Curtis Peter Van Gorder
Christmas is such a magical time. A special aura seems to light the world. It is a day when Christ’s birth is acknowledged all over the world. However clouded in materialism Christmas may seem, it still brings God’s gift of love—Jesus—into more homes, hearts, and minds than any other holiday or event.
I asked friends and coworkers of various nationalities and backgrounds to help me make a collage of sorts by offering their impressions of Christmases past. Here’s a sampling of what we came up with.
…Christmas Eve was the one night each year that we kids went to bed early, so “tomorrow would come sooner.”
…sitting beside the Christmas tree when I was a little girl, eating too many chocolates while listening to the grownups tell stories.
…visiting my granddad for the first time when I was 11. We had lived in a faraway country my whole life. We prayed with him on that visit to receive Jesus. When he passed away not long afterwards, I was glad to have had the opportunity to share the best Christmas gift of all with him.
…receiving more gifts and toys than we could ever afford. My parents were full-time volunteers, so at Christmas they usually had very little to spend on gifts for us kids. But their spirit of giving throughout the year inspired those they had helped to lavish us with gifts. I learned early in life that when we do all we can to help others, God surprises and rewards us in special ways.
…shopping for a long time to buy a present for my mother with the little money that I had. I finally found a prism glass necklace that she treasured. When I visited her 40 years later, she still had it with her most expensive jewelry.
…caroling in the neighborhood door to door with my friends and how it touched the hearts of the people we sang to.
…scribbling Christmas cards to my friends and loved ones and receiving the same. I still bring those cards out every year and display them as a way of remembering old friends.
…my parents reading me a different part of the Christmas story from the family Bible every day during the week leading up to Christmas.
…listening to Celine Dion sing some great Christmas songs from her heart.
…performing for others at Christmas. Every Christmas is special because we have something to give others. It always inspires me to see the audience’s reaction. Each year and for every audience, it seems to somehow be just what they need.
…playing a different part each year in the Christmas play—the lowly donkey, the sympathetic innkeeper, an awesome angel, an awestruck shepherd, a majestic wise man, a proud father Joseph.
…gathering in our kitchen each day from December 1st to December 24th to open another door on our Advent calendar.
…the smell and taste of turkey with gravy.
…my parents making sure that each Christmas was meaningful. We sang carols and read verses from the Bible by candlelight. We also exchanged presents and had fun together, but the focus was on worship.
…feeling envious of other kids who got more toys than I did—but looking back now, I can’t even remember what those toys were. What I do remember fondly are the times that our family spent together at Christmas, appreciating each other and celebrating Jesus’ birth.
…sitting by the fire, drinking hot chocolate, and singing Christmas songs as a family.
…opening our home to visitors and sharing the joy of Christmas with them.
…a feeling of satisfaction after all the hard work of Christmas was done. Time to rest up, count my blessings, and thank God for all the love we shared.
May you have a joyous Christmas this year with your loved ones as you build memories together!
By Linda Salazar
“Mommy, I think you like those toys more than we do,” I remember saying to my mom as we shopped at a discount store. The way she would inspect each toy, carefully read through each book, count puzzle pieces, and put together toy sets (discount items tend to miss pieces), I was sure she loved those toys every bit as much as we kids did. She was always on the lookout for sales so she and my hardworking father could put presents under the Christmas tree for us kids.
But my parents’ giving wasn’t limited to things. Sometimes their gifts were “hands on,” like when they took us to a park to play a favorite game together, or trekked by our sides through the woods, or took us to visit some historical site.
Looking back I can clearly see that my parents didn’t love the toys and all the rest as much as I thought they did—they just loved giving. They were always giving. Whether it was their time and attention, help with our schoolwork or projects, or lending a listening ear, they never ceased to give from their hearts.
As Christmas approaches, I can’t help but think back and marvel at those simple, love-filled gifts. The Christmas presents themselves I hardly remember, but Mom and Dad’s enthusiastic love for giving I will never forget!
Modern marketers have found so many holidays to celebrate with gift giving, and they come around so fast that it’s sometimes hard to remember which one we’re shopping for or why. But stop for a moment, won’t you, and recall the most memorable gifts you have ever received and why you still hold them dear. Were they the things you could see and hold, or the love those gifts were wrapped in?
