Mormon Parenting: Considering a new plan for Christmas

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Are you tired of the rat race of Christmas? Does the "gimme-gimme," "what-am-I-gonna-get," "here's my list" attitude of kids drive you nuts? Is the commercialism of it all making you wish you could cancel?

Well, here's a little plan for getting Christ back into Christmas and for focusing more on giving and gratitude and less on gimme and getting.

We call it "Divide and Conquer" or "Split and Survive" or "Start with the real stuff."

It works like this:

1. Sit your children down and have a little discussion about how there are two big parts to Christmas. Both are fun and wonderful in their own way, but one is much more important than the other. One is Santa and presents and reindeer and elves, and the other is the birthday of Jesus.

2. Explain that when the two parts are all mixed together we often don't think enough about the most important part — the part about Jesus and his birth and about the gifts he gave us and that we can give each other.

3. To keep this from happening, announce that this year you are going to separate the two. On Christmas Eve, you are going to think and talk only about the Jesus part, about what happened on this day 2,000 years ago, about the Nativity, and about all that Christ has given us. Explain that whereas Christmas morning will be a lot about Santa and about what everyone will get, Christmas Eve will be only about giving.

4. Let kids buy their own gifts for other family members with their own money. Try to give them jobs or chores to earn more money if they need it. One option is to draw names so each buys and gives a gift to only one family member, and the other is to let each child make or buy something for everyone in the family, perhaps taking them shopping at a dollar store (since it's the thought that counts).

5. Start Christmas Eve with an early dinner called "The Nazareth Supper." Dress up in nativity costumes and come to the table in character as Mary's family and friends gathering to eat together before Mary and Joseph depart on their difficult journey to Bethlehem. Have only candlelight and serve only foods that they could have eaten in that day — fish, unleavened (flat) bread, figs, dates and grape juice. Let each family member choose a character to play. Besides Mary and Joseph, there may be Mary's parents and siblings and perhaps some friends who have come to wish them well on their journey. Stay in character as you eat and discuss concerns about the donkey, about the rough road, about where they will stay, about when the baby will come. Use your imaginations and see where the conversation goes and how it can make that wonderful night so long ago seem more real.

6. When dinner is over, enact the Nativity in whatever way you usually do, letting some shift roles to donkey, innkeeper, shepherds or kings.

7. Put away the costumes, turn on the lights and have the family gift exchange. Put all the focus on the one who is giving. Praise him for how well he or she chose her gift and on how much he must love those he gave gifts to.

8. When you finish, spend a few minutes talking about how good it makes you feel to give and how gratitude and thanks make both the giver and the receiver happier. Then talk a little about how it is Heavenly Father and Jesus who give us our greatest gifts. (Have kids see how many divine gifts they can think of.)

Once you have had this kind of reverent, giving-focused and Christ-oriented Christmas Eve, you can just let go on Christmas morning with the stockings and the Santa gifts and all the rest.

Richard and Linda are the founders of Joyschools.com and New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.valuesparenting.com or read Linda's blog at www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html. Their three latest books are "The Entitlement Trap," "5 Spiritual Solutions" and "The Three Deceivers."

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