With Christmas — December in particular — being the most frantic time of the year, establishing a few simple Christmas family traditions can provide meaningful ways to anchor this season with peace and joy. Kids definitely appreciate the predictability and special meaning attached to such seasonal rituals.
What if you chose just three family things to do at Christmas? Focusing on a few is a lot less overwhelming than a complete overhaul of Christmas. Make these unique Christmas traditions your own by adding special touches that are meaningful to your loved ones.
When my four children were growing up, our chosen Christmas family traditions were celebrating advent dinners, putting up a nativity scene at the first of December, and making gingerbread houses together.
Notice that these things are all incredibly simple, non-commercial, meaningful, and not expensive. As a large family that lived on one income, I needed easy and inexpensive.
How is Advent Celebrated?
Advent is traditionally a time of preparing your heart and mind for the true meaning of Christmas. For Christians all over the globe, it’s a time to slow down and remember that God came down, in the flesh, to experience this life with us. The greatest gift we could ever receive.
Most people begin advent four Sundays before Christmas. There is normally an advent wreath with greenery of some kind, four candles, and a ring with a holder for each candle.
Or you could put a simple table wreath together with fresh or artificial fir branches and set four candles in the middle. As a young mother, I hadn’t even heard of advent until a friend gifted me with a book called Celebrating the Christian Year.
Our advent wreath was much like this one with four tall candles, greenery, and small Christmas decorative items placed around the circle. Each Sunday night, beginning four Sundays before December 25th, we’d have a nice sit-down dinner at the table by candle light.
It didn’t have to be a fancy feast. That would have put too much pressure on me, and I may not have stuck with it. Sometimes there was an easy pork roast from the crockpot, and other times homemade soup with crusty bread.
On each of those Sundays, one candle was lit. So, on the first Sunday night you light just one candle in the advent wreath. For the second Sunday advent dinner, two candles were lit. And the final Sunday, of course, all four candles would glow during our dinner.
As hard as this is to admit, we weren’t the well-behaved family sitting quietly with cherub-like faces singing hymns. Nope. Part of our tradition was burning our napkins — or anything else we could find — in the candle flames after dinner.
I was often the instigator, with my second child following quickly behind. My oldest and youngest, funny enough, were always the ones with worried looks and telling us to put them out quickly. Our napkins would burn until we couldn’t hold them anymore, and then went into our water glasses.
However, while eating a peaceful dinner, I would read a wonderful advent adventure series for kids that was set in Israel in ancient times. It’s a fabulous series we looked forward to reading for many years. So, we weren’t total heathens at the advent table. 😉
Nativity Sets for Christmas
There are hundreds of nativity set styles if you’re interested in this Christmas family tradition and don’t already have one. Ours was gifted to us years ago by my parents. It’s a deluxe nativity set from Costco that we’ve loved for years.
I personally love the more rustic nativities that include a stable. The more natural elements, the better. We always set ours on top of our tall piano at the first of December. The fun part for the kids was that baby Jesus in the manger did not show up until Christmas Eve.
Jesus hung out in the basement, somewhere in sight, but very far away from the rest of the scene upstairs. The girls would take turns moving him closer and closer each week, until he finally joined Mary and Joseph on the night of His birth.
This Christmas nativity tradition did a lot to build the excitement of Christmas as well as instill and preserve the truer meaning. Of course, the presents and expectations of Christmas morning were still ever present at our house, but we found a way to preserve the simplicity and peace of the season.
Gingerbread House History
It is said that gingerbread was celebrated with large Medieval fares throughout Europe. Queen Elizabeth I is given credit for shaping elaborately decorated gingerbread cookies into figures of royalty and dignitaries of her court.
Gingerbread houses themselves rose to popularity after The Brother’s Grimm wrote the famous story of Hansel and Gretel. 16th Century Germany was the birthplace of these confectionery houses, but no one is quite sure if they inspired the fairy tale or the fairly tale inspired them.
Gingerbread house ideas abound, and can be as elaborate and detailed or simple and inexpensive as you choose. I think the girls and I made our own gingerbread one year and attempted to put it all together.
However, our architecture skills were no match for gravity and time. I highly recommend getting an actual gingerbread house mold so that each piece has the exact dimensions it needs to stand. 😉
The easiest way to keep to our nice gingerbread house tradition was simply to buy a gingerbread house kit. We always bought extra candy and goodies to add special touches (and let’s face it, extra sugar) to our houses.
Since there were four kiddos, I usually bought two kits so each pair could have one to work on. That kept fighting to a minimum and stretched out the time we spent together on this special Christmas tradition.
A Happy and Merry Christmas to All!
Whatever your family size or situation at Christmastime, there are always small things you can sneak in to center your holiday around togetherness and love, with less spending and commercialism.
Try out one or more of these easy Christmas traditions and see if you find that your holiday feels just a little more peaceful and meaningful this year. Merry Christmas!
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