The reason for the season: ideas for focusing outward during the holidays

No matter your personal faith, you have to marvel how the celebration of the birth of Christ is now a 30+ day season of secular songs, glittery decorations, elves on the shelves, Santa at the mall, and presents up the wall.

IMG_8498I know where I spend my time and put my emphasis, so will my children. As a Christian, I’ve been hesitant about how to merge the sacred and the secular sides of Christmas. As a parent, I’m sensitive to the balance of giving and receiving. It’s so easy to want to spoil and give to little children, but how then do they learn that giving is more fulfilling than receiving?

As we approach our fourth holiday as parents, my husband and I are still refining our approach. We have actually not bought our children any Christmas presents, but then again we haven’t had to due to generous grandparents. When it comes to Santa, we couldn’t quite decide how we felt. (We don’t discount his existence, but we don’t emphasize him either.) What we do feel strongly about is putting our holiday focus outward.


Last year, we chose to give charitable gifts in honor of our family members. We decided on a budget, and then spent half of each relative’s gift money on a physical gift and the rest we earmarked for charity. To make giving as tangible as possible for our three year old, we chose Heifer International, which gifts animals to poor families around the world to help them with both immediate food and long term earning potential. I printed pictures of all the animals you could choose to buy, and I let Jack choose which animal he wanted to “buy” for each family member (i.e. $20 for a flock of chicks, $30 for honeybees, $120 for a goat, etc.). We then gave a card with the picture of the animal to the family member.

Love and Gratitude

This year, I’m inspired to mimic the light ’em up ideas of kindness. This is a treasure trove of ideas and resources to get your family thinking about how, as a unit, you can shine a light of kindness into your community. Jacob and I have brainstormed ideas with Jack of how we can show love and gratitude to others this holiday season. Jack especially liked the idea of making cookies as a thank you for people who help us: fire men, our trash collectors, our mail woman, our neighbors, our pastor, and his teachers. I especially love this site as the ideas serve a triple purpose. You spend time with your family; you brighten someone else’s day; you keep the holiday focus outward.

jesse.ornamentsSacred vs. Secular

It’s easy to celebrate any holiday separate from its original meaning. There are lots of 4th of July happenings that really don’t have you reflecting on the birth of a nation. And do you know the story of St. Valentine? If you celebrate Christmas and are looking for a way to make the holiday more holy, consider trying the Jesse Tree project. Through a daily reading each day of Advent, your family walks through the Bible to better understand the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. As a visual, you hang a daily ornament on a simple tree. I’m part of a community group participating in the project this year and am excited for the experience.

january 5 2013 001Family

My favorite holiday tradition growing up was coming home from the Christmas Eve service, getting into our pajamas, eating sausage balls (!!) and cookies, and watching movies like A Christmas Story. The reason I remember and treasure this is because it was about my family being shut off from the world, all hanging out together. As a young family, we are just starting to create our own holiday memories. Last year’s trip to Celebration in the Oaks definitely felt like the start of a tradition. It was just the four of us. We started the night with hot chocolate with peppermint marshmallows, and we ended the night with a late dinner at Dat Dog. (And then we ate healthily for the next 364 days.) I loved watching how happy Jack looked, just hanging out with his mom and dad and sleeping baby.

It’s a time of year to remember your blessings and to give gratefully to those around you. What ideas or traditions do you have to put the focus outward during the holiday season?


  1. I love this! One thing that my sister-in-law and I decided to do this year is to give each other’s kids gifts of time instead of tangible gifts. So for her two kids (ages 12 and 10), we are going to take them on one day-long outing each season for the next year. Winter- something indoors, haven’t decided yet. Spring- canoeing in one of the many bayous. Summer- Blue Bayou. Fall- day in the Quarter. Maybe we’ll make a little coupon book or something so they’ll have something to open on Christmas day.

  2. I love this! Light em up appeals to me as well. I think what we model for our kids has a huge effect on how they will behave, so we have to remember to give often during this season. I’m looking forward to Ronald McDonald House for that reason!


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