Courtesy of Activated Magazine.
Adapted from D.J. Adams
Christmas is a great time for sharing, for getting together with old friends and new, for rediscovering the importance of family and of spirituality.
But Christmas can also be hectic and even frustrating if we don’t manage our time and our moods correctly during the holiday season. I know.—I run a bookstore/game store that gets tremendously busy during November and December, and yet I, too, have a family that wants me to spend extra time with them, shopping to do, parties to go to, and so on.
Since I talk to a lot of frantic people every year around this time, I have some words of advice that hopefully can help you get the best out of this wonderful season, without it getting the best of you.
Keep your perspective, and remember what Christmas is about. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The concepts of “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men” (and women!) are universal and worth sharing. It’s sometimes difficult to remember this when you’re battling for a parking space in an overcrowded mall parking lot, but it’s worth the effort.
Plan ahead. Why are so many of us shocked each year that it’s suddenly almost Christmas and we haven’t done a thing to prepare? Yes, you can wait till the last minute, but how much better and easier to pick up gifts early, wrap them, and put them in a closet? You can even start Christmas craft projects in July! By the time December rolls around, you won’t have much to do except to enjoy yourself—and to be envied by those of us who wish we’d been as organized!
Keep it simple. Simplicity is a virtue. Holiday celebrations don’t have to be complex, and shouldn’t be. Gift-giving should be about showing someone you care about him or her, not about impressing him or her with how well-off you are. Don’t let yourself get snowed under by volunteering to bake two million cookies for the school Christmas party. Give of yourself, by all means—but don’t offer to give something you don’t have. Your family, your friends, your coworkers, your community, and others all have claims on your time, so budget accordingly.
Be charitable. Charity begins in the home, but it is not meant to end there. The gifts we most enjoy giving often are ones that go to strangers and near-strangers. Are there families in your area whose children aren’t getting much this holiday? Why not buy an extra toy, game, puzzle, or whatnot each time you go Christmas shopping, and give the extras to those folks who don’t have extra? Maybe your school or workplace can organize something. If they do, and if you can, volunteer. It’s very fulfilling, and helping others is one of the best ways in the world to defeat stress in your own life.
Plan some quiet time. For some, this might mean going to early morning Christmas gatherings with other believers. It’s a great way to start the day. For others, it might mean setting time aside each day for quiet reflection on the beauty of Christmas. But for sure plan to stop, pray, be thankful, and fill up your heart with God’s good things.
Christmas is a wonderful time of year—enjoy it!
Jeanette Doyle Parr
Old Ebenezer Scrooge, during his pre-dream days, would have been proud of me that Christmas season. I’d started sprinkling “bah, humbugs” around just two short weeks after Thanksgiving.
Weakened by a recent bout of flu, I was physically and mentally exhausted. For the first time in my life, the Christmas season wasn’t proving to be a time of spiritual uplift.
Oh, I’d seen the looks my children had exchanged each time I snapped about Christmas-cookie messes, or tried to hurry clumsy little hands as they wrapped presents. My husband began retreating each time I lamented the high cost of gifts and how commercial Christmas had become, and it wasn’t long until even the dog was avoiding my sharp tongue.
And each morning, determined that this day would be better, I’d vow to be more patient. But by late evening, I was usually complaining about, or to, someone.
Now, on December 22nd, I had another problem. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the angel wings straightened on my little girl’s costume.
“Put it on again, Kris. Let Mama see what she needs to do.”
Happily Kris put on her costume and slipped her halo over her shining blonde hair. The left wing tilted toward the floor.
“Can I practice my song while you fix me, Mama?”
“I suppose so,” I sighed. “Just don’t wiggle.”
Her back to me, she began singing in her thin, childish voice,
Oh, come all ye hateful,
Joy, Phil and their trumpet,
Oh come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem…
My hands stilled. Unexpected tears spilled from my eyes, ran down my face, and splashed on the glittering wings.
Oh come all ye hateful. … That was me all right. No wonder Christmas hadn’t been the same. I hadn’t gone to Bethlehem.
