Paula Moldenhauer
Traditions that Bring Christ Home

By Paula Moldenhauer, Contributing Writer

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose . . . O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie . . . City side walks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style . . . Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

The ways Americans celebrate Christmas are as varied as the songs of the season flooding the radio airways. As the holiday bursts upon us, starting with Christmas decorations in some stores as early as October, many families wonder if their celebration of the birth of Christ will be lost in a mound of presents and a pile of stress. But across our nation families are choosing meaningful traditions with the intention of bringing the focus of Christ firmly into their home for their Christmas celebration.

Teaching with Decorations

 Pulling out the Christmas decorations isn’t about making a fashion statement, and while the endeavor of creating something beautiful can be an act of worship, many families take it a step further. “It’s important to tell your children the symbolism behind your decorations,” says Rose McCauley, ( an author and grandmother. “They may not understand that you put on angel on the top of the tree because the angels announced Christ’s birth.”

When her children were small, Rose used her decorations to instill truth about Christ and create warm family memories. One tradition included sleeping under the Christmas lights one night of winter vacation. As they lay in the quiet, under the twinkling bulbs, she talked with her children about how Jesus is the light of the world.  This family time now extends to her granddaughters, who carry on the same tradition their mom enjoyed.

Gina Conroy’s ( family adds something special to their stockings—a letter to Jesus, which they write as a family. On Christmas Eve, they reread past letters, allowing the family to see how God has been woven into their family history.

Carrie Turransky, ( author, homeschooling mom, and wife of Dr. Scott Turansky, founder of The National Center for Biblical Parenting (, suggests making a manger out of cardboard, placing it in a prominent place in your home, and purchasing a stash of hay. “Give the kids examples of ways they can perform secret acts of kindness for family members,” she says. “Every time a family member does a secret kindness, he can add a piece of straw to the manger. Talk with your children about how our loving actions prepare our hearts and the manger for Jesus to be born. Then, on Christmas Eve, have fun telling stories of the kindnesses that you did for each other.”

Carrie and Rose McCauley also agree it’s important to have at least one nativity set that is unbreakable and placed where even young children can play with it. “Encourage them to arrange the figures as you talk about the story of Christ’s birth,” says Carrie.

Homeschooling mom and pastor’s wife, Karla Doyle, adds another dimension to the idea of using the nativity as a teaching tool. On Christmas morning, she hides a present with each piece of the nativity. As they read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible, they pause when one of those pieces is mentioned. Their children search for the figurine and when they’ve found it are allowed to open the present. “This keeps our gift-giving focused on the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus,” said Karla. She adds with a twinkle, “It is also the only day of the year you can hear my children begging, ‘please read the Bible, Dad, hurry, what’s the next verse?’”

Another family, who chooses not to do presents on Christmas morning, has adapted this tradition by hiding a set of instructions with each hidden figurine. When the piece is found, the children read the directions and follow them. The instructions include things like: “sing ‘Joy to the World’”, which is the instruction placed with baby Jesus; or “say something you appreciate about dad”, which is hidden with the Joseph figurine.

De-emphasizing Commercialism

 Some families choose to avoid, limit, or re-package the tradition of gift giving on Christmas morning. The James’ family chooses not to buy many gifts for each other, or sometimes none at all. “We want the focus to be on giving and what Christ has done,” said mom, Pamela, “not on the presents.”

Vasthi’s family limits the gifts. “We’re very blessed so we have to avoid the temptation to over-give to our children. They each get three gifts because that is what Jesus received from the Magi.”

Another family chooses not to give each other gifts at all on Christmas day, but later during the Christmas vacation has a treasure hunt. The mom writes riddles telling the children where the gifts are hidden and who they are for. The riddle might lead the children to a big box full of new socks for everyone or to a specific present for one of the children. A gift the whole family can enjoy together, like a game, snack, or craft is found at the end and shared.

Cynthia Ruchti’s ( family does do the traditional gift exchange, but has added a special tradition to help them not only to focus on giving instead of receiving, but also to remember her dad, who modeled this behavior for them. Each Christmas season the family sets up what they call the Richard H. Johnson memorial fund. Everyone contributes, even the littlest grandkids, and then the family donates to a charitable organization. “We lost my dad, a godly man in 1993,” said Cynthia. “We all miss him terribly, but the tradition has brought such joy and rekindles thoughts of him in the middle of our Christmas gathering. Our favorite gift year was when we located the orphanage in Korea where he visited as a young marine and distributed gifts and candy to the orphans.”

The family contribution was sent to the orphanage, which now specializes in handicapped children and adults. “It was an amazing search to find the place. All we had was a handful of old photos and a little embroidered apron with the words ‘Nam Buk Orphanage,’” said Cynthia. “but the effort was well worth it.”

Author, speaker, and mom of four, Paula Moldenhauer has published over 300 times. Her first two novels released in 2012. She serves as the Colorado Coordinator for the American Christian Fiction Writers and homeschools. Paula loves peppermint ice cream and walking barefoot. Her greatest desire is to be close enough to Jesus to breathe His fragrance. Visit her: 


Traditions that Bring Christ Home (Part II)

By Paula Moldenhauer, Contributing Writer

As Christmas draws near, many families look for ways to focus on Jesus and His selfless giving to the world. By integrating traditions of service and worship into their holiday season, these families seek to help their children see beyond commercialism into the heart of Christ.


