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When we were first married, the culture we were a part of, for various reasons, mostly ignored Christmas, so we did the same. However, as time brought changes and as our children grew older, I started questioning our approach to Christmas. I started thinking about ways we could honor God in our children’s lives over this season.
During this time, I read Noel Piper’s book Treasuring God in Our Traditions and realized how important traditions are in our children’s lives. In it Noel Piper writes about the value of God-centered traditions. She points out how God, in the Old Testament, established traditions to remind the Israelites, and their children, and their children’s children of His work in their lives. God instructed the Israelites to observe this feast, or sacrifice that animal, or set up that pile of rocks, so that when their children ask, “why” (and children love to ask, “why), that the parents could say, “It is because of who God is; it is because of what He has done for us.”
God knew that despite our good intentions for passing on the values we treasure, that without a solid plan our good intentions would remain just intentions. He knew we needed traditions that would endure through the distractions that life holds. And He knew children need the security and familiarity in an ever-changing world.
So I started researching traditions that would make Christmas meaningful in the lives of our children. I came across the idea of a Jesse Tree and loved it. Here was a tangible display for my children to remind them of who God is, of His promise to send a Messiah, and of how Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
A Jesse Tree (for my readers who aren‘t familiar with this) is a tree, or a branch, to which each day you add a new ornament that tells the gospel story from creation to Christ. There are many resources online for making ornaments for a Jesse Tree and for daily devotionals to read to go along with them. Of course, there’s Ann Voskamp’s beautiful book, but for those looking for simpler, more child friendly language, there is this lovely idea of scheduling readings from The Jesus Storybook Bible. And just recently I discovered this great idea of doing a Jesse Tree with picture books. I think it will be perfect for Baby Girl, who will be two next year, so that gives me all year to collect books.
I also made an advent calendar based on the one Noel Piper mentioned in her book- a simple burlap scene where we would add another figure of the nativity scene and read another part of the Christmas story each day. Both the Jesse Tree and the calendar were meaningful activities that would build anticipation in my children’s hearts for the wondrous miracle that we celebrate at Christmas time- Immanuel, God with us.
Some people might argue that we can observe Christ’s birth every day and not just on Christmas, but I believe it was John Wesley who said concerning spiritual disciplines that anytime is no time. Noel Piper says that “God knows we need especially…when we pause in our lives from the ordinary, when we give one day significance over another, we show our children what we value.” She also quotes Milo Shannon-Thornberry:
“Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of life which remind us who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.”
So I encourage you to read Noel Piper’s book if you haven’t already, and start prayerfully pondering what God-honoring traditions you want to begin in your home.
I know advent is well on it’s way, and I certainly don’t want anyone to feel like they are “behind” in this already busy season, but it’s not too late too check out a few books from the library on the Christmas story. There are so many beautiful options available. Or download a free advent devotional (we recently started this one which features readings from the Bible and discussion questions) and jump in and start reading. And Christmas would be the perfect time to gift a beautiful story on the Nativity and then read it before opening gifts.
And don’t think traditions need to be linked to major holidays, although those are good places to start; think about everyday traditions- blessings at bedtime, family prayer and bible reading, memory-work anchored to specific times of day. Think about special birthday traditions that will celebrate not only the life of the individual but the Giver of life. There is so much at work in this world to take our children’s eyes off God; lets be intentional about fixing their eyes on what is important.
And let’s remember that we can not pass on what we do not possess ourselves. God says that His words need to be first impressed in our own hearts and minds, and only then can we speak of them to our children when we sit in our house and when we walk along the road and when we lie down and when we rise up.” (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 11:18 )
I’m the guest poster this week over at Literacy Musing Mondays. Each week they host a blog linkup so you might want to head over to linkup a blog post and see what other family-friendly book or literacy related posts were shared there.
Shared at The Cozy Reading Spot