Sunday, December 6, 2015

How we Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas


I wait for Christmas all year long with great anticipation and excitement. Since having children, I long to impart that same hopeful joy to them throughout the holiday season. I credit my parents and Granny Jean for filling my heart with beautiful memories of advent, Christmas carols, and endless laughter with family. While I do remember a handful of my childhood presents, those pale in comparison to my memories of lighting advent candles, praying over the Christmas cards we received -- asking God to bless those families throughout the coming year, and gathering around the kitchen table to swap stories over chips and dip.


This is the Christmas experience I want for my children. Not making endless lists of stuff and going over the top with gifts. Sure, it can be fun to spoil our kids...but not at the expense of losing sight of what truly matters. With at three-and-a-half-year-old and an eighteen-month-old, our little family traditions are just beginning, but I am very intentional about how we celebrate the birth of Jesus.



Christmas AND Hanukkah

We read in the bible about Jesus celebrating Hanukkah; it's called the Feast of Dedication in John 10:22-40. Christianity, for the most part, doesn't pay enough attention to the Hebrew calendar -- which is a bit of a shame considering it is rich with tradition, history, and depicts a beautiful picture of God's perfect timing. I have a fantastic book of biblical holidays that describes how Jesus fulfills each of the Jewish feasts. It is important for me to impart to my children how our Jewish roots are an integral part of Christianity. (For a concise reference to each biblical holiday, I also have a pamphlet that quickly ties everything together.)


This will be the first year we light the menorah, and I'm very excited about using one my dad brought back from Israel earlier this year. To explain the history of this sacred tradition, we read a children's book about the Maccabees, and discuss how God miraculously allowed the menorah to burn in spite of a lack of oil. We have a traditional seven-branch menorah, as well as a DIY kid-friendly Hanukkah menorah (because toddlers and candles make me nervous).


For our family, the focus is Jesus. I adapted nightly Hanukkah readings from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays to fit our young audience's attention span. Each night focuses on different aspects of Jesus being the light of the world. If you're interested in learning how Hanukkah fits in with Christmas, here is a short, helpful blog and video. If you're trying to navigate the tricky waters of commercialism versus Christ, there is a great DVD available for you and your kids to watch together.


Instead of building up a belief in Santa, we tell the story of the real Saint Nicholas. Even at three years old, Asher understands that every Santa Claus we see reminds us of the real Nicholas, and how he served others because of his love for Jesus. I want my boys to be rooted in the things of Christ from an early age, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're Santa-haters...it also doesn't mean we tell them that he comes down the chimney to bring presents. We celebrate Saint Nicholas day by reading a book about the real person, then we playfully sneak around and leave coins in each other's shoes. This year, Asher insisted on sneaking the coins into his own shoes -- fine with me! He really enjoyed himself and fully comprehended the concept.


In addition to a traditional Christmas tree, we also have a Jesse tree that tells the story of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Each day from December 1st to the 25th, the kids get a new ornament that depicts a piece of the story. We sit cuddled together to read the corresponding scripture before adding the ornament to our Jesse tree. This is our version of an advent calendar -- Asher loves getting a new ornament and reading the Bible each morning! If you're up for a crafty kind of Christmas, your kids can make their own Jesse tree ornaments.


Whatever your family traditions may be, I wish you and yours abundant blessings of peace, love, and joy this sacred season! May we be free of commercialism's chains as we remember how Christ came as a baby, and wait with hopeful anticipation for his return. Merry Christmas!

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