christmas traditions Posts

7 Ways to Keep Christ at the Center of Christmas

Tyndale Kids


Are you ready for Christmas? It’s one of the most commonly asked questions this time of year, and can be answered a multitude of ways. We talk about the presents we have – or have not yet – bought. We expound on how busy we are with church and other activities. We express our gratefulness for the ability to spend more time with our family during the season. We often even mention in passing that we are thankful for the manger and all that it represents to our lives.

All of the things listed above are great, but what if we considered answering the question in a different way? What if we marked our readiness for Christmas by the state of our hearts, not the number of presents under the tree? Have we, in our hearts, spent time at the manger pondering on the incredible gift God gave us over 2,000 years ago? Do we teach our children what Christmas is really all about?

I’d love to share some ideas to help you prepare yourself and your children for the miracle of Christmas.


1) Find an advent book or devotional to go through as a family. I highly recommend The Wonder of the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Based on her bestseller Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp expands her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree with this beautiful keepsake that can be handed down and enjoyed for generations. Click here to watch a video that further explains how this beautiful pop-up book works!


2) Encourage your kids go through their toys/clothes and choose some that are in good shape to others who might be in need. This helps them to focus more on giving to others, not just receiving gifts at Christmas.

3) Schedule a family night to serve at a shelter in your area. Seeing others in need helps to put our own abundance into perspective and reminds us of the many blessings we have been given.

4) Throw a birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Eve. Every year, our family makes a cake for Him, we sing to Him, and make the night all about celebrating our Savior.


5) Consider reading the story of Christ’s birth as a family Christmas Eve, Christmas morning – or both! We use the account in Luke 2:1-20. Take turns reading verses so that everyone feels like they are a part of the moment.

6) Attend your church’s Christmas Eve and/or Christmas services together as a family. Worshiping together will help to forge a special bond between your family members?

7) Invite someone who does not have family in the area to join you for Christmas. We have done that many years, and it has ended up being as much a blessing for us as it was for the friends who joined us.

Merry Christmas to you and your family! Thank you for being part of our Tyndale family. We are grateful for each of you, and we pray God’s blessings on you and your families over the next year!!

Linda Howard is Associate Publisher for Kids and Youth products at Tyndale House Publishers. She has been with Tyndale since 2007.

The Secret to a Stress-Free Christmas

Tyndale Kids

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.


She became a space.

Mary—she opens her hands and she nods.

And the promises come true in the space of her surrender—the pod of the Most High God lodging within her willing yes.

Beneath her heart—in one yielded space—beats the thrumming love of God.

There is no need to produce or perform or perfect—simply become a place for God. That is all.

Now, here, in this juncture of time and space, God chooses the inconceivable—grace.

And conceives Himself to deliver grace into the world.

Conceive: it’s not passive, but an active verb. Its root in Latin means nothing less than “to seize, to take hold of.” When grace conceives in you, you take hold of God.


When you are a space to receive whatever the will of God is in this moment as grace, you take hold of God. You most take hold of God when you simply receive Him in this moment taking hold of you.

Taking hold of your unsure hand.

Taking hold of your unseen needs.

Taking hold of your unknown stress.

He wants to take hold of you, to be with you. He wants to carry you, to be carried by you, to have relationship with you.

The being with is always the gift, not merely the doing for. Because God knows: relationship is the only reality; there is nothing else. The way He lives in Trinity, the way we are tethered to Him, to His Body. The way He is with us and in us; the way we make space for Christ to grow us, unfold Love in us; the way the life of Christ stirs amazing grace within.

The way anywhere you make space for someone, you become a womb for God.


He comes to you as the exhausted man over a plate of cold food, the brushed-off kid in the hall, the loud woman peppering your patience with a thousand questions. When you slow and let your eyes fully receive theirs or your words nourish small things—anytime you’re a safe place for another soul or you open and conceive grace—you become a womb for God. Nothing is impossible with Him.

Christmas is conceived in your world when you simply receive it—however Christ and His will comes to you. When we think we’re the ones who will have to produce Christmas, we only half-wrap the notion that we think the saving of the world begins with us. There is a name for this, and it is called idolatry.

