By The Reverend Christine V. Hides

If Advent is the season of preparing for Christmas, then November is the season of parents preparing for the onslaught of advertisements and messages that fuel our kids’ desires for more, more, more. Many parents I have spoken with this week have expressed a deep longing for their children to engage with the meaning of Christmas beyond the gifts and “stuff.” Is it possible to fight the cultural tide of materialism and move from “gimme” toward gratitude and joy? My experience is that we can, through the formational practices identified by Christian Educator Ivy Beckwith; story, ritual, and relationship shift our focus away from stuff toward God and neighbor.

Story: The story of Jesus’s birth invites us into the mystery of God who so wants to be in a relationship with us that God becomes human. Through Jesus Christ we find love, healing, hope, and wholeness. During Advent we will share this story in a multitude of ways: through lessons and carols, in the 77th annual Christmas pageant, through sermons about Christmas carols, through Sunday school lessons, with devotions around the dinner table, and by making our own family nativity set on December 1. No matter our age, the story centers us on God’s presence in our lives.

Relationship: The holidays are an opportunity to deepen relationships with those close to us and to consider what is meant to be a neighbor to others. Children develop concepts of fairness and awareness of others’ perspectives beginning around age seven. Church outreach projects like the canned food drive and centerpiece-making for Northwestern Settlement, the Lawrence Hall wish lists, and the weekly offering to Christopher House are ways families can talk about what it means to follow Jesus’s command to love neighbor.

Ritual: “The rituals we do with God at the center shape our understanding of who God is and what God does,” writes Beckwith. A daily ritual of naming what we are grateful for reminds us of all that God provides. Lighting Advent candles slows us down and helps us prepare for the great mystery. The church calendar which revolves around Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection reorients us toward the hope, peace, love, and joy of Christ.

I encourage you to take a moment to block time on the family calendar for engaging with the meaning of Christmas through story, ritual, and relationship. Likely none of us will have a “perfect” holiday. That’s ok. God is still seeking us out, finding the unlikeliest of ways to meet us where we are, transforming our “gimmes” into gratitude.

Activity: Practicing Gratitude

Start or continue a ritual of gratitude from now until Thanksgiving. This article from Doing Good Together has 13 gratitude practices for busy families.