Posts Tagged ‘christmas’


Need some ideas for gifts this Christmas? In your quest to find that “perfect gift” for someone, you probably won’t find these in a store or in your online shopping cart, but they should be on everyone’s list nonetheless. I hope these six gifts give you a ton of ideas and most importantly, I hope they will add JOY and SIGNIFICANCE to your Christmas season.

1. The Gift of Simplicity. 

Americans are in the habit of trying to out-PACE, out-SPEND, and out-DO each other. We are in the habit of extravagance. Most of us are over-extended in both time and money. This is why the holidays are often a more stressful time for many families. Maybe it’s time to shift gears this season and practice a simple Christmas.

To know what a ‘simple Christmas’ looks like, I suggest taking your family on a missions trip to Mexico (or any third world country). You will certainly gain a new perspective on ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’. One year in Mexico, a woman broke down in tears because we gave her a solar-powered light for her home. She had never had “light” at night before! She was ecstatic because they could extend their day by several hours. Most mission-trip experiences will teach some important lessons: 1) a newfound appreciation for the things we HAVE (contentment). 2) You CAN be truly happy/content with LESS.

Remember, we “set the pace” for our children. If we are continually busy, if we are  overly-extravagant gift-givers, they will be too. (Our values are more caught than taught). Sometimes, we are so hurried and hustled, we don’t even enjoy the family events we’re doing in the first place. We are grumpy. We are tired. Instead, take time to relax & savor the season. Enjoy the moments. Soak it up. Create some margin in your calendar and with your finances. Try not to get caught up in trying to ‘outdo’ yourself year after year. Don’t get caught up in ‘comparing’ with other families and their spending habits. This can be overwhelming and exhausting. Here are some questions you can ask yourself on keeping it simple:

  • Will I regret this (purchase, appointment, event) later?
  • Will this deplete or return my energy?
  • Will this stretch/stress my finances?
  • Will this tax my schedule?
  • Is this good timing (or are we forcing it)?
  • Will this create more/less margin for my family?

If we’re not careful, we crowd so much IN, that we unintentionally crowd Jesus OUT. Keep your FOCUS and keep it SIMPLE this Christmas. Fewer gifts. More ‘experiences’. A less-hectic schedule. Remember, to truly capture the “reason for the season”, sometimes ‘less’ is ‘more’. Oh and by the way, this IS NOT A POPULAR practice! Your family and friends will think you’re nuts. But chances are, you’ll get more sleep, more joy and more fulfillment from the holiday season than ever before. (and it won’t take nearly as much time to clean-up afterward). Here are some ideas for a ‘simple Christmas’:

  • Limit the number of gifts you exchange to three per person. (Jesus received three gifts from the Magi)
  • Tell extended family members you will forego exchanging gifts for this season.
  • Limit your decorating to ONE TREE; and only one box of items for the inside, & one box for the outside of your house. (sorry, Clark Griswold–take this season off)
    • Or, ONLY put up a tree and a Nativity set.
      • (read “The Reason for the Season” in this blog for another perspective)
  • Set a boundary for the number of evening commitments you make as a family & stick to it! Learning to say NO takes discipline (you can’t get time back)
  • Whatever your budget was for last Christmas, cut it in HALF!

I recommend the book Simple Christmas for further resources on this subject.

2. The Gift of Generosity.  

Christmas is known as the “season of giving”, but sometimes that gets lost in our consumer-driven culture. Nobody wants to be selfish, but sometimes we need a little help when it comes to thinking of and prioritizing others first. What are some ways you can be generous? What are some ways you can focus more on giving than receiving? How can you instill the core value of giving to your kids? How can you intentionally think “outward” vs “inward”?

Here are some suggestions on adopting generosity this Christmas:

  • Set a standard that you will spend more to bless another family than you do on gifts for your own family. (this may radically change your perspective/priority on spending)
  • As a family, save your change for a year and give it to help someone at Christmas.
  • Give each child a budget & and have them buy a gift for their siblings.
  • Sponsor a family through Angel Tree,
  • Sponsor a child through Compassion International.
  • Start a “pay it forward” chain at a fast food restaurant for lunch or at a Starbucks (pay for the person behind you)
  • Pre-pay for someone’s groceries or go to a store and tell the cashier you will pay for the next person’s entire bill. Go to the layaway department at a toy store and pay for the toys set aside anonymously.
  • Write Christmas cards and deliver them to a Senior Care home.
    • Go Christmas caroling at a Senior Center (pick 2-3 short songs and go room to room–they don’t care if you have a good voice or not)
  • Sponsor a foster family/Group home
  • Ask your church if there is a family you can bless anonymously.
  • Serve at a local food bank or homeless shelter

Every year, we set aside a sum of money and choose a family to ‘bless’. Usually, we give the gifts and/or money to the designated person or family sometime in late November or early December. Then, we set a sealed envelope on our tree and before we open ONE gift on Christmas morning, we will open the envelope and read to our family how we were able to help someone. This is one of the kids’ highlights every Christmas! Last year, we chose to sponsor a child from Compassion International, so we read her biography and wrote letters to her on Christmas morning. Since Christmas truly is the ‘season of giving’, giving the gift of generosity will keep this principal at the forefront of every Christmas.

