It was breathtaking . . . simple, yet incredibly elegant. After a quick stop at the dollar store for supplies, I hurried home to recreate the festive showpiece that had caught my eye in a storefront display.

I wrestled for over an hour with florist’s wire and containers of various sizes. At last, an arrangement of bright red dogwood branches finally remained upright at our fireside, adorned with bright white Christmas lights and beautiful white doves. When my husband arrived home, I invited him to comment on my Christmas wonder.

"Nice," he responded, "but what do seagulls have to do with Christmas?"

"They’re doves!" I replied, marvelling that he could be confused by something so obvious.

Those Christmas seagulls didn’t reappear the following year, or for any subsequent Christmases. But this year, my husband’s comment about the Christmas seagulls keeps returning to my mind.

Intentionality over busyness

As our youngest of three reaches his teens, I’ve found myself wondering what memories our children will retain of our Christmas celebrations as a family. And I can’t shake the feeling that I, in my own way, have been confusing doves with seagulls, too. Year after year, I’ve spent an enormous amount of effort cleaning and decorating the house, purchasing Christmas gifts and preparing a delicious menu. But I’ve seldom been intentional about building family traditions that truly capture the heart of Christmas. I just never gave it much thought. When I evaluate all the busyness of Christmases past, it hardly seems an appropriate way to mark the birth of our Saviour.

So what’s a wannabe super-mom, who’s searching for more meaningful ways to celebrate the birth of Christ, to do?

Meaningful traditions for your family

Some Christmas traditions seem almost as universal as the Christmas tree itself – traditions like baking Christmas cookies together and gathering around the Nativity set to read the account of Jesus’ birth. Here are a few novel ideas to help jump-start ideas for your own family traditions.

  • Returning the blessing – Instead of tucking Christmas greeting cards away on the mantle once they’ve been read, gather up the latest batch each suppertime and pray for the senders and their families.

  • Tree of promise – When it’s time to trim the Christmas tree, many families surprise their children with an ornament that commemorates a milestone in their child’s life. Tiny ballet slippers, ice skates or graduation caps work well. If your children are a little older, you can encourage them to mark their own spiritual milestones. I plan to present each family member with a photo frame ornament, encouraging them to frame a Scripture verse that has been especially meaningful to them in the past year.

  • Indoor Christmas camp-out – Falling asleep in the glow of the Christmas tree lights appeals to both tiny tots and teens. My kids initiated this idea themselves a few years ago, but it was such a hit, I had trouble getting them back to their bedrooms; they wanted to sleep by the tree every night! If you plan to adopt this tradition, you might get around this by reserving it as a special celebration for a particular date.

  • Christmas countdown calendar – One of my great Christmas pleasures was the annual gift of a box of chocolates I could keep all to myself. But the first Christmas morning I introduced this gift to my own kids, they consumed most of their chocolates before breakfast. Since they love the anticipation created by our Advent calendar, I’ve combined these two ideas this year and created homemade Advent calendars that help ration out the kids’ chocolates.

    You can adapt this simple idea for any small treats that will fit in the "wells" of a chocolate tray. Overlay the tray with a Christmas scene cut from a calendar or magazine. Using a craft knife, cut perforations in the overlay to create the outline of a small flap above each chocolate "well." The perforations will allow the flap to be torn open later. Complete the calendar by numbering each flap from one to 25. If your child has food allergies or you’d like to give something other than candy, alternative gift ideas could be little beads or charms (collected one per day to complete a bracelet or necklace just before Christmas), Lego®, stickers or money to buy gifts for siblings.

  • Random act of Christmas – Although we encourage members of the family to engage in "good works" throughout the year, this year, we decided to undertake a special Christmas service project as a family. To us, the project was straightforward: we simply cleared out a friend’s shed, allowing the mobility-challenged homeowner easy access to his firewood supply. But the results made a tremendous difference to the recipient. If you have teens, a similar "random act of Christmas" tradition may be all it takes to get your kids excited about using their youthful energy to help others.

    If you have younger children, try filling a sturdy, waterproof container with small treasures: Christmas tree ornaments, candy, candles, a few small puzzles or simply a gift certificate to a local restaurant. One evening close to Christmas, load flashlights with fresh batteries, then head out on a nighttime adventure together. Under the cover of darkness, visit a friend’s or needy neighbour’s home and hide your gift container in their yard. Leave "footprints" cut from sturdy cardboard leading from their front door to the hidden treasure, so they’ll be sure to find it. If you’re extra daring or the gift is perishable, ring the front doorbell before racing away into the night, revelling in the knowledge that your recipient will delight in their waiting surprise.

  • "Let’s reconnect!" card – I think everyone has them: dear friends who were once very close but have drifted away for one reason or another. Sometimes even thinking of them brings a twinge of guilt. Christmastime, with its tradition of exchanging cards, can be a big help in these situations. This year, I’ve chosen a special "Let’s reconnect" Christmas card for some old friends. Along with the usual greetings, I’m sending my current phone number and letting them know that I’ll be trying to call them before Christmas. That way, I’m committed to taking action, and they have time to think ahead about the call – and hopefully plan a date for us to get together!

Whatever your plans for Christmas, I hope you’ll begin some memorable family traditions that make celebrating Christ’s birth unique from any other holiday. It’s a good way to ensure your Christmas features doves, not seagulls.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox