The short, cooler days of fall are ushering in a time of preparedness for winter. I love this time of slowing down that speaks to my soul as I also prepare for and anticipate the upcoming Christmas Holiday.
Family Christmas traditions are already starting to occupy thoughts and calendars.
And as much as I try each year to prepare my heart for the sacredness of the season, too often the outward trappings of this time of year take priority over the holy mystery surrounding Christ’s birth.
Christmas Traditions for Families
I love all of the long-standing family Christmas traditions surrounding our own Christmas holiday; the various family and community activities, ornaments that have been handed down from one generation to the next, well-loved recipes that we’ve made over the years, Christmas movies, crafts, and favorite decorations that we look forward to putting up each year.
In so many ways the family Christmas traditions we enjoy are tightly woven into the fabric of our Christmas celebration.
One of our family Christmas traditions we especially look forward to each year is taking a day to drive up in the mountains above our ranch and go on a “hunt” for the Fraley Family Christmas Tree. Think somewhere between a “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” kind of a tree!
We take up plenty of hot chocolate, a lot of snacks, and sometimes a pot of chili to heat over a campfire, and we spend hours hunting for the most perfectly imperfect tree we can find. Once we get it home we decorate the tree with all of our homemade, sentimental, family ornaments, along with plenty of colored lights as we watch a favorite Christmas movie or listen to Christmas Carols.
Soon after getting the tree put up, pretty packages begin piling up underneath it. Every year the tree becomes overrun with gifts, and every year I say that this Christmas is going to be different . . . fewer gifts, less fuss, more Jesus. And each year ends up being the same story.
I love Christmas, but I don’t always love how overwhelmed we get because of how overboard everything is. The advent of Christ is often pushed to the side by the many presents, activities, and hoopla of our celebrations.
And each year I want something different, I long for family Christmas traditions to be sacred, a time set apart and holy for our family.
Ways to Keep Christ in Christmas
In an effort to practice this idea of creating a Christmas with a sense of holiness, I realized that our family needed to make some changes with how much focus and value we put on presents and instead weave in the sacredness of Christ’s birth by becoming more intentional in the gift-giving aspect of the holiday.
This year is the perfect time for our family to begin making those changes because we’re going away for Christmas and the gifts under the tree will be sparse.
Three Gifts for Christmas
Giving only three gifts for Christmas will not only bring simplicity to Christmas, but it will also be an exercise in intentional gift-giving.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the offerings the three foreign kings laid before Jesus; those gifts, along with the distance they had traveled, point to the fact that they weren’t visiting just an ordinary child.
These men were visiting royalty and bringing gifts fit for a king, and not just any ordinary king, but the King of Heaven.
They were presenting their gifts to God Himself.
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. ‘And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10-11
Giving three gifts representing what the three kings brought Jesus is one of the family Christmas traditions that give meaning to the presents we give to our loved ones at Christmas; it’s a perfect opportunity to weave the holy into something that has become such a secular act in our Christmas celebrations.
It’s giving three specific gifts to our family members that require thought and purpose.
The Three Gifts for Christmas are:
- A GIFT OF GOLD: Just like today, in the ancient world gold was a precious metal, something of higher value and associated with royalty. A gift representing gold would be something of value that the family member wants.
This will be a bigger item, something that the family member wants or needs, something maybe a little more expensive than the other two gifts. A gift that the family member has expressed a desire for. This would be a gift that brings joy and delight to the one receiving it.
- A GIFT OF FRANKINCENSE: This is an oil widely used in the Middle East and Africa even today. It was used specifically in worship, something that was holy and set apart. A gift representing frankincense is a gift that is given with the thought of our loved one’s talents, spiritual gifts, or growth in mind. It could include Bibles, Bible studies, books, devotions, or journals.
Giving this gift requires thinking about and studying what each family member’s talent and spiritual gift is, or what kind of gift could benefit and help them grow in wisdom and maturity in their faith.
- A GIFT OF MYRHH: This was an oil used for medicinal practices, a fragrant incense, as well as an oil used for anointing. Myrrh was a key ingredient used in the spices mixed to prepare bodies for burial. The gift of myrrh signifies a gift used for the care and attention of our bodies.
Presents such as bath soaps, salts or oils, cologne or perfume, pajamas, clothing or shoes, a gift certificate for a meal, massage, facial, or haircut, a gym membership, or walking shoes to encourage exercise. Anything that can be used for the care and keeping of the bodies God has blessed us with.
All three of these royal gifts also have a very sacred significance in terms of their role in the temple of the OId Covenant along with an important aspect of Jesus’ role as our New Covenant hope.
As 1 Kings 2:21-22 tells us, the temple was completely covered with gold:
“And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. And he overlaid the whole house with gold until all the house was finished. Also, the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.”
That was a lot of gold! I also love the irony that the gift of this precious metal, a metal that was often used in making pagan idols, points to the divinity of the One True God in Jesus.
Frankincense is connected with the worship done in the temple during the Old Covenant. It was used as an incense used during temple sacrifices as prescribed in Exodus 3:34-35:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take fragrant spices – gum resin, onycha and galbanum – and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.’”
These very specific spices were used to make incense that would be pure and holy, set apart just like Jesus’ life was.
And lastly, Myrrh, like frankincense, was a spice used as incense and was the key ingredient in preparing bodies for burial. It was also an anointing oil used to ceremonially prepare the priests, instruments, altar, and the temple itself before any sacrifices could be made.
Exodus 30:22-23 & 29 tells us about the importance of this spice in the temple:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh. . . You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.’” Myrrh was also often mixed with wine to make a sort of sedative. This was the drink offered to Jesus when he was crucified Mark 15:23 and Matthew 27:34 (also referred to as “gall”).
Family Christmas Traditions
Giving the Three Gifts of the Wisemen is a family Christmas tradition that will serve as a way to weave the sacredness of Jesus’ birth into our Christmas celebrations. We can practice it as a way to not only enjoy the act of gift-giving but more importantly to help us as we place our focus on what it truly means to our family that Jesus came as a baby in a manger.
Praising Jesus, who was visited by foreign dignitaries and given royal gifts that not only point to Him as Lord but also point us to His sacrifice on the cross which saved us all from our own sinfulness.
This is one of our family Christmas traditions that I hope will be passed down from one generation to the next as a way to keep Christ at the center of our Christmas.
What family Christmas traditions do you have? We would love to hear from you in the comments!
Jana MacCarrie Fraley