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Erin Stewart
Erin Stewart's daughter checks for a treat inside their family's daily service Advent calendar.

Every December, without fail, I start out with the intention of doing all the things.

I plan our month of holiday fun down to a baking extravaganza, elaborate gingerbread houses and the high jinks of the elves that will visit our house in the days leading up to Christmas. And then, without fail, I give out around the middle of the month. I lay in bed at night cursing the stupid elves that I forgot to move to some hilarious new location. I put off making those neighbor treats because it just feels too daunting, and the gingerbread houses look pretty rough because I’ve dipped into the candy stash a few too many times.

Fortunately, just about the time I start resenting all there is to do to “make” Christmas jolly, I remember that it’s not up to me to make it fun. In fact, it’s not about having fun at all. And while I do love a lot of the secular traditions of the holiday season, once I decide I can’t do it all, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to remember why I’m doing it in the first place.

And even though I go through this same routine each year as if I have amnesia, I usually have my epiphany about the true meaning of Christmas just in the St. Nick of time to refocus myself and my family on Jesus Christ.

Here are a few things we do in our home to make Christ the center of our Christmas.

1. Gift to Jesus. Each year, we start the season with a family home evening about why we celebrate Christmas. We talk about what gifts we would have brought to baby Jesus and what gifts we can give him now. Then, we write one specific gift we want to give him during December and put it in a special box that is always the first beneath the tree.

On Christmas Eve, we open the box and talk about the gift we’ve been trying to give. My gift this year was being more present with my children and not being on my phone when they are around. My 7-year-old reminded me of this just today when I was on my phone and she took my note from Jesus’ gift, held it up and said, “Mom, are you doing this right now?” Touché little self-righteous one, touché.

Erin Stewart's daughter leaves a "kindness note" in their family's Santa mailbox. | Erin Stewart

2. Service Advent. Although most kids think of an Advent calendar as a countdown to Christmas, it actually marks a period of waiting, watching and preparing for the coming of Christ.

In our house, we’ve mixed our secular Christmas countdown with this idea of embodying Christ’s teachings with a service Advent calendar. Each night, my kids write on a notecard an act of kindness they or someone else has done, and then they put it in our mailbox to Santa. Then, I put one each night into our Advent calendar cubby with a little treat for whoever did the act of service. We often use the Light the World initiative from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as our guide for our daily acts of service.

3. Books. There’s something so nostalgic about snuggling up next to the Christmas tree, reading the same holiday books over and over again. We try to pick books that focus on the true meaning of Christmas. This year, we’ll be adding a picture book by author Lezlie Evans called “Finding Christmas,” which tells a sweet story of friendship and generosity among some woodland animals. Find out more about the book and learn how to make a kindness Advent calendar at lezlieevans.com.

4. Read the story. One of my favorite traditions is reading Luke 2 as a family on Christmas Eve. I can still remember sitting at my grandfather’s feet as he read of the shepherds who searched for Jesus. And how my own dad read it to us, sitting on our fireplace, all of us dressed in our new Christmas pajamas. Now my husband reads it to my children.

5. Remember the why. When you’re baking a million cookies and starting to feel overwhelmed, remember why you’re doing it. If it’s out of obligation, forget it. But if it’s because you’re trying to show love to someone dear to you, make that the focus. Your kids won’t remember how many light shows you jammed into a 25-day period, but they will remember the feeling, whether it’s one of peace and love, or one of business and stress.

6. Focus on baby Jesus. I mean it — literally focus on that little baby. Make the Nativity the focus of your Christmas décor. Let your children touch the pieces. Let them hold baby Jesus and place him right in the middle. If your house is anything like mine, that little baby Jesus will often go missing. That’s OK. Chances are it’s because little hands wanted to carry him with them, and I’m not sure there’s anything more Christmasy than that.

How do you keep Christ in Christmas in your home?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her and her young son wins hearts with his dimples.