Not once during the entire holiday season had I paused to reflect on the miracle in the manger. My early-morning quiet times, usually devoted to Scripture reading and prayer, had been filled with extra baking, wrapping, and sewing.
Kris wiggled around to face me. “Are you crying because I sang too bootiful?”
“Yes, baby, because it was so beautiful, just like you … and like Christmas.
I gave her a big hug and silently vowed that the rest of Christmas would be beautiful, because I would take my hateful spirit to Bethlehem.
I smiled again. Joy, Phil and their trumpet—we’d all go to receive the eternal gift.
During the Christmas season, do you feel like a little boat floating on the big ocean? There are lots of waves and swells. There are currents, tides, and often wind or storms. You are the little boat trying to navigate through all these things.
Sometimes you have to put your sails out to catch the wind; other times you have to bring your sails in. At times you have to sail straight into the storm; other times you have to let yourself drift until it passes.
But the main thing to realize is that if you ask Him, Jesus will be there with you. He can calm the storms; He can smooth the waves. He can even walk to you on the water if He has to. And if things get too rough, you can always call out to Him and ask Him to calm things down for you.
He’s right there with you and wants nothing more than to help you make it. And just like it says in the Bible story when He walked on the water, Immediately the ship was at the land (John 6:21). He’ll do it for you too if you ask Him. He’s done it before. He can do it again.
- Robert Rider
Links to fun Christmas coloring pages and activities for children of all ages!
0–5 Year Olds
6 - 8 Year Olds
9 - 12 Year Olds
A successful young attorney said, "The greatest gift I ever received was a gift I got one Christmas when my dad gave me a small box. Inside was a note saying, 'Son, this year I will give you 365 hours--an hour every day after dinner. It's yours. We'll talk about what you want to talk about, we'll go where you want to go, play what you want to play. It will be your hour!'"
"My dad not only kept his promise," the attorney went on, "but every year he renewed it. That was the greatest gift I ever received. I am the result of his time."
* * *
Some time ago, a friend of mine scolded his three-year-old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper.
He became exasperated when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the tree. Money was tight, and the gold wrapping paper was expensive. Nevertheless, on Christmas morning the little girl brought the gift to her father and said, "This is for you, Daddy."
He was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction, but his aggravation flared again when he found that the box was empty. "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside of it?" he lectured her.
The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy, it's not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you, Daddy."
The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged her forgiveness. My friend told me that he kept that gold box by his bed for years. Whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there. - Anonymous
I received the perfect gift last Christmas—the love of a little child.
On Christmas night, when it seemed that all of the gift-giving and festivities were over, I was tucking four-year-old Jade into bed and praying with her for the night when out of the blue she said, "Daddy, I love you more than all my toys and things!" My heart skipped a beat.
A few nights later, we were visiting relatives when I needed to check my email. I found a place to hook up to their network, but there wasn't a chair handy. No problem. This would just take a minute, I told myself as I sat on the floor and started up my laptop computer. Just then Jade came running through the room, tripped, and fell right onto the computer, sending a million colored lines across the screen.
As each person present assessed the damage, I heard comments like, "That's going to be expensive to fix!" and "Too bad it's no longer under warranty!" When Jade realized what she had done, she started crying. I picked her up and hugged her. "Don't worry, Baby," I whispered in her ear. "I love you more than all of my things!" - Gabe Rucker
© Activated Magazine. Used with permission.
I was thinking about my mom on her birthday, and realized that there was something very special about my childhood—the times we spent together. More specifically, I was thinking about the Christmases when I was small. The thing that made each memory special wasn't the number or value of the gifts we received or the Christmas parties we attended. Rather, it was the simple things.
First there was the Christmas when we made an extra effort to do things together as a family, when we made a nativity scene in our living room out of an old board topped with miniature pine trees and figurines that we'd made and dressed ourselves.
The cold little house we lived in another year was warmed by a cassette tape of Christmas carols—a first for us children—and the joy of finding oranges in the stockings we had hung out, along with nuts and raisins wrapped in foil. That year we also had a Christmas tree with homemade ornaments.
