Blog, On Mission

Thoughts on Christmas Traditions

Several other mamas have asked me recently about our family traditions during Christmas or Advent. Honestly, I feel like we are just establishing those traditions and learning and growing as our little ones are fairly young and have struggled to put my thoughts into words this season. I know, rare for me!  But I asked my friend and another On Mission Mom, Kylie, to share her thoughts on Christmas traditions with her family and a new one that her fun family started this year – The Giving Manger! Her kiddos are a few years ahead of mine and they have had a few “extra” years to really establish the traditions. I also just totally respect the wisdom and intentionality she and her hubby, Eric have in discipling and leading their fun, sweet, and talented kiddos!


I love Christmas.  I love the traditions.  I love the sights and sounds.  The familiarity. The time with family.  And I love the gift giving.  Really.  Nothing makes me happier than finding the perfect gift for a special friend or family member. 

But that is, as Eric will tell you, as much of a curse as it is a blessing.  As with most parents at this time of year, we find ourselves fighting the temptation to overindulge (and by “we,” I actually mean “I”).  To give in. To over-do. And to justify/excuse/dismiss it all by claiming that we are doing it in the “spirit of Christmas.” 

But, we are finding that it IS possible to steer your kids away from consuming and toward contributing.  Away from commerce and toward compassion.  It takes intentionality.  But it is absolutely possible.  And absolutely worth it. So, here are our ideas—please, take them and make them your very own!

Thankful Tree:  Instead of decorating our tree with traditional ornaments, we spend time every night of Advent doing a family devotion with our Jesse Tree (more on that in just a second) and as part of that devotion, we make it a point each night to identify and discuss one thing/person/experience for which we are thankful. We then write those down on gift tags (generally of the nondescript, burlap variety) and hang those on our tree instead.  By the time Christmas Day arrives, we have a tree showcasing the multitude of blessings that God has already given us.  His faithfulness in the past sets the stage for that same faithfulness in our future and sometimes it’s a really good exercise to slow down and reflect on that and to be reminded of the immaterial gifts that have shaped us and made us who we are.

Jesse Tree:  I can’t encourage this enough.  This was the tradition that started it all for our family.  For those of you who haven’t discovered the joy of a Jesse Tree experience, please just take my word for it and commit to making it part of your yearly celebration. There are tons of variations and resources–and you can personalize it for your family.  For ours, we have a scraggly, pre-lit, needleless tree that remains dark as we work our way through the different Old Testament stories and prophecies that point us to the coming Messiah.  On Christmas morning, we do the final devotion of the year, hang the final ornament on the tree and light the scraggly, leafless tree, symbolizing the power of the incarnation and the moment at which the darkness of humanity collided with the light of Christ.  Interestingly, we’ve expanded this tradition for use during Lent, too, as we look toward Christ’s death and resurrection.  And since the two presentations are similar in nature, it really helps us underscore to our children that Christianity spans the spectrum from the cradle to the cross. 

Giving Manger:  This is our newest tradition and one that my family has embraced wholeheartedly.  Again, we use it in conjunction with our Jesse Tree devotions each night, but in this exercise, we turn our sights outward to those within our circle of influence.  Our classmates.  Our coworkers.  Our teammates.  People in our neighborhood.  And this  year, we are specifically trying to be intentional about “seeing” the overlooked.  We are praying for Christ’s eyes for the world.  And once we see them, we seek to figure out a way that we can bless them in a tangible (but not necessarily financial) way.  For each “good deed” that is performed, we add a piece of straw to the wooden manger in an effort to “prepare the manger of our heart” for the arrival of our Savior.  Again, just our attempt to keep our focus centered on Christ and others instead of on “me and my,” during a time of year when the latter seems much more prevalent than the former.

Our three “go to” activities to offset this kind of built in consumerism are battle tested and (believe it or not) kid-approved.  In fact, they have become our three favorite traditions of the season!  If you have any questions or need direction about resourcing your own traditions, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to share my sources with you!  Merriest of Christmases to you and yours!

What do you do with your little ones to help set your heart on Christ during the Christmas and Advent season ? Here is a link to the resources that Kylie mentioned above:

giving manger amazon pic.jpg

The Giving Manger


Unwrapping the Greatest Gift – a Jesse Tree Resource

Also join us over on our On Mission Moms Pinterest Page for more Christmas and Advent ideas!

*Affiliate links are included above and On Mission Moms does receive a small portion of any purchase that you make using those links.

Do No Harm: Learning More


There are so many different avenues that we could take when seeking to help those in need and there are so many thoughts and opinions about it all that sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed and confused; however, I have learned that I can’t stay in that place of confusion. I must be obedient to God’s call to love and serve the poor so therefore I must study and learn and ask the Lord to reveal to me what He would have me do and how He would have me respond. I pray that is your response too – to dig in and ask the tough questions, to learn and grow, and not just bury your head in the sand and let people walk on by.

The following are just a few of the great resources that I have studied that I hope will help you learn even more about the world of poverty and help you learn how you should respond when you meet that new friend on the street.  


When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert 

This book is also a 6 week group study that you can do with a small group or on your own. You can also access Right Now Media (which is a GREAT resource in general) for the videos or on the web.

Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton 

This is a very similar read to When Helping Hurts but a little stronger! They tend to lean toward the idea that “all charity is toxic” which I believe is not always true in every situation. I mean you can’t “throw the baby out with the bath water” as my grandma used to say.

Seeking Shalom *this is an ECourse by Focused Community Strategies in Atlanta, GA

This is an excellent class that explains poverty and how to work with those in poverty pretty well. This group is connected with Robert Lupton, the author of Toxic Charity, so they follow many of the same principles. It’s explained well though and I always love being able to interact with others and chat about what I’m learning! (I’m weird like that.. ha)

Bridges out of Poverty or Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne

Ruby Payne is an educator and shares about the impacts of poverty in the classroom and while this is “different” than poverty that we see on the streets, it helps us understand how poverty is effecting us across the board. It’s a great general discussion on poverty.

Loving our Neighbor by Beth Templeton 

Beth Templeton is the former director of United Ministries, based here in Greenville, SC. I had the great privilege of meeting with her before I began Refuge and gained some valuable insight and wisdom from her. There is also a 6 week video series that they have produced  that explains poverty and how to work with those in poverty well.

The list could go on and on of books and classes that you could take as you learn about helping those in poverty. What resources could you share with us so that we can learn more?


More than any wisdom that you have gained from books or videos though, I want to challenge and remind you to do the following:

  1. Ask God how He would have you respond in each specific situation and be obedient to the Holy Spirit. 
  2. Read His word and see what He has to teach us about poverty and loving our neighbor. 

Above all, We must obey the Lord when he places people in our path and help them as He would – loving and serving them well. I pray that we will do just that!


For our Spartanburg friends, I will be posting a list of local resources soon to help you as you meet and get to know our friends.