Last Christmas a day full of opening presents was overstimulating for our kids, who were at that time all five and under. This year we got a little smarter (or were just better prepared) and let the children drive the presents-opening. If they wanted to stop and play with a present, we let them. If they were ready to open a new one, we let them.
It worked out pretty well. Our two boys each opened a Lego set early in the day, with homemade Lego storage/building trays from the grandparents, and played with them for much of the morning. Then, after a while, we moved into round two of opening gifts. All in all, we opened about 90% of the presents in three different stages on Christmas Day. We’ve opened the rest since then.
Leading up to Christmas we followed our family tradition of nighttime prayer and song and candles with an Advent Wreath. Our six-year-old took the role of “leader” most nights, our three-year-old was “acolyte” (i.e., he blew out the candles), and our one-year-old was the altar guild. (And by “altar guild,” I mean she climbed up on to the table and tried to take apart the wreath and candles.) The short liturgy had the same centering effect for our kids this year as it did last year, though this year there was more fighting over who got to do what.
Two lessons learned as a dad:
#1: It’s easy, even in a Christian home, even when you’re a pastor, to let other things besides Jesus rule your consciousness during the Advent and Christmas season. This feels like it might be a yearly challenge, with due deliberateness required to keep the focus where it should be.
#2: Following the kids’ lead as much as possible leads to a more pleasant Christmas Day. There’s no need to rush through opening presents. (And children seem to receive a lot.) I think how we handle #2 has direct bearing on #1.
I’ve been thinking now about the possibility of giving gifts in each other’s names to charitable organizations as the kids get older. This could become a meaningful part of our Christmas celebrations in coming years.
Parents of kids–what about you? How do you navigate Christmas and the days leading up to it with kids? What are challenges you face? What’s rewarding about it? What helps your family keep focused on what matters most?