No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven,” says the one who is preparing the way (John 3:27, emphasis added).

Hear it like an echo of the heavenlies: Christmas can’t be made, like people can’t be self-made, like dreams can’t be force-made. Everything is given from heaven. Everything is gift. Your life becomes a masterpiece the moment you see it as a gift of grace to willingly receive.


It is more blessed to give than to receive—and it may be more of a struggle to receive than to give. Christmas humbles: we are not the givers we long to be. Nor are we the receivers God woos us to be.

Mary kneels before us this first Christmas not as a woman producing, performing, or perfecting but simply bending before a God who has all the power to dispatch angels, enfold Himself in embryonic cells, choreograph the paths of stars—a God who quietly beckons every man, every woman to simply come, bend, make a space, receive.

This is the chronology of grace, the chronology of Christmas: before we’re called to give, we’re called to receive.

This can be the hardest. We struggle to receive. Sometimes we are better givers than getters. Grace? For me?


I don’t have to bring anything? I don’t have make anything, produce anything, perform anything? What if someone sees . . . how empty I am? How I am not enough, how my gifts are not enough, how giving all I’ve got is never enough? How there are empty places in me, gaping places in me—all these hollow, starving places?

And Mary nods to you in the last days of Advent. Only one thing is necessary—be a space for Love to come. You simply have to receive Love. Let yourself be loved.

Will you let Me fill all your emptiness with Love? Receive my Love? Conceive My grace?

It’s for you.

“Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace,” writes John Wesley.[i] And nothing is harder for capable people at Christmas to simply come and receive.

Don’t let this be the gift you refuse. The grace is for you.

Your greatest gift is not your gifts, but your surrendered yes to be a space for God.


The miscarriage of Christmas begins when anxieties crowd out space within simply to carry Christ. Make room; be a womb. Be a womb to receive Christ everywhere, and it is He who delivers everyone.

So you let the last of the trimmings go.

Cease the pace to do, buy, produce more.

Find the calendar and erase.

Somewhere make space.

And you can feel the space become a sanctuary. Sanctity stilling the crush. Glory overshadowing everything else.

And time holds its breath, and the whirl of this old whirligig world holds for half a blink . . . and God comes in the fullness of His love into the willing space.

And time exhales relief, and the angels dance joy, and the velvet hush of grace received falls over this place like a coverlet over a waiting child.

Take ten today. Ten minutes. Make five minutes of space and stillness and silence just with God. Then make five minutes of space in your day for someone else, and let that person fill all your attention. Invite God and His love to indwell you today.

[i] David L. Larsen, The Evangelism Mandate: Recovering the Centrality of Gospel Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992), 155.

from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.

2014 “Christian Retailing’s Best” award winner!
In what is sure to become an instant holiday classic, Voskamp reaches back into the pages of the Old Testament to explore the lineage of Jesus via the advent tradition of “The Jesse Tree.”

Beginning with Jesse, the father of David, The Greatest Gift retraces the epic pageantry of mankind, from Adam to the Messiah, with each day’s reading pointing to the coming promise of Christ.

Sure to become a holiday staple in every Christian home, The Greatest Gift is the perfect gift for the holidays and a timeless reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

Learn more about exciting new ways to celebrate this Advent season with your family! >>

Customize Your Jesse Tree with The Wonder of the Greatest Gift

Tyndale Kids

I’ve always loved getting ready for Christmas. When I was little, my grandma would buy each of her grandchildren chocolate Advent calendars, and my sisters and I would make a game out of guessing what shape the candies behind each door would be. Through the years, my family’s Advent traditions have evolved, and I’m really excited to introduce a new one to them this year: Ann Voskamp’s The Wonder of the Greatest Gift.

