Family Discipleship at Christmastime: The Role of Traditions
From the moment our children take their first breaths to the moment we take our last, our highest priority should be to make disciples of our children and grandchildren. This is a lifelong priority because there is always:
- More of God and his works and his ways to discover
- More of the beauty of the gospel, the wonder of our salvation, and the glory of Christ to behold
- A lifetime of examples of faith, obedience, and delight in the Lord to witness
- More to learn from the Word of God and how it applies to their lives
- More encouragement they need from us to run their race, keep their eyes on the prize, hold fast to the truth, and be faithful to the end
This top-of-the-list priority should always be on our minds, every day and during every season of the year. This is the reason that God instructed his people to be in “discipleship-mode” from the time you “rise-up” to the time you “lie down”—when you “sit in your house,” and “when you walk by the way” (Deut. 6:7). So, every day we should consider how we can help disciple the children we care about the most.
At the same time, each season presents unique discipleship opportunities, including Christmastime.
Christmastime Traditions: The Benefit of Repetition
As hard as it is to imagine, there are less than two weeks until Christmas. Alongside our conversations about what gifts we will give, it is good to ask how we bring Christ near to our children this season. Just as establishing a daily routine helps keep discipleship a priority in our homes, so also, establishing family traditions help us make the most of the opportunities we have during these special seasons of the year.
Many families already have Christmas traditions that they look forward to like decorating the tree, hanging stockings, drinking hot chocolate, baking cookies, opening presents, and gathering with family for dinner. Christian families may read the Christmas story, use an Advent calendar, or attend the Christmas Eve service at church as part of their tradition. The point is that simple repetition establishes traditions that are remembered and often valued for a lifetime.
Christmastime Traditions: Creating Memories
Since Christmastime traditions can span generations, it is worth the effort to invent and plan them with purpose, content, and clarity. Traditions create memories. So, it is wise to consider what memory we are creating, and if it is a memory we want to reinforce every year.
What thoughts do we want our children to have thirty years from now when Christmas lights are turned on and the music of this season fills the air? What thoughts of God and devotion toward Christ do want to be triggered in the minds of our children?
Our Favorite Family Traditions
When our children were young, we had a homemade Advent calendar with space to create an Advent scene. Each day, our daughters would take a piece out of the calendar pocket. We would read a portion of Scripture telling the Christmas story. This tradition became the foundation for questions and answers, discussions, and prayer. It also became the springboard for Christmas songs.
On Christmas morning, the children followed “the star”—fashioned on a stick—that led them to a daddy-made manger and a sleeping “baby Jesus” who looked peculiarly like one of their baby dolls. There we talked about the kinds of gifts we could give Jesus in the coming year.
Later, we incorporated a Jesse Tree with longer scripture readings. Our Christmas mornings began with a special devotional and reading one of John Piper’s poems. As our daughters grew, our traditions grew with them. We didn’t grow up with these traditions; we “invented” them to help keep our focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
How to Shape Our Traditions
In her book Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper winsomely explains how to shape our traditions in such a way that we are intentionally passing on our understanding and our heart for God:
“Grownups are the ones who have a history with God. We have leaned on his strength, learned his love, and depended on his faithfulness. We have suffered the pain of his discipline and felt the relief of his forgiveness. Our youngest children don’t understand much yet about these things. They will learn from their experiences as they grow older and from the Christian adults in their lives.”
Our children have an unspeakable privilege and blessing to be growing up in Christian homes. They are able to learn from our experiences with God, the truths that have gripped our hearts, and the devotion we have to Christ. Let’s not miss the opportunities we have through our traditions in this special season of the year to “Let light shine out of darkness,” and give to our children, relatives, friends, and neighbors “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Discipleship All Year Long
When the sleigh bells stop ringing and the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire fades away; when the Advent calendar and Jesse Tree are packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations, let’s not shrink from imparting the whole counsel of God to our children.
Discipling our children is a yearlong, lifelong endeavor. It’s one that we see as so crucial that we’ve developed a resource to help parents. After more than four decades of preparation and nearly two years of hard labor, we are pleased to offer the first of a two-volume work that we are calling More Than A Story. It is more than a Bible storybook. It is a beautifully-illustrated, comprehensive overview of the Bible that lays a solid foundation of truth that will help shape a biblical understanding of God and form doctrinal and theological convictions to guide our children and increase their Christmas joy for a lifetime.
At the end of the day, whatever resources we use, let’s give our children traditions at Christmas and throughout the year that will point them to the God they can trust to carry them through all the seasons of life.
Looking for more ideas for children’s discipleship and Christmas traditions? These are a few books (and one Advent calendar) we recommend:
- A Better Than Anything Christmas by Barbara Reaoch
- Good News of Great Joy by Sally Michael (Family Advent Calendar)
- Jesus Is Most Special by Sally Michael
- More than a Story (Vol. 1) by Sally Michael
- Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper (chapter on Christmas)
- Prepare Him Room by Marty Machowski
- Why Christmas? by Barbara Reaoch