God with Us and Us with Them: A New Look at Family Christmas Traditions

Family Christmas Traditions

We have officially entered the season of Christmas traditions and holiday cheer. Calendars are filling, lists are being made, and people bustle about in preparation and anticipation of one of the best holidays of the year.

My Chicago roots love the idea of a white Christmas and a warm fire, and I revel in the beauty of twinkling lights and star-lit trees. Our kitchen fills with the scent of shortbread and butter tarts and Christmas cookies, while carols are played and sung and made into trivia for our family games. The ornament exchange and the cookie bazaar and our annual tradition downtown are just a few of the memories we make each year at Christmastime.

What a wonderful thing traditions can be! Weaving memories and creating legacies and knitting hearts and hope together.

But more than any tradition and beyond any annual activity or idea or feeling, I marvel at the truth that at Christmas, we celebrate God with us!

We welcome Emmanuel — God incarnate, here, with us, to dwell!

God came to us. Though we ignored Him and rejected Him and thought we’d be better on our own, His love compelled Him, and He came anyway — for us. In our filth, in our shame, in our self-sufficiency, in our weakness and don’t-have-it-all-together-ness, God came for us. He came for me.

I just wonder how our Christmas would be different if our family activities focused less on us and more on others — more about others, in Jesus’ name.

How can we go, so others know that God came?

God came for us, how can we go to them? How can we engage, be fully present and demonstrate: you are not alone. God is with you, and I am too?

How can we show Him to others?

For our family, we are starting with our Christmas traditions. How can we change our Christmas traditions to be less about us and more about Him?

My grandparents began one of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions over 5o years ago. With a family move and settling in a new city, Chicago has been home to our annual “Christmas walk” these past 40 years. Every year we eat around Macy’s giant Christmas tree and enjoy the story displayed in the store’s windows. We walk the Avenue and admire the lights, holding hands and singing songs and just enjoying our time together, wondering and wandering as we window shop and talk.

This year, instead of focusing on our time together what if we also intentionally sought opportunities to bless others? As we prepare our warm clothes and our plans, we will also pack a few care kits. When we see someone without a home, maybe we can give Hope. Maybe by meeting a physical need, we will have opportunity to meet a spiritual one, too.

Here are a few other ideas:

  • Whether it’s Candlelight Carols or the church musical, our family enjoys a Christmas program every year. We are planning to invite friends to enjoy the message with us and to fellowship together in our home after the event, praying that they will see Jesus.
  • Days of baking fill our home every Christmas season. Instead of just baking for our family meal or our regular gifts to friends and teachers,  this year we are prayerfully asking God to show us who needs some encouragement in the form of cookies! Who needs to know that they are thought about, cared for and not forgotten?
  • As my girlfriends and I plan our annual ornament and cookie exchange, we are intentionally seeking out those women who feel on the outside, alone, or unasked. We so want to reach out to our sisters and invite them into community to share laughter and Love together.
  • Our Christmas list-writing now begins with our list to others. We scour the gift catalogues and missions booklets and pick where we want to give before we write down what we want to receive.

May I challenge you to take a new look at your family Christmas traditions? Is there a way you can include someone else, meet a need, or tangibly live out the truth that at Christmas we celebrate God with us?

Here are a few other ideas:

  • Pack a shoebox. Though the collection dates are over for packing an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, you can still pack a shoebox online!
  • How can you bless someone during the hectic days of Christmas shopping? Maybe offer to pay for someone’s order in the drive through behind you? hand out candy canes with an encouraging note? buy for the Angel Tree or food pantry? or offer to carry someone’s bags to their car?
  • Plan a sneak attack. Do you know a family that is struggling this season? Maybe it’s unemployment or the death of a loved one or a spouse that left. Maybe the family isn’t expecting many gifts this year. What a blessing it would be to wake up and discover a front doorstep littered with wrapped packages or a special breakfast treat or a plate of cookies!
  • Invite one more to Christmas dinner. Do you have a military base nearby or a family with a loved one deployed? What about those without family or a widow or someone who feels alone? Set a few more places at the dinner table and open up your home. You just might find that you are more blessed than they are!

There is always something we can do to show love for others, to let someone know that we see them and we care.

Look the cashier in the eye, scrape the ice off of someone’s windshield, leave a big tip, wait your turn, smile – a lot. When Jesus came to be with us, His love lit up the world. Now, Christ in us, we are the light of the world.

Let’s seek to shine Jesus in authentic, genuine ways this Christmas, demonstrating the love of God in tangible ways. May that be our family tradition, our family culture, each and every day of the year.

Question for You: What other ideas do you have? How can you change one of your family Christmas traditions to include being light and hope and love to others? Share your ideas below!


Flickr Photo Credit: Singh

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  1. My family is going through so much this year. We have been without our home for seven months and just found out yesterday that we will not have our home by Christmas. That is all my children wanted for Christmas was to have a home. Though things are not easy, we are very blessed! We have each other. I do not do gifts as a Christmas tradition because I don’t want my children to think that is the meaning of Christmas. My older children serve a hot meal to the community at the senior center every Christmas and thanksgiving. This year we are sending Christmas cards to deployed soldiers that will not be home with family.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that things are not easy. Continue to trust in the Almighty that you are exactly where you are meant to be and that His plans are greater, higher than ours. : )

      You are already demonstrating to your children the very essence of what celebrating Christmas is all about. God bless you and your family! Merry Christmas!

      1. Thank you so much Luz. I do try my best to show my children what really matters. My youngest child just got home from the hospital. I think my other two will definitely feel blessed to have him home, and won’t be concerned with not having the house yet. God has a plan for us. We just have to keep faith that we are in his hands.

    2. I’m so sorry to hear of the struggles your family is facing this Christmas, Kimberly. I just spent some time praying for you and your family and will continue to pray as God brings you to mind. I’m reading through Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift.” I’m a couple days behind but this morning I found comfort in Ann’s reminder on Day 4: “God feels with us…God tied His heart to yours, so when you feel pain, He fills with pain.” Praying you know His nearness and in turn, His peace, today and in these days to come.

      1. Thank you so much Erika. My four year old just had emergency surgery and we are just getting home. All is well now. God has his hand on our family. Thank you for the prayers. God bless you.

  2. Since the birth of our first son, my husband and I have been donating a toy for each one of our children. For the last three years we have been preparing Operation Christmas Child. This year they packed the boxes, drew a picture and prayed over the boxes. Thank you for all the great ideas. I look forward to starting new traditions with our family. Merry Christmas!

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