The Wonder of the Greatest Gift is a strikingly unique way to celebrate the Advent season. The fourteen-inch pop-up Jesse Tree doubles as a Christmas decoration, and as you get closer to Christmas, you add more and more ornaments to the tree. To make the Jesse Tree even more special to your family, you can customize the tree with glitter and spangles! Jackie Nunez, designer behind The Wonder of the Greatest Gift, spent an evening with her family using tiny string lights and spangles to make their Jesse Tree their own.

There are all sorts of ways you can decorate your tree. Try some of these ideas, and be sure to post photos of your completed work. Tag them with #tyndalekids so we can see your family’s special tree!

Below are some more ideas for decorating your Jesse Tree:


Enjoying the Days Before Christmas by Crystal Bowman


Christmas is the busiest season of the year—and the season seems to be getting longer and longer! When I was growing up, the Christmas season didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving. We would put up our tree one week before Christmas and take it down a few days after New Year’s Day.  Our Christmas season was about 2–3 weeks at most. So what has changed? I think you know. The retailers love this holiday because it means lots of sales and profit. I’ve seen Christmas items on display in early October, and one of our local radio stations starts playing Christmas songs the day after Halloween. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think it’s a bad thing to celebrate Christmas for many weeks or even a couple of months. But the important thing is to keep our focus on the real meaning of Christmas to avoid getting caught up in the holiday hype and materialism that comes with it. If you have children or grandchildren in your life, then you know how hard it is to keep little ones from wanting everything they see. With a little thought and planning, you can help your children capture the true wonder and miracle of Christmas.

The Countdown

advent-calendarThe days leading up to Christmas seem like an eternity to a child. The solution? An advent calendar! It’s a great way to help kids count the days until Christmas as they anticipate their favorite day of the year. Some years I would buy a fancy Hallmark calendar with little flaps that opened. My kids enjoyed taking turns opening the flaps to reveal a hidden picture. Other years, I’d make a simple calendar out of green construction paper and use Christmas stickers to count down the days. Either option works well and gives children something fun to do every day in December.


The Nativity

nativity-sceneOne of my favorite Christmas items is the Nativity scene. Whether it’s a front yard display, ceramic figurines on a fireplace mantle, a tree ornament or a snow globe, the nativity represents the Christmas miracle and reminds us of God’s greatest gift to the world. When my kids were growing up, I had a look-but-don’t-touch, hand-painted set that always found a prominent place in our home. But now that I’m a grandma, I have a kid-sized nativity set with plastic pieces so my grandkids can play with it. We imagine what the characters say to each other and wonder if baby Jesus is crying. Adults can tell the story of Christmas through a hands-on approach that kids love.

Christmas Books

reading-with-grandmaChildren love books—especially when Mom or Grandma are taking the time to read the books. A young mom shared a great idea with me that I’d love to pass along. Every year, she wraps twenty-five Christmas books (old, new, or borrowed) and puts them in a basket. Beginning December 1, her children take turns choosing a book from the basket. They unwrap and read one book per day until Christmas. It’s an affordable way to keep the focus on Christmas while spending meaningful time with children during this busy season.


The True Story

m-is-for-mangerThe true Christmas story is found in the Gospel of Luke, and a few details are also given in Matthew. The story has been retold through the centuries by writers who want to share it with children in age-appropriate fashion. My latest picture book, also available in a board book edition, is titled M is for Manger (Tyndale). It tells the Christmas story in chronological order, helping young minds understand how and where Jesus was born. Bible verses are included on every page so readers will know where the events or prophecies can be found in Scripture. As children turn the pages and follow the letters of the alphabet, the events surrounding the birth of Jesus unfold before their eyes. During a recent radio interview, the host asked me why we chose M is for Manger as the title. I responded, “Because the manger is where we find Jesus!”


If God has placed children in your life, use this Christmas season to share the true story of Christmas—that God sent his only Son to be our Lord and Savior.

Merry Christmas!

Crystal Bowman


Crystal Bowman is a former preschool teacher, award-winning author, national speaker, and Mentor for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). She has written more than 100 books for children, three books for women, numerous magazine articles, and Bible study materials. She also writes stories for Clubhouse Jr. magazine and lyrics for children’s piano music. She graduated from Calvin College with a degree in elementary education and studied early childhood development at the University of Michigan. She has written books for many children’s series, such as Little Blessings, BOZ the Bear, and I Can Read! She is the co-author of Our Daily Bread for Kids, My Mama and Me, and M is for Manger. She and her husband live in Florida.

