“Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” – Isaiah 9:6
During the month of December our family gives special attention to God’s gift of His Son Jesus. We try to spend time each evening doing an advent calendar with the kids and some sort of family devotional together before bed. This year we are enjoying The Expected One by Scott James which recounts 25 of God’s promises to send a Savior to rescue His people.
Some years we are more consistent than others, but we certainly reflect more on Christ’s incarnation during the Christmas season.
Our month long reflection on the incarnation of Jesus concludes on Christmas day when we share gifts with each other. We’ve talked with friends about how we approach gift giving and they have encouraged us to share it with others. So, here’s a little window into how we think about sharing gifts with each other and with those the Lord has placed in our everyday life.
My wife and I are always nuancing this, especially as our children (6, 4, 3, 1) continue to grow up. This is not a perfect system, but it’s food for thought.
Gifts for the Kiddos
In our family we don’t do Santa Clause, so our kids know all their gifts on Christmas morning are from us. That being said, we don’t teach our kids that “Satan Claus” has come to steal the real meaning of Christmas. Instead, we try to approach it thoughtfully while respecting that other families choose to do Santa.
When it comes to giving gifts to our children, each of them get three gifts from us: one thing they want, one thing they need, and one thing to help them grow spiritually.
For the gift they want, we allow them to share with us something they think would be fun to have. It can be a game, a toy, or basically whatever. We explain to them that there is a budget and that they aren’t going to get a pony or a 4-Wheeler or something like that, but we want them to help us pick something out that would be fun for them to play with. We think it’s good to have a little fun in life and this gift communicates that.
For the gift they need, we get them something that helps them in everyday life. This can be a new pair of shoes, a new bed spread, or some some other practical gift. With this gift we try to communicate that giving something that helps them in every day life is always a good idea. We want them to learn that it’s better to be intentional with our gifts and give something that can be used rather than wasting money on junk that they’ll stuff in a closet and forget about.
For the gift that helps them grow spiritually, we get them something that points them to Christ and His Gospel. There are many wonderful age-appropriate resources out there. A few excellent ones for younger kids include The Jesus Story Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones), The Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm), The Gospel Story Bible Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments (Marty Machowski), The Dangerous Journey (Pilgrim’s Progress kid’s remix – Oliver Hunkin) and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books (Joey Allen).
Some friends have also recommended Sandra McCraken’s album Rain for Roots, You Can Change the World (Operation World for little ones which goes well with spin the globe and pray time), and for you iPad users Tim Keller’s New City Catechism is getting good reviews.
I’m sure there are tons of good essentials I’m missing, but this is a good start.
We also allow the siblings to collectively give small gifts to each other. This encourages the children to work together to bless each other. This is a new thing for us, so we’ll see how it goes.
Gifts for My Wife and Me
My wife and I also exchange gifts, and we also follow the pattern of something we want, something we need and something to help us grow spiritually. We enjoy spoiling each other a little, and my wife is very thoughtful, but we do strive to keep within our budget. When we shop for each other, we include the kids so the gifts to each other end up being from the whole family. This helps keep things more simple and can be fun, or a complete disaster. Either way, its memorable.
Some of our favorites from the “help to grow spiritually” category include the ESV Study Bible, A Steadfast Heart (Elise Fitzpatrick), Moments with the Savior (Ken Gire), The Cross of Christ (Stott) and Soul Winner (Spurgeon).
Sharing With and Serving Others
For our neighbors and people we know, our family likes to make cookies or some kind of gift and give them a family picture. (Note: getting a family picture where all of us are smiling and not crying is a mild miracle. To Jesus be all glory for His mighty works).
Many of these people don’t know the Lord, so we may, depending on where we are in our relationship with them, consider giving a copy of What is the Gospel (Greg Gilbert), More than a Carpenter (Josh McDowell), The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus (John Cross), The Reason for God (Tim Keller), The Prodigal God (Tim Keller) or The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel) along with a little note explaining what Christmas means to us.
These aren’t the only good books out there and which book we might give simply depends on where our friends are in their thinking about God. We have been developing good relationships with our neighbors, so pray for open doors for the Gospel.
Our family also seeks out ways to serve people who are in need of help, gifts or encouragement. Examples of things we’ve considered including sending gifts to a Compassion child, visiting nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, serving in a soup kitchen, and giving gifts to people in need that our church community has befriended.
Of all the ways we can improve as a family, it is probably in looking outward more, though I have been encouraged by the way our family strives to make this a regular part of our lives throughout the year.
A Final Word About Other Family Members
One of the exciting opportunities for Jesus to show up at Christmas is when it comes to dealing with in laws, immediate family members, and distant family members. When it comes to gift giving, we tell people we love them, but that they shouldn’t expect gifts from us, and we aren’t expecting any from them.
This kind of conversation could be like waling through a mine field for some, but it usually goes better if you have the conversation in September rather than December (sorry for the late notice).
The only exception to this is that our family will always get our parents / step parents each a collective gift, and if we are spending Christmas with other members of the family, we may do something very small like a book or ornament.
This is our family’s ever-evolving way of approaching Christmas. We don’t do it perfectly, but this is how we try to think about gift giving during the Christmas season.
Whatever your family decides to do, we pray it will turn your hearts and those who don’t know Christ toward Him who came to take away sin. May He come again soon!