3. The Gift of Recycling.

For some reason, the art of “re-gifting” gets a “bad rap”. But for families on a budget, this can be a lifesaver. One year when our kids were little, we knew we weren’t going to be able to afford many gifts. So in October, we took some of their toys that were a little ‘worse for wear’ out of their room. Over the next month, we cleaned them, replaced missing/broken parts, put in new batteries and put them all under the tree on Christmas morning. They had so many toys, they didn’t even notice a few were missing! On Christmas morning, they walked into the room amazed and excited to see all their shiny ‘new’ toys under the tree! Here are a few other ways to stretch your dollar this Christmas…

  • Have a garage sale (de-clutter) & use the money to buy gifts
  • Shop for your family gifts at a second-hand store
  • Look for household items you can ‘repurpose’ & re-gift. (Pinterest has tons of ideas)
  • Use your craft skills to ‘make’ all your gifts (nothing beats that personal touch)
  • Sell larger items on OfferUp or trade for items you want.
  • Buy gifts a year in advance (after-Christmas sales) this takes extreme discipline and forethought 
  • Give a hand-made coupon book for services around the house (washing the dishes, folding the laundry, taking out the trash)

4. The Gift of an Experience. 

When you give a gift, the joy is temporary, but giving an “adventure” will last a lifetime. They will tell stories about an “experience” for the rest of their lives. And, you will have given them the most precious gift of all: a memory. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Polar Express
  • North Pole Experience
  • Build a snowman or go sledding
  • Zoo Lights
  • Glendale Glitters
  • Drive around & look at Christmas Lights
  • Go to a Hockey Game
  • Go to a tree farm and pick out/cut your own Christmas tree (this is a big deal for those of us raised in the city)
  • Go to Top Golf or Bowling together
  • Take a ‘road trip’ around town for a holiday themed ‘progressive dinner’
  • Do a family 5k or ‘fun run’
  • Go to Disneyland for Christmas
  • Rent a cabin in the woods and have Christmas ‘away from home’.
  • Grab a group of friends and have a Christmas character costume contest

One year, we rented a limousine with another family and drank hot chocolate, watched the movie “Elf”, and drove around looking at Christmas lights. Our adult kids still talk about that! One year, we took a road trip to see my wife’s family back in KS and got caught in a blizzard. It took us 23 hours of driving, but what an adventure!  The point is to try something out of the ordinary. Unpredictable. Give them a story to tell. Nothing draws a family closer than an experience.

5. The Gift of Presence. 

The best way you can spell “LOVE” to your family is T-I-M-E. This year, give them the gift of complete, uninterrupted, undivided attention. Put away the mobile devices and engage with your family. Enjoy rich conversation. Laugh. ‘Notice’ each other. You may simply call a family member you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Surprise them by just ‘being there’. True happiness requires deep and significant interpersonal connections. That’s a fancy way of saying, just do stuff that intentionally draws you closer together as a family!! Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

  • Complete a puzzle
  • Play a board game
  • Giant Jenga
  • Giant Connect Four
  • Giant Sequence
  • Dominoes
  • Bop it!
  • Corn Hole tournament
  • Play “Rudolph & Friends Scene it”
  • Make Gingerbread houses
  • Bake/decorate cookies
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movies
  • Make/decorate ornaments together
  • Nerf Wars

One silly thing we do every year is our annual…NERF WARS. It started one year because we gave our kids some nerf guns early for Christmas and the idea just took off! This is a hilarious melee of running around and pelting each other with nerf darts from an impressive arsenal of nerf weapons. It’s goofy, but our entire family gets in on the action and we go all out! It promotes fun and togetherness in our house (but we’re a little crazy sometimes). The point is to find something that draws your family together and do it. Give the gift of presence this Christmas.


6. The Gift of Tradition. 

A “tradition” is the transmission of customs from generation to generation. They are consistent and replicable. They can add tremendous depth and significance to your holidays.  What are your favorite family traditions? What do you remember most about your childhood?  What customs would you like to repeat (or establish) for your family?

  • Christmas Traditions

The ‘ambiance’ we create is part of Christmas tradition around our home. Holiday candles (smell is the strongest scent tied to memory), decorating the house inside and out, baking holiday goodies and Christmas music–all help create the ‘atmosphere’ of Christmas.  The annual family photo, visiting out of town relatives, watching our favorite Christmas movies together, and attending Christmas Eve services at our church, are also on the list every year. Opening one gift on Christmas Eve, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning are also a few of our favorites. As I grew up, my dad always gave me a ‘kid-gift’. He always wanted us to approach Christmas with the “joy and innocence of a child”. The last three years of his life, he gave me a bluetooth-controlled flying saucer; a remote controlled truck; and virtual reality glasses. I looked forward to his goofy gifts every year (and YES, I played with them!!)

