When someone talks about a Birthday Party, what comes to mind?
Probably a cake, a pile of presents, some out of tune singing, and people gathered together. It’s about a person. We go to a Birthday Party to celebrate that person. We are glad they were born. Our lives are different because they are in it.
And, because you are a normal human being, you might be a little stressed at that Birthday Party. Maybe your child is rubbing chocolate frosting on a grouchy uncle’s sleeve. Maybe you’re so busy and you don’t have time to waste at a party. Maybe you and your friend are in a tough season and singing feels strained.
When someone talks about Christmas Morning, what comes to mind?
Probably stockings, a pile of presents, and kids in pajamas. It’s about family, being together, and giving and getting fun new things. We feel happy being with people we love. We like seeing people open gifts we thoughtfully picked out just for them.
And, because you are a normal human being, you might be a little stressed on Christmas Morning. Maybe you didn’t get any sleep wrapping presents. Maybe you spent too much money. Maybe it’s a tough season for your family and everything feels strained, or even desperate.
What if we combined the two? What if Christmas Morning was more about a Birthday Party? Could it be the best of both worlds?
Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus’ Birthday. He was born. God was born as a person. Covered in goo and hungry for milk. Crying out and sleeping peacefully in his mom and dad’s arms. Jesus was born.
When we reminded our kids about that (don’t say that in an exasperated way on Christmas Morning to them, please! no shaming!) it made a difference. The next Christmas we planned a Birthday Party. There were no balloon animals, or a Doc McStuffins theme, or favor bags. But we did do 3 things:
1. Birthday Cake
2. Birthday Song
3. Birthday Present
We actually make a real Birthday Cake. The same cake the kids request for their own birthdays. Rich chocolate (now sadly gluten free) with homemade vanilla butter cream frosting. Relaxed parents will let the kids decorate it themselves, but recovering perfectionists like me will hover and offer too many suggestions. Last year we used m&m’s and they decided to put the Fisher Price baby Jesus on it (I did make them let me wash it first).
We traditionally eat the Birthday Cake for breakfast. All sugary and delicious. We do this between stockings and presents. (After presents we have something healthier with protein. Like bacon.)
Then we put a candle on it and sing the Birthday Song. “Happy Birthday, Baby Jeee-sus! Happy Birthday to youuu!” We all think it’s fun. It’s not a dry liturgical prayer that hints at obligation (but I do love those). It’s a celebration. Jesus is a person. We love him. We are glad he’s in our lives. We are different because of him.
My favorite part is the Birthday Present. My love language is Gifts. It was really tricky to figure out how to give our big invisible God a gift – talk about a Person Who Has Everything. But since doing a Family Compassion Focus selecting presents for Jesus has been rich and life-changing.
We spend the whole year focused on one of the kinds of people Jesus really loves (read Matthew 25 for more details). We learn about their struggles, we learn how others are already loving and serving them, we pray for them, and we do Compassion Experiments to put our reading and praying into action.
About six weeks before Christmas we remind the kids that Jesus’ Birthday is coming up. That’s about the time an invitation to a friend’s birthday party would arrive. We give them money, out of what we would normally spend on Christmas presents for them, to buy Jesus a present. This year our Compassion Focus was Homelessness. Our kids bought Jesus:
– 45 pairs of thick wool socks (to be handed out personally with our friend who visits the homeless on the streets every week)
– 100 ornaments, a majestic tree-topper angel, and a soft nativity set (for a family celebrating Christmas off the streets in their first apartment)
– a donation to the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans (because this child was struck by the courage and hard work of veterans for the first time this November)
Throughout the year we keep track of what we’re learning and doing. I put that all in a binder. You might want to put it in a shoe box, a little basket, or a big envelope, but I >love< binders. I wrap that binder up in Christmas paper with a bow on top.
We ask the kids to write Jesus a letter about their gift, too. When my kids give gifts to their grandparents we make them make a card to go with it, too. Those go on top of the binder.
We put these things in a manger. My generous husband made us a manger three years ago when we had our first Compassion Focus. It makes us think about the Baby Jesus more. I love seeing it next to the Christmas Tree. But of course you don’t need a manger. Maybe you put them under the tree, or next to a nativity set.
So, on Christmas Morning, after Stockings and Birthday Cake, we start opening presents. First we do Jesus’ Birthday Presents. The kids read their cards to Jesus aloud. Then we open the binder (box/basket/envelope) and briefly look through what we learned and tried all year. After that we pray, thanking God for the people we got to learn about and begin to love in new ways and remembering God’s abundant love for us.
This portion takes between 5-10 minutes. We aren’t super-human. We don’t make our kids endure a long 1964 slideshow of another family’s vacation to Niagara Falls. We keep it short and sweet and direct. Then we dive into our presents to each other.
This has not solved all our problems. There’s mushed frosting on pajamas, and I’m always going to find family gatherings over-stimulating. But it has made a difference. Christmas is not about getting everything we want anymore. It’s about Jesus. And loving other people. And loving each other.
We started doing Compassion intentionally because of a bad Christmas morning. I wrote about that here in the very first post on this blog.
© Aimee Fritz and Family Compassion Focus, 2014-2015.