By Eunice Porter
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10).
Christmas means many things to us—a time of joy, nostalgia, family, excitement, busyness, feasting, benevolence, etc. The list could go on and on, but one thing it doesn’t have to mean is a time of excessive spending, with the result of heavy bills ushering in the new year. Take heart—a limited budget is no reason not to enjoy this great holiday.
The shepherds were poor; yet they were the first to celebrate. Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. For us in the northern hemisphere, it’s a glorious few weeks amid the long dark days of winter, bright lights decorating the scene and people’s hearts filling with joyous anticipation.
I’ve asked some family members to share with me holiday memories and what they especially enjoy about Christmas. Here are some of their answers:
• A grandson related, “Watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. Dad would pop popcorn and sprinkle red and green M&M’s in it. Breakfast on Christmas morning was always yummy cinnamon rolls.” He also mentioned the time they cut down a small evergreen in the yard, and he got to have his personal Christmas tree in his room.
• Another grandson remembered the many years they had their calico cat and how she loved sleeping under the Christmas tree. He told about crawling under the tree with the cat and the two of them swatting at the ball decorations, hoping none would break.
• All of my grandchildren have memories of shopping for little items to fit inside charity shoeboxes, mindful of the children in foreign countries who would delight in these gifts.
• A friend told of looking forward to visiting her relatives in California each year.
• My son remembered that as he grew up in our small Montana town, he looked forward to trips to the post office to see if there were any Christmas packages from the relatives.
The list could go on, but the underlying thread in these comments seems to omit expensive gifts and focus more on family relationships.
The four Sundays before Christmas are known as Advent on the Christian calendar, a time to prepare for Christ’s coming to earth. This is a great time for the family to zero in on the importance of this event. When you think of it, it’s miraculous that more than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, the world still celebrates, although for many in the secular world in a different light. Small children love to enjoy Advent calendars where they are given a candy treat in the days preceding the big day. At this time parents can share with them the biblical account.
Is there a role for Santa Claus in a Christian home? Absolutely! Instead of the main emphasis being on a red-suited man magically visiting every boy and girl with their hearts’ delights, Santa can be explained as coming at this season to help celebrate Christ’s birthday by giving people gifts.
For older children this is a great time to introduce them to the newspaper article published in 1933 in The Sun (New York) where Virginia O’Hanlon, an 8-year-old girl, asked if there was a Santa. The wise editor chose his words carefully in a reply that has come to be known as “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.” Little did the editor know that many years after his response first appeared in print, it would still appear in greater numbers throughout the country during Christmastime. And can’t we adults agree with that well thought-out response? Somehow it adds to the joy of the season, while not detracting from the Christian purpose.
This is also a good time for the family to watch TV Christmas specials. Who hasn’t seen Linus recite the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2? Probably many times over.
My son mentioned being especially moved by Christmas carols in the minor key: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “The Coventry Carol,” and “What Child Is This?” I found this interesting because I haven’t specifically thought in this vein, but for me nothing brings a greater joy than listening to carols during this time of the year. CDs play from the day after Thanksgiving until the first of the new year at my house. Music is such a yuletide highlight, and I especially enjoy carols when wrapping gifts or baking.
A good family activity regarding Christmas carols is to learn how they came to be written. The story of “Silent Night” is quite well known, but “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is worth delving into, not to mention the many others in our hymnals. In addition, familiar secular songs have their place in a Christian household too.
No Pricey Gifts
Gift giving is a fun part of Christmas, but it doesn’t necessarily mean charging so much money on credit cards that it takes weeks to pay off the debt. That’s senseless and can lead to frustration rather than altruism.
First of all, set dollar limits, keeping in mind a debt-free holiday. A good thing to help this along throughout the year is stashing away small bits of change. Shop sales. I keep my eyes open throughout the year for bargain items suitable for those on my gift list. I stash them away, and by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, my shopping is basically completed, allowing me to focus on enjoying the days ahead that lead up to the big day.
Besides buying or making gifts, I often think of services I can provide for the recipients that they might welcome, especially something baked or cooked in my kitchen. I then use the computer to make a coupon for the item that can be redeemed later at a date of the person’s choosing. For teenagers, a small gift with a few dollars enclosed is far better than something they neither want nor can use. Another alternative is to take them to an event such as a concert or other type of performance. Making memories is a lasting gift.
After much preparation, the time to celebrate arrives. There is nothing better than a church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service to usher in the festivities—carols, the familiar Bible readings, and well wishes from congregational friends. Next comes opening gifts on Christmas Eve, the next morning, or both.
Christmas dinner is an important part of the day, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Anything is special when you gather together with family and friends. It might be fun to delve through old recipe books for something that hasn’t been tried for a while but could be remembered.
My family enjoys playing games or other fun activities sometime after dinner. One year I had everyone write down their birthdate in preparation for answering the following question: Who was president when you were born? Of course, with a wide span of years, several answers were possible, but the surprising thing was that a few people who should have known better missed. Again, it doesn’t cost to laugh and spend time together. Reminisce about Christmases past.
Activities don’t have to stop as Christmas Day ends. For the past few years, because it is about the only time everyone in my family is together, we meet a day or two following Christmas to make an ethnic treat. Take time to reread messages on the current Christmas cards, noting names for prayer requests. I listen again to holiday CDs before putting them away for another year. Celebrate Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi, on January 6.
Central to all the celebration of the season is the joy in knowing a Savior was born to save the world. Take time to thank the heavenly Father for this gift. Make a real effort to keep that joy of his birth in your hearts throughout the new year!
Eunice Porter is a retired Oregon state employee living in Keizer, Oregon.