We also try to coach our kids on other popular Christmas traditions and where they come from. We’ve found the book, Why Does Santa Wear Red? to be helpful in our discussions of Santa, why we exchange presents, the origin of the Christmas tree, etc. We love to have fun and embrace the “awe and wonder” of the season in all kinds of ways.

  • Family Traditions

Simply put, a tradition is something you do that creates anticipation. By far, the most significant tradition that creates anticipation for our family each holiday season is ADVENT. The word “advent” literally means to “celebrate the arrival” of Christ’s birth.  This ensures that Christmas isn’t just a one-day celebration, but rather, the entire month of December is counting down the days to the most significant date in history: the birth of our Savior. It is something that we look forward to every year.

We start by making an ‘Advent calendar’ (there are a gazillion ideas out there). Our calendar has little doors for every day in Dec and inside is a piece of paper. On the paper, there is a reference to read from the Bible, a reference to a book about a popular Christmas tradition, and a family activity.  Here are some examples from our family Advent calendars over the years…(there are several similarities from year to year)

Our format is simple: every day before school, we gather 15 minutes for our family ‘huddle’. We rotate who will do the day’s reading. The kids actually get ready for school ON TIME in anticipation of what we’re going to do that evening! Some events are more elaborate. Others involve ‘life events’ that we simply do together (kids sporting events, etc). There are dozens of books on this subject, but these are the ones we have found most helpful in shaping the Advent season in our home over the years:

Advent has been so significant over the years, that our married adult daughters have all talked about starting that tradition with their families. A tradition can be a rallying point for a family. It is part of your legacy. Remember, it doesn’t need to be extravagant, just consistent. The sights, sounds & smells of your house around the holidays…all help create an atmosphere of tradition. It’s something to look forward to again and again, year after year.


What’s the GREATEST thing about these GIFTS? They LAST A LIFETIME. I hope these SIX GIFTS are on your list, because I believe they will add JOY and SIGNIFICANCE to your Christmas celebration. I hope this has been helpful, and I hope you have a Merry Christmas!





How do you put Christ at the CENTER of Christmas? How do you keep Jesus the REASON for the season?

We love to decorate our house for Christmas. Inside & out, it’s completely transformed. Sometimes I swear we need a PODS storage unit just to hold all of our Christmas stuff.

  • Inside = snowmen, garland with lights, trees, animated fiber-optic Christmas village, etc.
  • Outside = Entire yard covered in lights. Featuress Icicle motion lights, Twinkle lights on trees, inflatables, Snowflakes, Candy Canes, etc. We even have Santa pulling reindeer skiers on a lake of lights, It is an all-LED display that we spend a couple weeks on.

Our display is so crazy, we even had to add extra outlets just to make sure we had enough ‘juice’ to power our yard. It just may be one of the FEW SITES VISIBLE from OUTER SPACE.

Well, a couple years ago, a storm came through town and the rain tripped all the breakers except one.


Sometimes, God has a way of reminding us of what’s most important. In the light of the illuminated Nativity, we made two observations:

  1. We couldn’t believe how BRIGHT it was when NOTHING ELSE was lit.
  2. We couldn’t believe how much it STOOD OUT when we removed all the CLUTTER.

Now, we actually rig up our lights differently. Today, each dimmer is timed to turn off so that eventually, each night, only the nativity is lit two hours longer than the rest.

One of my favorite verses of the Christmas story, is when the angel appeared to Joseph and said:

Matthew 1:21 (NIV) She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

This is a simple reminder not only that Jesus came into the world, but that he gave his life for our sins. That is the reason for the season.

One of my favorite Christmas films of all time is “A Christmas Story”. You know the one I’m talking about, with Ralphie & his Red Rider BB Gun. Apparently, I’m not alone. According to the web, it has been ranked as the 3rd most-watched Christmas film of all-time, and has been seen by millions of people around the world.

This past week, I learned that a man in Cleveland bought the house the movie was filmed in, and had it completely restored to it’s original appearance in the film. He also turned it into a museum, complete with several props used in the movie. But that’s not all…each year, a person can  bid on a 2 night stay in the house on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

Package (4 people) included:

  • Two night stay in the Christmas Story House
  • Bunny suits for your entire group
  • Secret Santa Decoder pens
  • A keepsake leglamp delivered in it’s trademark FRAGILE crate.
  • And a picture of you holding the Red Rider BB gun prop used in the film.

Interesting, huh? What was most interesting to me was that this year, the winning bid closed out at $8,700!!–and that did NOT include the airfare to/from Cleveland.

Some people will literally go to great lengths to insert themselves into the Christmas Story.

But God went to great lengths to insert himself into OUR STORY.

Over 1000 years before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold:

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (which means “GOD WITH US”)

God would fulfill his long-held promise to live with us when Jesus was born.  But Jesus was born with a PURPOSE…

John 3:16,17 (NIV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send his son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

This season, we remember not only HOW he came, but WHY he came. That is the real story of Christmas.