A few months ago, I took my 4-year-old nephew shopping. We had to run to the local hardware store to buy a few things for the house my husband and I were renovating. As most retailers do at this time of year, the store had its Christmas decorations out. I asked my nephew if he knew what Christmas was all about. He excitedly turned to me, eyes wide, and shouted, “Presents!”
I pointed to a Nativity set and asked if he knew who was in the manger. He stared at me with a blank expression, and my heart sank. He goes to church—surely he knows about baby Jesus. But for Christian parents who want to share their faith with their children, teaching kids how to connect with Christ at Christmastime is a lot harder than it should be. Christmas has become so commercialized. It’s hard to find ways to cut through the noise and really reach kids when they are being bombarded with ads for every kind of toy imaginable.
So why does it matter that we teach our kids about the Nativity? Why should we help them focus on Christ at Christmas instead of toys and “holiday cheer”?
There’s the obvious answer: that without Christ’s birth, there is no good news—there is no one who dies for our sins and restores our relationship with the God who created us. But what about all the other wonderful things kids can learn from the story of the Nativity?
- Mary teaches us about obedience and the call to discipleship.
- John the Baptist teaches us about passion (for Christ) and boldness (to share the gospel).
- Elizabeth teaches about the power of prayer and about faithfulness despite hardship.
- The animals by the manger teach us about giving and how we all have something to offer the Lord when we present our hearts to Him.
- The angels teach us about the importance of worship and how we can offer words of praise through music and our lives.
A new twist on an old holiday
Last Christmas, I decided to see if I could engage my two daughters in the Christmas story in a new way. On each of the 25 days of December leading up to Christmas, I taught them a different part of the Nativity story. It was a great way to build up momentum and excitement.
I also made plush dolls representing the people who were part of the first Christmas. Each day, I hid the doll we were learning about in a way that demonstrated his or her character qualities. For example, Mary would be found folding laundry, exhibiting the quality of obedience. After the kids found the doll, we’d read a short story about the person and learn about the related character qualities.
Throughout that day, we’d do special activities to practice the qualities. When learning about Elizabeth and the qualities of prayer and faithfulness, we filled a jar with prayer requests and praises, allowing my kids to see God’s faithfulness in their own lives. When studying the animals in the stable, we made bird feeders and took a closer look at what we could offer to those around us, both big and small.
On Christmas morning, my 4-year-old excitedly jumped into the master bed. She woke me up and reminded my husband and me that today was the day she was going to meet baby Jesus. She didn’t mention presents—even when she saw them, beautifully wrapped, under the Christmas tree next to our Nativity scene. She was too excited looking for Jesus.
It was on that Christmas morning that I realized I wanted to share this experience with other families, too. This past year, I collected the 25 days of Christmas stories and activities into a book called Once Upon a Nativity. Would you like to try these ideas with your family? Please consider supporting Once Upon a Nativity on Kickstarter. You’ll get a PDF version of the book to use right away, while you wait for the shiny new hardcover copy to show up in time for next Christmas.