Then there was the Christmas when I was smaller still. We strung popcorn and hung it on the tree. There was hardly any left by the end of December, for a little mouse, cleverly disguised as a three-year-old in pigtails, nibbled away whenever she thought no one was looking.
There was also the Christmas when I was nine, when we six girls awoke to a surprise—a line of white shoe boxes, each clearly marked with one of our names and each containing something special that we needed or could play with—skipping ropes, jacks, a hairbrush or hairclips, small clothing items, etc.
Thinking about those special occasions caused me to want to give my own children that same love, excitement, and warmth this Christmas. I want them to have happy memories to look back on. That's when I realized what it was that made those moments so special: It was my parents' love and the time they gave us, which demonstrated that love. No, we didn't have a lot, but we had the Lord and one another—and that's what made those such happy and special Christmases.
Originally published in Activated magazine. Used with permission.
By Dee Ann Ludwig, adapted
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only gift is a portion of one’s self.” And that’s what these seven gifts are—gifts of you. They cost nothing, but are some of the most precious presents you can give to your children. Their effects can last a lifetime.
The Gift of Time. In our busy world, the phrase “I don’t have time to…” has become a universal complaint. Like a growing plant, any relationship between two people can thrive only if it receives care. Most human relationships profit from a simple tonic that is called “tincture of time.”
The Gift of Good Example. Children learn fundamental attitudes and behavior by observing their parents. Be a good example by handling difficult situations in a mature manner.
The Gift of Seeing the Best in Children. When we expect children to respond in a positive way, they usually do.
The Gift of Teaching. Helping a child learn something new is an important investment in their future happiness. Sharing our talents is a good way to show our love.
The Gift of Listening. Few of us know how to listen effectively. Too often we interrupt or act disinterested when someone else is talking.
The Gift of Fun. There are people who “wet blanket” the happiness of those around them, while others lead children into finding fun in ordinary events.
The Gift of Self-Esteem. It’s hard to resist the temptation to give unnecessary advice and help to those we love. Such advice may unwittingly cripple a child’s self-esteem. A Chinese proverb proclaims, “There’s nothing more blessed on earth than a mother—but there’s nothing more blessed in Heaven than a mother who knows when to let go of the hand.””
Christmas is best enjoyed when it isn't centered on decorations, gifts, or festivities, but on love. Love is the essence of Christmas. Christmas is about taking quality time with your children; it's about cherishing and celebrating the love you share.
Late one Christmas Eve I sank back into my easy chair, tired but content. The kids were in bed, the gifts were wrapped, the milk and cookies waited by the fireplace for Santa. As I admired the tree with its decorations, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. It wasn’t long before the tiny twinkling tree lights lulled me to sleep.
I don’t know how long I slept, but all of a sudden I knew that I wasn’t alone. You can imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes and saw Santa Claus himself standing next to my Christmas tree. He was dressed all in fur from head to foot, but he was not the “jolly old elf” of Christmas legend. The man who stood before me looked sad and disappointed. And there were tears in his eyes.
“Santa, what’s wrong?” I asked. “Why are you crying?”
“It’s the children,” Santa replied sadly.
“But the children love you,” I said.
“Oh, I know they love me and the gifts I bring them,” Santa said. “But children today seem to have somehow missed out on the true spirit of Christmas. It’s not their fault. It’s just that the adults have forgotten to teach the children. Many of the adults have not even been taught themselves.”
“Teach the children what?” I asked.
Santa’s kind old face became soft, more gentle. His eyes began to shine with something more than tears. He spoke softly. “Teach the children the true meaning of Christmas. Teach them that there’s much more to Christmas than the part we can see, hear, and touch. Teach them the symbolism behind the customs and traditions of Christmas we observe. Teach them what they truly represent.”
Santa reached into his bag, pulled out a tiny Christmas tree, and set it on my mantle. “Teach them about the Christmas tree. Green is the second color of Christmas. The stately evergreen with its unchanging color represents the hope of eternal life in Jesus. Its top points heavenward as a reminder that man’s thoughts should turn heavenward as well.”
