When I was 8 I didn’t know God. I remember watching a broadcast...
Christmas at Ho-Ho Home
Church services, nativities, Christmas cards…It’s easy to get carried away IN the whirlwind of festive activities on offer. Despite this, most of our early memories of Christmas revolve around family traditions. Jane Butcher gives us her top tips for a creative Christmas at ho-ho-home (sorry, it had to be done).
Christmas can be a really confusing time for children. From a child’s perspective, where do Santa and Rudolph fit into the nativity story? Children (and adults) are being exposed to the awe and wonder of Jesus’ birth alongside the presence of Santa, the changing face of the school nativity plays which often include the latest celebs and chart hits and of course the ever increasing commercialisation and marketing that surrounds the season. Many of the traditions such as the presence of the Christmas tree, the singing of Christmas carols, the eating of mince pies and even the obligatory purchase of sprouts play an important part in creating memories. However, how we offer clarity as to where it all sits and fits is also important.
The following ideas offer families the opportunity to celebrate Christmas together. All are linked to the Bible story and include ideas to celebrate Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in order to offer some sense of a time frame and order of events. Some only take a very short time, some longer. Some use food, some craft, some construction and some are discussion based - suitable for use in the car while sitting in traffic hold ups! You could share these with the families in your church, or try them in your own home – selecting those which fit your interests, ages, budgets and time.
Make your own Advent calendar
You will need:
24 round gift tags, one for each day from the small ‘st’ December to Christmas Eve. On the back of each one, write a word or words from the Christmas story. Ideas could include: Angel Gabriel, John, Mary, Joseph, carpenter, Herod, census, soldiers, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jesus, manger, hay, animals, shepherds, wise men, star, gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Attach a small wrapped chocolate to the front of each decoration using Blu-Tack, low-adhesive sellotape or micropore tape to avoid damage when removed.
Hang them on your tree or place them in the centre of the dining table. Or, if you feel more creative, you could create your own Advent mobile hanging them from coat hangers. Select one decoration each day from the beginning of Advent. Choose who will have the chocolate and read the word or words on the back. Discuss as a family where it appears in the story. If you don’t know, take time to look it up in a Christmas storybook or children’s Bible. The Christmas story can be found at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke.
Flap the donkey race
You will need:
two pictures of a donkey, either drawn or printed out on lightweight card or paper. You will also need a folded newspaper as your ‘flapper’.
Mary travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and tradition tells us that she may have travelled on a donkey. Take four pieces of paper and write Nazareth on two of them and Bethlehem on the other two. Place them equal distances apart and place the donkey just in front of the Nazareth sign.
Either in teams or one against one, wave your newspaper up and down to flap the donkey along in the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Who will get the donkey there first?
If you are working in teams: once the donkey has arrived in Bethlehem, pick up the donkey and bring it back to Nazareth for the next person. Repeat until everyone has had a turn. If you have uneven numbers, one person will need to go twice in the team with fewer people.
Build a stable
You will need:
items from around your house to build a small stable. These could include a cut-down cereal box or teabag box to make the base and sides, and the top of an egg carton as a roof.
Once it is built, read the part of the Christmas story where Mary and Joseph arrive at the stable and Mary gives birth to Jesus. What words would you use to describe how the stable might look, smell and feel?
For younger children…
You will need : soft toys, dolls, soft furnishings.
For younger children, recreate the stable scene with soft toy animals or a favourite doll wrapped in a blanket or pillowcase and placed in a box. The child could dress up as Mary, Joseph or a shepherd—a tea towel as a headdress is fine!
Christmas carol activities
You will need:
some knowledge of carols!
As a family, how many carols can you think of that mention:
The name of Jesus?
The word manger?
The word star(s)?
As a family, choose one of your favourite Christmas carols. Using the same tune, write another verse together. It could be about Christmas, members of your family or things that have happened in the past year.
Christmas around the world
Christmas in New Zealand
You will need : paper, pens, craft materials.
Christmas falls in the middle of summer in New Zealand. Some of their Christmas traditions are similar to those in the UK, while others are quite different. They send Christmas cards, but these would show a summer scene, not a winter one. As a family, try designing and making a summer Christmas card.
Christmas in Southern India
You will need : thick card, glue, gold glitter, string.
Many houses in Southern India are decorated with colourful decorations. Inside the house there are colourful paper loops linked together to form a paper chain. The outside of the house would be decorated with lights. Christians would have a star outside their house as a symbol that Jesus is the light of the world.
Cut out a star shape in thick card. Poke a thin hole through the top point of the star. Add glue to one side of the card and sprinkle with gold glitter. Allow to dry. Repeat on the other side if you want both sides covered. Thread a piece of string or cord through the hole and hang in a window.
Christmas in the Czech Republic
You will need : flour, sugar, eggs, butter, cooking facilities.
The main celebration in the Czech Republic takes place on Christmas Eve. Children help to decorate the Christmas tree with candles, baubles, wooden toys, glitter, red apples, gingerbread cookies and chocolate figures. After the evening meal the family gathers in the living room, where real candles have been lit on the tree. Underneath or near the tree is a large pile of nicely wrapped presents. The family sings a selection of traditional Christmas carols and then the youngest child is allowed to give the presents out.
At this point people also help themselves to delicious homemade Christmas cookies.
500g flour 250g sugar 2 egg yolks 320g butter
1. Mix all of the ingredients into a biscuit dough and let it rest in the fridge overnight. (Look online for further guidance if needed.)
2. Roll the dough until it is a few millimetres thick. Using one half of the dough, cut out round or star shapes. From the other half cut out the same shapes, but with a small round or star-shaped holes cut from the centre of the cookie for decoration.
3. Lay the shapes on a greased baking tray and bake in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 3/170°C/325°F for seven to ten minutes. The cookies are ready when they turn slightly brown.
4. When the shapes cool down, take one cookie without a hole, spread it with a fine layer of strawberry jam (or another flavour of your choice) and place a cookie with a hole in the top so that you can see the jam through the hole.
This is the time when Christians remember the wise men who followed the star to find the baby Jesus and bring him gifts.
New Year star party
You will need : sandwiches, cookies, star cutters, star fruit.
Why not celebrate the New Year by making star-shaped sandwiches and cookies using star-shaped cookie cutters. Have you ever tried star fruit? See if you can find some to include on this party menu.
DISCUSSION - Give a gift
When the wise men visited Jesus they bought gifts for him. Can you remember what gifts they brought? If someone were to give you a precious gift, what would it be—a gift of happiness, peace, friendship or something else?