Walk into any retail store on the day after Halloween and you’ll see markdown candy pushed aside to make way for Christmas decor. The rush to Christmas leaves Thanksgiving and the season of Advent out of the picture.
The Christian countdown to Christmas is much different than the retail rush to the holidays. This year, join Christian families around the globe and welcome Advent as the season of love — a time of prayer, fasting, giving and preparation for the birth of Christ.
Celebrated in many Western Christian churches, including Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran churches, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
Advent is the perfect time for parents to teach their children life lessons about giving from the heart. Helping provide Thanksgiving food baskets, ringing the Salvation Army kettle bells and choosing children’s or adults’ names from a giving tree help kids understand that giving is the true “reason for the season.”
Although Christian parents participate in pre-Christmas activities such as shopping and decking the halls, they balance the retail Christmas with their Christian views about Christmas with their children. Visits with Santa are balanced with an outreach to help others, following Christ’s example of love.
Being a Christian means swimming against the tide of the crowd. There’s a stark contrast between holiday shoppers waiting for “Black Thursday,” the new Thanksgiving day kick-off to holiday shopping, and those who have made a pledge to bypass bargain shopping and to boycott the stores supporting shopping on a day traditionally set aside for time with family and giving thanks for God’s blessings.
Here are a few practical ways Christian parents can celebrate Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas with their children as they help their children learn more about helping others and being Christ to one another.
Choose gifts for needy children far from home with Operation Christmas Child. Nov. 16-23 is National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Residents around the country hope to contribute 8.6 million gift-filled shoeboxes to the 2015 global goal of reaching 11 million children in need.
For Thanksgiving, donate food through your local food bank and your church. Many churches hold food drives during November and December to help feed the hungry. Bring your kids with you when you shop and let them choose food to help others.
Consider serving as a family on Thanksgiving Day at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, reach out and invite someone who doesn’t have a place to go to join your family.
Take a family pledge to honor Thanksgiving as a day of gratitude. Don’t participate in Thanksgiving Day shopping and tell your kids why you’re not taking part. Before your Thanksgiving meal, give thanks to God and take turns sharing one of the gifts for which you’re grateful.
Sign up to ring the bell for the Salvation Army. This is a great family activity and a way to teach kids that there are many good people in the world, committed to helping others.
Celebrate Advent with an Advent wreath and Advent calendar. Share Bible readings each day, light a new candle on the wreath every Sunday and open a new door on the Advent calendar every day.
Add Meatless Mondays to your family calendar. Prepare dinner without meat and donate the money saved to your favorite charity. Place an Advent almsgiving box on your dining room table and invite all family members to give from their hearts. As Christmas nears, give the money to the poor.
Celebrate Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. This year, Giving Tuesday falls on Dec. 1. Donate your time, talents and treasures to a local charity, volunteer in your school or community or give to a national or international organization.
Ramp up your family prayer life. Read from the Bible every day, pray before meals, ask God’s blessing on children and families who are homeless, hungry and in need of care. Pray with your kids each night at bedtime and give thanks each morning for God’s gift of a new day.
Choose an angel’s name from a local giving tree for each of your children and another name for the entire family. Involve the kids in shopping for their angel and talk together about how we honor God by serving others .
Remind kids that the two great Commandments that define us as Christians are to love God and love others. Show your love in visible ways. Love in action is what Christianity is all about.
As you decorate your home for the holidays, make the Nativity the first decoration up and the last decoration taken down. When I was a child, baby Jesus arrived in the Nativity as we slept on Christmas Eve, delighting us on Christmas morning.
Cut back on presents and increase your presence in the lives of others. Many families have embraced the Christmas tradition of “Want, Need, Wear, Read” — giving their children four gifts and using money saved to help others. Instead of spending time shopping in stores, consider handmade gifts. Bake together with your family or create DIY ornaments or home decor items to give as gifts.
Consider giving Christmas donations to charity in honor of friends and family members instead of buying more stuff. Choose a non-profit organization that’s near and dear to your heart or custom fit charities to gift recipients.
Research thousands of charities at Charity Navigator to learn more about various local, national and international organization. Some well-known organizations to consider include: American Red Cross, Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, Wounded Warrior Project, Catholic Charities, Gleaning For The World and Doctors Without Borders. Locally, consider giving to your church, food bank, homeless shelter, soup kitchen or animal shelter.
Volunteer as a family during the holidays. Participate in a Stop Hunger Now food packing event, pack or distribute food and gifts for needy families, donate gently-used toys to a family shelter, help at a animal shelter, soup kitchen or homeless shelter or assist a family in need in your community.
Before Christmas arrives, help your kids sort through toys and clothes. Donate items that aren’t being used to a homeless shelter, children’s hospital, preschool or children’s home. Bring the kids with you as you donate to teach a life lesson about love in action.
Kids learn by watching their parents. Push back against the commercialization of Christmas this year. Celebrate Advent as a season of love, sharing and giving. Put the giving back in Thanksgiving and pray for the needs of others in your community and around the world.