Santa reached into his bag again, pulled out a shiny star, and placed it at the top of the small tree. “The star was the heavenly sign of promise. God promised a Savior for the world, and the star was the sign of the fulfillment of that promise, when Jesus Christ was born. Teach the children that God always fulfills His promises and that wise men still seek Him.”
“Red,” said Santa, “is the first color of Christmas.” He pulled forth a red ornament for the tiny tree. “Red is deep, intense, vivid. It is the symbol of God’s greatest gift. Teach the children that Christ gave His life and shed His blood for them so that they could have eternal life. When they see the color red, it should remind them of that most wonderful gift of life.”
Santa found a bell in his pack and placed it on the tree. “Just as lost sheep are guided to safety by the sound of the bell, it continues to ring today for all to be guided to the fold. Teach the children to follow the true Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep.”
Santa placed a candle on the mantle and lit it. The soft glow from its tiny flame brightened the room. “The glow of the candle represents how man can show his thanks for the gift God gave of His Son that Christmas Eve long ago. Teach the children to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to go about doing good.
“This is what is symbolized when the lights twinkle on the tree like hundreds of bright, shining candles. Each of them represents one of God’s precious children.”
Again, Santa reached into his bag and this time he brought forth a tiny red-and-white-striped candy cane. As he hung it on the tree, he spoke softly. “The candy cane is a stick of hard, white candy. The candy is in the shape of the letter ‘J’ to represent the name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It also represents the crook of the Good Shepherd, which He uses to reach down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen who, like sheep, have gone astray."
Santa brought out a beautiful wreath made of fresh, fragrant greenery and tied with a bright red bow. “The bow reminds us of the bond of perfection, which is love. The wreath embodies all the good things about Christmas for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand. It contains the colors of red and green and the heaven-turned needles of the evergreen. The bow tells the story of goodwill towards all, and its color reminds us again of Christ’s sacrifice. Even its shape is symbolic, representing eternity and the eternal nature of Christ’s love. It is a circle without beginning and without end. These are the things you must teach the children.”
“But where does that leave you, Santa?” I asked.
A smile broke over Santa’s face. “Why, bless you, my dear,” he laughed. “I’m only a symbol myself. I represent the spirit of family fun and the joy of giving and receiving. If the children are taught these other things, there is no danger that I’ll become more important than I should.”
I must have fallen asleep again, and when I awoke I thought, I’m beginning to understand at last. Was it all a dream? I don’t know. But I remembered Santa’s parting words: “If you don’t teach the children these things, then who will?”
- Author unknown
By Mary Roys, a parenting life coach in Southeast Asia
Each December I ask my children, Toby and Kathy, now seven and nine, to go through their toys and clothes and set aside what they have outgrown or no longer use. Then I check what they’ve selected, weeding out worn-out items and exercising my veto power in a few cases, and box up the best of the rest to give to others who have less than we do. Besides instilling in the children a spirit of giving, I have found this to also be an effective way to trim down on clutter and put “gently used” items that they no longer need or want to good use.
Last Christmas both of my children seemed more materialistic about the holiday—more focused on the presents they were hoping to receive, and less inclined toward giving. I wondered why, as well as whether or not they were aware of their change in attitude.
I decided to take an indirect approach. “What do you think is the true meaning of Christmas?”
Of course they knew that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but they stopped at that.
“On the first Christmas, did God give us only His rejects?” I asked.
“No,” Toby replied thoughtfully. “He gave us the very best He had—His most special treasure.”
“And that is the true spirit of Christmas,” I explained. “To give of our best to others, like God gave us His best to us.”
The kids thought about this for a bit and then came up with a plan to give away some of their favorite toys, rather than just the ones they were tired of. Toby chose to give some of his favorite Matchbox cars, and Kathy decided to give one of her dolls. We packed these with the rest of the items we had set aside, and I took the children with me when I dropped off our Christmas donations.
Instilling values in my children is one of my greatest responsibilities as a parent, and teaching them to think of others before themselves is a big part of that. Giving sacrificially shouldn’t be a once-a-year occurrence, of course, but Christmas is a perfect opportunity.
Originally published in Activated! magazine. Used with permission.