childlike perspective. Trumbull emphasizes that to children, the gifts they receive have a greater or lesser value depending upon the proportion of the giver’s self that is invested in the gift. Therefore, the value increases with the effort parents’ devote to making the atmosphere in which those gifts are received a special, memorable one. Naturally, Christmas is the most important day to children and their anticipation for it is intense. If mom and dad join in the excitement too and give of themselves, the children perceive this and the anticipation ratchets up even more.
It takes time and work and skill to make the most, for the children, of a Christmas morning; but it pays to do this for the darlings, while they are still children. They will never forget it; and it will be a precious memory to them all their life through.”  (Trumbull, 1890)
Trumbull concludes his chapter with the ultimate reason for putting all that effort into making Christmas a magical time for children: when a person gives himself with his gifts, he is imitating, to a small degree, the love of Christ, who gave Himself to us and who offers the hope of something beyond our understanding that will satisfy our every longing. After reading Trumbull’s words and pondering what that would mean to us, I am excited about December and the family traditions we enjoy. Below is a list describing the traditions at Harrold Country Home that lead up to the big day. Maybe you too enjoy some of these traditions?

Advent calendars – more that just chocolate
We have three calendars to celebrate the advent season, and each one has a daily activity to count down the days to the 25th. Our first is a cloth wall hanging with a heart that the children move from one pocket to the next to countdown the days. The second is a wooden box, built by Dad, with 24 small compartments and a much larger one for the 25th. Within each box the little ones find a Bible verse or two describing the birth of Christ, an object to coincide with the verses, and a clue to the location of chocolates hidden in the house. Within the last compartment they also find the missing baby Jesus for our nativity scene. Our last calendar is a daily dose of audio drama with a Christmas theme from Adventures in Odyssey’s Advent Activity Calendar.

Trimming the Christmas tree and decking the Halls
At some point during the first few days of December we go select a tree. Our top choice is Fraser Fir due to its longevity to retain needles for weeks on end while propped up indoors. Come Saturday, Dad makes a pot of eggnog and we pull out the ornament box. The little ones examine and exclaim over each ornament, recalling it from the previous year, before hanging it upon the tree. I admit, once they go to bed I re-distribute the ornaments so they are not all clumped on the bottom half of the tree. However, the ornaments on the bottom half of the tree never seem to stay where I put them…

The same week as the tree appears the festive decorations also come down from the attic. Again, the little ones unpack the boxes and find homes for these special guests while recalling their memories from past years. We also have some decorations that Grandma and Grandpa passed along to us. These items are special because of all the memories they hold and the smiles they bring to the Grands faces when they see them upon the tree.

All of these colourful ornaments present a great opportunity for Eye Spy.  We also have a glass pickle ornament with the esteemed purpose of been hidden in the tree for someone else to find – this is a German tradition from when I was little.

Christmas storybooks and songs
We also have a collection of books with a Christmas theme that are kept separate from our other books and hold a place of honour in our home for one special month. The little ones recall these stories and describe their favourites before the books appear. We have a few with a jolly man in a red suit, but the majority of our books centre on the nativity story or acts of charity and kindness. Favourites include The Little Crooked Christmas Tree (Michael Cutting), The Legend of the Christmas Tree (Rick Osboure), and On Christmas Eve (Margaret Wise Brown).  

Just as anticipated, if not more so, is the Christmas music. These CDs are stored along with the storybooks awaiting there one-month-of-stardom. The music is primarily carols re-mixed by modern worship artists, such as Chris Tomlin, Third Day and Paul Baloche. The little ones each have their own musical taste and when it’s their turn to pop in the next CD, it’s their go-to favourite that we listen to next. My eldest daughter’s first choice is Josh Groban’s Christmas album, my second daughter prefers Matt Anderson’s album, and my little boy’s pick is Family Christmas by Kidzup (just imagine carols to modern, upbeat tunes with high-pitched voices).

Journey to Bethlehem meal
This is the favourite tradition. On Christmas Eve, we turn out the lights and have a picnic in the candlelight. Our meal consists of foods similar to what Joseph and Mary might have eaten on their way to Bethlehem; some hummus, pitas, olives, and pickled herring (the fish element of the Mediterranean Diet). While munching on dessert (pomegranates), we read the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. Then the little ones have another annual viewing of the movie The Nativity Story (2006), starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac. Then it’s off to bed for the most excited sleep of the year.

Trumbull, H.C. 1891. Hints on Child Training. John D. Wattles, Philadelphia.