“Our family has a tradition of giving a birthday present to Jesus every year by helping other people at Christmas,” said Anne McDonald. “Last year, we volunteered for a week to wrap thousands of presents for the Gospel Rescue Mission. Then, we helped out with the Christmas dinner held on Christmas Eve. My son (12 at the time) insisted it was the best Christmas ever.”

Selecting and purchasing gifts for the needy is another option for families who want to reach beyond themselves. Organizations, like Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree, make this type of giving easy to do. Fourteen-year-old Sarah talks of the time her family worked with Angle Tree to make sure a girl, just younger than herself, had gifts from her father who was incarcerated.

“I think it would be depressing to have your dad in prison,” said Sarah. “I hoped our gifts would make her feel better. It was fun trying to figure out what I would have liked at her age and I enjoyed knowing I helped someone through a hard time.”

Other families select newer toys or other gently used items from their home to wrap and donate to needy families. According to Gail Martin, ( author of The Christmas Kite, it is important that children experience generosity and compassion as a part of their Christmas memories. “Through Christmas they can learn that what we do for others is the same as what we do for Jesus,” she said. She also encourages parents to allow children, even younger ones, to be fully involved in the process. “Let them help wrap the gifts even if it’s just tearing off the tape.”

Another way to give to the needy is to purchase gifts from organizations where the profits go to benefit others. One family plans to do their Christmas shopping with Amani ya Tuu (, an organization that trains displaced African women to sew beautiful quilts, bags, and toys. The products are sold to support the women and their children.

Jennifer Clark Vihel trained her children to give within their neighborhood. Their family created or purchased a small gift for a neighborhood family for each of the seven days leading up to Christmas. The children were in charge of wrapping the gift and of stealthily getting it onto the neighbor’s front porch each evening. On the last night, they left a larger gift and a card revealing their identity. “The children had the most fun trying not to get caught!” said Jennifer.

Jennifer said the years they chose retired people with no children at home were some of the best. “The older couples discovered who was leaving the surprise and had such a blast watching the kids trying to sneak that night’s gift onto their porch. To hear the kids giggle as they rushed home and scurried into the house to avoid getting caught was my blessing. One of the nicest things about this tradition is it taught the kids about the joy of giving.””

Another family who loves to give an anonymous gift doesn’t know who the recipient of their gift will be. They begin praying for this person early in December, asking God to send someone who really needs it. Then, during the after Christmas sales, the family spends a day shopping together and goes out to eat. The waitress who serves them that day gets a $100 bill for a tip! The family leaves quickly after placing their tip on the table, so they can’t be traced. This has become the children’s favorite part of Christmas.

Focusing on Worship

Looking for unique worship experiences is also important to families during the Christmas season and they often begin by celebrating Advent.

Karen Witemeyer ( has a wooden Advent scene that hangs on the wall. Beginning Dec. 1st, her children open the first little box and pull out a tiny piece of the nativity. Each piece has an accompanying scripture telling of the incarnation. But she encourages people to celebrate advent with their children with or without fancy props. “Before we got the wooden set we did something similar using portions of scripture each night. Celebrating Advent is a great way to spread the excitement of Christmas over the whole month and use the time to focus on the Savior.”

Carrie Turansky author, homeschooling mom, and wife of Dr. Scott Turansky, founder of The National Center for Biblical Parenting (, says her family has special books they save to be read only at Christmastide. They read some of the books aloud and others on their own, allowing them to worship as a family or in solitude.

Worshipping through the visual arts is a blessing that can easily be overlooked. ”Take time to look at art that portrays the Christmas story,” says Carrie. “Let your children try their hand at creating a Christmas drawing or painting. Younger children can create a collage from old Christmas cards. These gifts can then be offered to Jesus as an act of worship or to the neighbors as an act of service.”

Like other families, the Turanskys have a special collection of music they bring out for the season. “Many of the Christmas Carols have wonderful stories behind them,” Carrie says. She recommends sharing with your children the stories behind the carols to give them a deeper understanding of their worship. She recommends Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart, which includes stories of 12 Christmas carols and a fully orchestrated CD.

Music is also a part of Evelyn Evans favorite Christmas experiences. One occurred when a friend invited her family to join in listening to the Hallelujah Chorus. “We used a Bible and looked up verses as we went along,” said Evelyn. “The fireplace was on and the room quiet. Scented candles flickered while we enjoyed the music, spicy cookies, and hot tea. It was wonderful.” Evelyn recommends selecting only portions of the work if children are present. “You don’t want the experience to become so long that the younger ones can’t appreciate it.”

A special worship tradition for the James family starts about 4:00am on Christmas morning, when the world is quiet. “I make a treat like hot chocolate and some cookies or muffins, and we light candles, but have no other light,” said mom, Pamela. “We sit together holding hands while my husband says a beautiful prayer. Then, we sing songs that really bring into focus what it means to be a Christian. We like the wee hours because we can worship in peace. There are no people knocking at the door or calling on the phone. It’s just us and the Lord and it’s awesome.”

Bringing Christ Home

Whether you choose to incorporate one of these ideas into your family tradition or have a special tradition of your own, may this Christmas be a blessed time of bringing Christ home to your family.

Author, speaker, and mom of four, Paula Moldenhauer has published over 300 times. Her first two novels released in 2012. She serves as the Colorado Coordinator for the American Christian Fiction Writers and homeschools. Paula loves peppermint ice cream and walking barefoot. Her greatest desire is to be close enough to Jesus to breathe His fragrance. Visit her: 

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