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Tweaking traditions for the Christmas spirit

By Brenda Horrocks, Contributor  |  Posted Nov 29th, 2012 @ 7:32pm



SALT LAKE CITY — As a child, I loved Christmas. My favorite Christmas tradition was going to my grandparents' house on Christmas Eve, where we would enjoy one another's company, laugh, eat, sing and soak in the love that blessed our relationships.

We also had a fun tradition of acting out the manger scene. An adult would be the narrator, and the children would come out dressed in makeshift costumes prepared to be one of the historic people.

I remember using a doll one year when I got to be Mary. I laid my baby in the cradle my great-grandfather made me. It is a fond memory, but it also taught me a lesson: Christmas is more than just gifts under the tree, sales at the store, or food at our table. Christmas is a time to celebrate and remember the glorious event of Christ’s birth and a time to share our love for one another.

Once I had my own family, I wanted to bring this special feeling of Christmas into our home. We tried each year but never really got where we hoped to be. A few years ago, we decided to tweak a few of our traditions to see if it helped us have the feeling we were longing for. We have been pleased with the results. Each year it seems to get better. We hope to continue with these traditions and create new ones that will help strengthen the special feeling in our home.

Christmas Eve PJ tradition

We start our special evening by reading the Christmas story and watching a short DVD clip that portrays the Christmas story. We talk about Jesus’ birth and the importance of this event and then we give the children time to ask questions or share feelings.

After the children happily open their wrapped PJs, we tell them that these are their “swaddling clothes” and that each time they put them on we want them to remember Jesus, his birth and his love for all of us.

This year we are adding to this tradition by making a Christmas craft out of simple items like a wreath, tiny wooden ball and a piece of white fabric. This little manger scene will be something the children can keep in their room to be a reminder of who Christmas is about.

Tradition of the three wise men

On Christmas morning, our children wake up to find the stockings filled and a small gift from Santa. Then they each find three gifts under the tree from Mom and Dad. Each of the three gifts represents the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus.

This tradition was a drastic change from the feeling of needing to buy more and bigger gifts. This new way of giving brings to life part of the Christmas story, and we hope as our children use the gifts they are given that it will bring to mind the story of Christ’s birth.

Tradition of giving

Whether it is taking a name off of an angel tree or helping someone in our family or neighborhood, we look for ways to get our children involved in service. We have noticed this isn’t hard. There is a special feeling in the heart of someone who is serving, and we can see our children think beyond themselves as they reach out to help others.

It is a challenge in the day we live in to keep ourselves and our families focused on things of lasting value. There are so many people, places and events trying to catch our attention and our time.

During the holidays, the pressure to do more or buy more can be intense. I know this was true for me. As our family has taken a few steps to change things, we have seen big changes in our hearts and home.

More ideas

Sometimes it is hard to know what we can do differently to bring the special feeling we are searching for during this time of year. Here is a list of things families can do to help keep the true meaning of Christmas alive in their homes. Maybe one of them will be just perfect for your family or the idea might be a springboard for others ideas that will bring the changes you desire.

  • Tell the children you are having a special guest at dinner, but don’t tell them who it is. Prepare a special dinner and place a framed picture of Jesus at one of the place settings. When the children come to the table they will then see their special guest is Jesus. Shanna Gwilliam, a licensed social worker, shared this tradition with me and said, "I loved it. It created an incredible feeling as we ate dinner."
  • Hide a piece of your Nativity set, along with a quote or special story about Christmas and an ingredient to a special dessert, in the house somewhere each day leading up to Christmas. (The number of days would depend upon how many pieces you have to hide). Before bedtime, have the children hunt for the piece of the Nativity. Once they find it, sit down as a family and read the quote or story and place the special ingredient into a basket at the center of the kitchen table. On Christmas Eve the Nativity will be complete, and all of your ingredients will be gathered. As a family, you can make the special dessert, then take it to someone in the neighborhood who could use some Christmas cheer.
  • Each day during the month of December read a Christmas story. Kristina Harding, writer at Ezin Articles, wrote an article on this topic and shares some great titles to read as a family. Pick a day early in December and have each member of the family pick their favorite book to buy and donate to a local foster care organization or shelter.
  • Create a little Christmas love pillow at the beginning of December. Do a service for someone in the family and then lay the pillow on the person’s bed with a note letting them know it is their turn to serve. See how long you can keep the pillow going throughout the month. (You could also use a Christmas note or ornament rather than a pillow.) The love pillow idea was taken from
  • Instead of hanging ornaments on your Christmas tree, create or buy various types of Nativity sets or include pieces of a Nativity set on the tree along with ornaments.
  • Each day leading up to Christmas, do one act of service as a family for someone in your area.

These are just a few ideas. You can find more on by searching with keywords "Christmas traditions" or ask those around you what they do. Traditions bring us together in a special way. They may bend to meet needs from one year to the next, but the love our families share remains intact and the memories created burn in our minds long after the tinsel is put away. May you find the traditions that are just right for your family.

Brenda Horrocks is a mother of four children who came to her family through adoption. She promotes waiting for children, foster care and adoption through public speaking, education and blogging.Contact her at

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