We don’t do a lot of other American Christmas traditions so why do we still do a Christmas tree?
You know, I’ve actually been asked this question before. Good-intentioned, well-meaning, non-judgmental friends have asked why I still decorate a Christmas tree after we long ago parted ways with Santa Claus and a lot of the other American Christmas traditions.
Like everything else in life, I want to honor God in everything I do. I’m not perfect yet, but that’s my goal. When it comes to our earthly traditions, there are some things which can be used for God’s glory and some things which can’t. The key is determining which is which.
The things we’ve included in our Christmas and Advent celebrations have been chosen for a reason, and our Christmas tree is no exception. =)
What I like most about the Christmas Stocking tradition is its origins. This is one of the few things that actually links back to Saint Nicholas. Of course, when you read about Saint Nicholas, you find that he gave many things in many ways, and the story of tossing dowry money into some stockings is only one of them. That said, Saint Nicholas was a great example of showing love and giving—which is definitely something we want to include when celebrating the birth of our Savior.
Because of the history, the kids’ Christmas stockings will include some fun little trinkets but will largely be filled with fun, new necessities – because Saint Nicholas met needs and gave what was NEEDED. The girls frequently get new hairbrushes and combs, ponytail holders and bobby pins, etc. Drawing pencils, guitar picks, and other hobby needs are good choices also. Gum and candy also make the frequent appearance, as do small gifts such as pocketknives and flashlights. Despite the heavy focus on necessities, the kids enjoy exploring the goodies in the stockings. One might think it would rob the tradition of joy, or be incredibly boring or disappointing, but it’s amazing how much my kids can appreciate a small of pile of desired needed things.
Many years ago we added Advent traditions to our Christmas holiday because of the intentional focus on Jesus, scripture, and God’s word. I like refocusing our hearts again and again throughout the month. Our favorite part is the Christmas Eve and Christmas morning candle readings. Right when we need it most, at the point of the holiday where it’s easiest to lose focus, we draw our attention to the best gift ever, the gift that changed the world, Jesus Christ.
3 Wisemen Gifts Instead of Santa gifts
When we “ditched Santa” so many years ago, we replaced the idea of Santa Claus gifts for the tradition of Three Wisemen Gifts instead. On Christmas morning, the kids get three gifts representing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Sometimes these are group/family gifts. Sometimes these are individual gifts. There are always three boxes. On Christmas morning, we begin with our candle lighting and we read the biblical account of the birth of Jesus from Luke. Then each kid opens one of the magi gifts, one at a time. And it’s kind of ceremonial, but also really fun. We remind ourselves of what each gift represents as we open them.
I thought I had a really good post explaining the meaning and working of this Christmas tradition but I’m not really happy with anything I’ve written before. So I guess I need to write one. 😉
We *know* that December 25th isn’t Jesus’ birthday. It likely wasn’t anywhere near December at all. We also know that the first recorded celebration of Jesus on December 25th didn’t happen until 336 AD when Emperor Constantine (the very first Christian Roman Emperor) declared a celebration on that date. We also know that it’s likely that Constantine chose that day in an attempt to replace the pagan festivals that happened at the time. Truthfully, none of these things bother me in any way. When a birth date isn’t known, one is often chosen. When a calendar date holds a negative meaning, good things are often chosen to replace it. And the bottom line for me is not “are we celebrating on the 25th” as much as “HOW are we celebrating?” Again, it all comes down to doing all that we do for the glory of God.
When something is important and valuable to us, we want to celebrate it, we want to proclaim it, we want to praise it. December 25th is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The inclusion of our nativity set should be obvious. We use a nativity set as the main focus on our mantel to visually remind us where our main focus should be. A “Wandering Nativity” tradition is also a great way to work your way through the biblical story. We haven’t done this in a several years but as soon as I can find our nativity people (ahem!) I want to do this again this year.
The Christmas tree, like all of our other symbols and traditions we choose, is used to point our holiday celebrations to Jesus. The evergreen tree is a good symbol for Jesus himself: our Everlasting One. The lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. Furthermore, each year we decorate our tree to convey a specific message. This year we have decorated our tree to coordinate with our Advent candle wreath, using pink and purple and the themes of hope, joy, and love. The majority of the ornaments on our tree are symbols of God, Jesus, and Christianity: crosses, nativity scenes, angels, shepherds, wise men, etc. We literally have scripture hanging on out tree. And atop the tree, we have my favorite tree-topper, our nativity star. It would be impossible to look at our tree and NOT know we are celebrating Jesus instead of Santa Claus or any other earthly holiday tradition.
Could we celebrate Christmas without trees and stockings?
I’m sure we could. I admit that I don’t want to. But I also don’t think we need to. When we started the process of refining our Christmas holiday traditions to eliminate distractions and confusing things and focus on the truth and important things, we altered the things that could be used to glorify God and we removed the things that couldn’t.
I don’t fault anyone who chooses to eliminate some things I kept, or keep some things I eliminated, or just do things differently altogether. When it comes down to it, we each just need to listen to the way God leads, and do all that we can to glorify God in what we do.
I say this to my kids often: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
So we do a Christmas tree each year, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of holiday cheer. It brings me joy to deck it out with scripture, Jesus, and many other things that bring glory to God throughout our entire Advent season.
How do you use your Christmas tree (and other decorations) to tell about Jesus during the Christmas holidays?
Christmas and Advent Resources:
- Christmas Bingo Game
- “Names of Jesus” Christmas Countdown Chain
- Advent Bingo
- Advent Scripture Calendar