Baby Jesus vs. Santa and Stockings: Keeping Christ in Your Family’s Christmas Day Traditions

nativity and lights
Christmas Manger scene with figurines including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep and wise men. Focus on baby!

We hear about it all December long—”Don’t forget the reason for the season!” or “Keep Christ in Christmas!” In fact, in recent years there has been quite a trend to fight the secularization of Christmas and remember what this holiday is truly about. The popularity of the LDS Church’s #LighttheWorld campaign is a perfect example of people’s desire to focus more on the Savior at this time of year.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season Christmas lights
via Wikimedia Commons

However, no matter how many service projects, Christmas devotionals, or Secret Santa missions we participate in, the feat of keeping Christ as the focus on Christmas Day itself is still quite a challenge for most families.

Because I have a large family, I understand the struggle to keep the grand tradition of opening gifts and attending Christmas Day family get-togethers from overshadowing the importance of remembering the birth of the Savior.

christmas gifts
via Wikimedia commons

It all starts with the 5am wake-up call from toddlers excited to see what Santa has placed in their stockings. Then comes the tedious opening of the gifts, person by person (in order according to age, of course). An early start calls for a mid-morning nap while the little ones play with their new toys and teens figure out their new tech gadgets. Afternoons include a visit to grandparents with a showering of more gifts, then time spent with cousins, comparing toys.

Where is Jesus in all that? Well, if you’re not careful, He will get crowded out by Santa and stockings, by Lego Batman sets, Nerf guns, drones, iPods, and…(okay, I’m struggling here to list girls’ gifts—I have seven boys!).

About 10 years ago my husband and I realized that was exactly what was happening in our family. As much as we tried to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, December 25 would often pass by with few and far between mentions of the Savior. We knew something had to change about our Christmas Day habits and, although we didn’t solve the problem all at once, we slowly began adding new traditions that have made a huge difference in bringing the Savior to the forefront of our minds on the day we celebrate His birth.

Here are a list of four great Christ-centered Christmas Day traditions you can try in your family:

1. Did You Think to Pray?

family praying

This may sound really obvious, but during a time like Christmas morning when children are bursting at the seams with anticipation, normal family habits may go out the window. Even though it’s fine to change up your routine on special days, the habit of starting the day with prayer should not be forgotten on one of the most special holidays of the year (especially since it’s one that doesn’t have to do with meaningless stuff like trick-or-treating or leprechauns).

In our family, we take a moment before we begin opening gifts to set the tone for the day and remember the One who gave us the greatest gift of all—that of eternal life. Prayer puts things into perspective and helps our children, from toddlers to teens, to see what our focus should be on Christmas Day.

2. Unwrapping Scripture “Gifts”

bible book of mormon scriptures

I don’t remember where I first heard about this particular tradition, but it has become a mainstay ever since we started it about seven years ago. First you round up all the hard copy sets of scripture you have in your house. It doesn’t matter if they are triple combinations, just Books of Mormon, just Bibles, etc. (the more, the better). You then find a scripture related to the Savior in each individual book and mark it with a Post-it note or bookmark of some kind, indicating the exact verse on the page. Each book is then wrapped as a normal Christmas gift would be and then placed under the tree (you obviously don’t want to do this too in advance or family scripture study might not be possible).

On Christmas morning, as you begin to open the gifts, these special scripture “gifts” are opened every so often. In our family, the first gift opened is always a book of scripture. Then each person opens one gift in order by age and then another book of scripture and so on. The person opening the scripture gift reads the verse.

This may sound like a basic thing, but the first time we implemented this tradition in our family, it completely changed the spirit in our home. Each time a scripture was read, we were able to pull back from the gift frenzy and recall what we should really focus on—the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

3. Acting Out the Nativity

nativity little girl
via Korbi Ashton Photography

You may already carry out this tradition on Christmas Eve, but it doesn’t hurt to keep the costumes out and re-enact the nativity again so your family can again remember the story of Baby Jesus on the day of His birth.

This activity is a great addition to family get-togethers (cousins and friends can become part of the story as additional angels or stable animals) or while visiting shut-ins on Christmas Day (see suggestion below).

As you repeat the drama of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, it diminishes the less-important traditions of Santa and his reindeer that sometimes “steal the stage” at Christmastime.

4. Visiting the Lonely

visiting elderly
via Korbi Ashton Photography

People who are elderly or shut-ins may get visitors around Christmastime, but often we are too involved with our families to remember them on the actual day of Christmas. This may be the loneliest time of all for many of our community members without family nearby.

So, take a break from your gift-unwrapping and chocolate Santa-eating long enough to visit someone who may long for the company of Christmases gone by. Sing a few Christmas carols, drop off a few Christmas cookies, and share a few special memories with those who may be deprived of companionship at a time when many of us are blessed to be surrounded by family. After all, wouldn’t the Savior do the same?

Although it takes some effort to convert our often secular Christmas Day traditions into more Christ-centered habits, you will find it well worth the time and energy as your family turns from an attitude of focusing on gifts to focusing on the Greatest Gift—our Savior Jesus Christ, His life and His atonement.

baby jesus Mary Joseph Christmas

Jasmine has degrees in Spanish and International Relations from BYU and has always had a love for writing ever since she penned her first haiku at age 9. She and her husband, Shawn, are the the parents of 8 children, who keep her very busy when she is not writing for Third Hour.