Around this time of year, the possibilities for holiday traditions can feel endless—and endlessly overwhelming for parents wanting to spend their family’s time well. The Instagram age has us constantly looking over our shoulders, wondering if we’re doing enough. Are our ideas for teaching our kids creative enough? Stretching enough? Robust enough?, we ask, as beads of sweat form on our foreheads. We are quick to let endless possibilities rule our thoughts and decisions, rather than a few well-chosen priorities.
Might I encourage you, mom and dad, to favor the latter option this holiday season?
I’m talking to myself here. As October began, and I wrote down my fourth quarter goals in my journal, one of them was “enjoy holiday traditions.” I started a list beside it with ideas, and—you guessed it—quickly felt overwhelmed by options and insecure about what I listed. So, yes, I’m talking to myself here.
What if, instead of fretting about what could be, you and I chose a few priorities and called it a day?
Following are two holiday traditions that our family has enjoyed and benefited from in the last several years. Keep in mind that we have young children, ages five and under; but these could be adapted for older children or teenagers. My husband and I equally look forward to these and have found our faith strengthened by them!
Holiday Tradition #1: Thankful Turkey
God’s word consistently exhorts us to set aside grumbling and complaining, to remember his character and works, and to give him thanks and praise: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chron. 16:34). Our feeble hearts need the good medicine of thanksgiving to our Creator, who alone can sustain us with his steadfast love and faithfulness. Any exercise that causes us to remember and give him thanks is worth cultivating.
With our younger kids, we have created “Thankful Turkeys.” In the two or three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we make the turkeys out of construction paper and glue. (And believe me—I’m not artsy—I usually search online for a picture of a homemade paper turkey and mimic it.) We cut out multicolored feathers and keep them in a pile somewhere visible in our kitchen. Each morning when we wake up, I ask the kids what they are thankful to God for. We write down their response on a feather and attach it to the turkey. Simple as that!
The Thankful Turkey usually gets a prominent position on some common wall or door, where we can see him often and watch the feathers multiply. I love how this tradition is hands-on and gets my kids (and me) reflecting on the goodness of God.
If you have older kids or teenagers, perhaps you could adopt a “Faithfulness Tree” or a jar of “Stones of Remembrance.” These two exercises are not limited to Thanksgiving, but can be adopted all year long.
Holiday Tradition #2: Advent Envelopes
A few years ago, I attended an artisan fair before Christmas, hosted by a friend. She was selling “Advent envelopes,” labeled with numbers one to 25, with little cards inside. We decided to write Scripture verse references on each card, related to the coming of Jesus (including prophecies, narrative, and exhortations). Then we added string and hung them on our Christmas tree as ornaments.
We use our Advent envelopes as our morning devotional. Each morning leading up to Christmas, our kids have to seek and find that day’s numbered envelope, open it, and read the verse reference which we look up in our Bibles. (We usually tuck a treat inside the envelopes, which they love!) Then we read Scripture as a family, and my husband and I take turns saying one truth about the verse and praying a brief, one-sentence prayer. It has been a marvelous and simple way to meditate on Jesus together.
It would be easy enough to create these envelopes yourself with supplies from a craft store. We also valued the time we spent looking up verses and choosing them for the envelopes. You can pick your own verses, or an online search will turn up a good list.
Draw Near With Your Heart
Whatever traditions you decide to adopt this year and in the years to come, remember that a few good priorities are better than endless possibilities, and that it is the posture of the heart that matters most to God (Isa. 29:13). We not only want to draw near to him with our hands this holiday season, but our whole hearts.