Visit Crystal at her website, or find her on Facebook.

Kid Talk Tuesday: A Family Christmas Refocused – Guest Post by Author Brock Eastman

Guest contributor, Brock Eastman, encourages us to revisit the meaning of a family Christmas. One that educates our children why we celebrate and enables them to look beyond a commercialized holiday. Read on to be inspired by Brock’s heart for his family, Jesus, and his contagious sense of humor.

Photo Credit: JGoodlin photography


Travel by air. Travel by land. Travel by sleigh. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Gifts for every family member, co-worker, teacher and friend. Peppermint Mocha. Gingerbread Latte. Flavor from your childhood memories of Christmas now in your caffeinated drink as an adult. This is the ‘Holiday Season’ these days.

Entrusted by God as parents of four little souls, my wife and I strive to make Christmas more about why we celebrate, than the over-merchandised cash-in on the ‘Holiday Season’ thing we often find ourselves caught up in. Now I’m not the Grinch and I love yummy flavored coffee, traveling to see family, and getting gifts that will make others’ eyes light up and set smiles on their faces. Still my wife and I hope Christmas will be a time of family togetherness that reflects on the birth of our Savior in a manger. We want our kids to understand that Christmas is not only getting gifts, but of giving gifts. As God gave us his Son, as the Magi gave gifts to Jesus, and as Jesus gave His life for us. To immerse our kids in this idea, we’ve started several meaningful, but simple traditions that help us have fun as a family while learning the importance of giving.


Advent Calendar:
I can’t take any credit for this one, aside from taking part and being excited about the activity we’ll pull out of the drawer each day. My wife does a wonderful job creating and planning 25 Advent activities. Starting on December 1st, these activities range from bell ringing for the Salvation Army (yes all 6 of us) to making marshmallow snowmen on paper or going on a family hot cocoa date. Each year we have several activities we keep doing because we’ve found them to be family favorites, while others get replaced with new ideas. And though we’re a few days into December, it’s not too late to start. You can check out a full list below of the Eastman’s 2015 Advent Calendar to get ideas for your own calendar. And you’ll notice our activities aren’t always focused on the birth of Jesus. Pinterest is a great place to find ideas for Advent.

Advent Calendar Ideas:

1.) Decorate for Christmas
2.) Make a Christmas craft
3.) Open a new Christmas book
4.) Have a sleepover with friends
5.) Go on a hot cocoa date
6.) Hang Christmas lights outside
7.) Make and deliver cookies to the local fire or police department
8.) Bell ringing for the Salvation Army
9.) Visit Santa
10.) Have a family fun night. Eat at a restaurant or go play at an activity park
11.) Host or attend St. Nicking event
12.) Go watch the Nutcracker
13.) Enjoy ice skating outdoors
14.) Christmas shopping for siblings
15.) Go see Christmas lights
16.) Christmas parade
17.) Watch a new Christmas movie
18.) Receive a Christmas activity book
19.) Bake Christmas cookies
20.) Make Christmas ornaments
21.) Present wrapping party
22.) Have a fancy dinner at home with your kids
23.) Build a Gingerbread house
24.) Open new Christmas Pajamas
25.) Bake a birthday cake for Jesus (Christmas Day)


Christmas Reading List:
This one is my favorite and not because I’m an author. I love having my four kiddos on my lap and gathered around me while we turn the pages to a Christmas themed book. Ten to fifteen minutes before bed each night or at the dinner table to read a story together is all it takes. We have a wonderful time listening, looking at pictures, and discussing what will happen next in the story. It’s also a great way to help our kids relax before bed. My wife and I have amassed a collection of Christmas books over the last few years, (getting a few books is one of our Advent activities) but for those who may not have a personal library yet, consider going to your local public or church library and checking out a dozen or so books. You can make this an every other night event to get started, but I’m sure your kids will soon ask for a story every night even beyond Christmas. Our books aren’t only about Christmas, some are winter themed. A couple family favorites are The Nutcracker or Snow by P.D. Eastman (no relation, at least that I know of). And the books we read about the birth of Jesus are a reminder of the ultimate gift we celebrate at Christmas. Plus reading to your kids at bedtime or anytime will pay huge dividends later as you’ll see them excel in school and their imaginations flourish. If you need book ideas we’ve created a list for you.

Tyndale’s Recommended Christmas Book List:

1. M is for Manger by: Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley
2. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by: Ann Voskamp
3. When Jesus Was Born
4. God Made You Special by: Jennifer Holder
5. Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
6. Snow by P.D. Eastman


Three Gifts of the Magi:
Are your kids’ lists for Santa each a mile long? Has one of your kids ever said, “If you don’t get it for me, I’ll ask Santa?” America is a prosperous country and often that causes us to be more materialistic than we want, it’s simply; we see it, we want it, we get it, because we can. In light of this, my wife and I wanted to refocus our family’s celebration of Christmas with an idea that helps simplify our gift giving each year. We use the three gifts the Magi presented to Jesus at his birth as the basis for each gift our kids receive each year; yes that’s three gifts, but each one is intentional and meaningful. This tradition allows us to read of the three wise men and their journey to the manger in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12), and creates a tangible connection with the baby Jesus and your children through the gifts they receive and each gifts’ purpose.

  1. Frankincense: A gift for the body can be a shirt, shoes, perfume or something exercise related.
  2. Myrrh: A gift for the spirit might be a Bible, devotional, worship music, or might I suggest Adventures in Odyssey (disclosure, I was a producer for Adventures in Odyssey.)
  3. Gold: A gift of luxury. What’s the one thing your child wants; a doll, Legos, a dinosaur, a movie. This is the gift that fulfills their greatest want.


St. Nicking:
A fun event to do with a group of families on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or by your family alone. First ask your church or a local shelter to find a family in need this Christmas. Be sure to ask the church or shelter for the names and ages of each family member. If possible find out clothing sizes (shirts, pants, shoes, etc), any specific interests (books, princesses, cars, penguins), and specific needs (winter hats, school shoes, Bible, or water heater.) Next invite everyone to your house for a St. Nicholas party. Assign one member from the family in need to each participating family. Next read the story of St. Nicholas aloud. We recommend The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving. With family members assigned, a list of suggested items in hand, everyone heads out to shop. We suggest 1 to 1 ½ hours for shopping. When everyone arrives back the wrapping party begins. It’s a Christmas party too, so have everyone bring cookies to share. Now it’s time to deliver the gifts. The key to a successful St. Nicking is the anonymity of it just like St. Nick. We want our kids to understand that these gifts are given without receiving credit. That brings me to an important point, if you have the address of the family send one car to deliver the gifts to the front door. The key is to not be seen, so ring the door bell and leave before they answer. If you do not have the address, ask the church or shelter to deliver the presents to the family without revealing your identity.

From my family to yours Merry Christmas and we hope you’ll enjoy trying out these new ideas this season. Whether you do them all or just one, the key is to remember to focus your kids on the real meaning for Christmas; the birth of Jesus. We’d love to hear if you’ve incorporated any of your ideas into this Christmas season.


Brock Eastman lives in Colorado with his wife, four kids, two cats, and leopard gecko. Brock is the author of The Quest for Truth series, the Sages of Darkness series, Showdown with the Shepherd in the Imagination Station series, and the novella Wasted Wood. He writes articles for FamilyFiction digital magazine and Clubhouse magazine. You may have seen him on the official Adventures in Odyssey podcast and on its Social Shout-Out. He was the first producer of and launched the Odyssey Adventure Club. Brock works for Compassion International, whose mission is to release kids from poverty worldwide. Brock enjoys getting letters and artwork from fans. You can keep track of what he is working on and connect with him at Website:

Twitter: @bdeastman