When Christmas Traditions Don’t Go the Way You Planned


My six-year-old fidgets with the tiny box, trying to get it open. He is not paying attention to a word I am saying. I take a deep breath and tell myself to be patient.

When I picked out the nativity scene, I envisioned it becoming a yearly tradition. Each piece of the set was stored in a gift box with an accompanying story. As you opened each character, the idea was to read a passage of the book and share the meaning of Christmas with your kids.

But with kids, things don’t ever go the picture perfect way we envisioned them, do they? There is no script.

My son asks me when he can open the next box. He is more concerned with opening the boxes than listening to the story of Jesus’ birth. I hear the pitter patter of my three-year-old’s feet as he comes in to watch the scene unfold for a few minutes, then leaves after he discovers he is not allowed to open all of the boxes yet either.

I skip over paragraphs in each section, trying to condense it into bite size portions that my oldest can digest. When I open the baby Jesus, his excitement grows. Perhaps he is retaining little pieces of this experience. One can hope, right?

Now, there are just a few boxes remaining. I wonder what lay in the seventh and final box, since it seems there are only a few characters left in the story. I ponder various possibilities as I explain the gifts of the magi and tell how far these men traveled just to see the promised Messiah.

When we open the last box, I smile as I see my son’s reflection gleaming in a tiny mirror. It’s meaning is simple yet profound. The mirror represents what God wants for Christmas.

I watch my son’s face as he studies the mirror and listens to my explanation. He is amused. I offer an invitation but I don’t push it. There is no script for giving your heart to Jesus.

In all my worrying about doing right my my kids and showing them God’s love, I’ve learned a few things along the way. When I earnestly seek God, I find him. Even if it takes some tears first.

Kids respond to God’s love on his timeline, not mine. And one of the greatest ways I can share his love is through my actions, not my words.

Because my actions fill in the spaces where my words are lacking.

The day following our nativity adventure, which I pinned as a complete failure, was a Sunday. We were playing and spending time together when all of a sudden Jaden goes,

“Daddy, God wants my heart for Christmas.”

My husband perked up and listened.

“That’s right buddy, he does.” He smiled.

“Yeah, and he’ll never leave me.”

And with that, Jaden continued soaring his toy airplane over his head through the living room, indicating he was done with the conversation. My hopes soared along with it, as God showed me with a few words that my efforts were not in vain.

If you’re trying to find ways to share Christ’s love with your kids this season, can I make a few suggestions?

  1. Be realistic. We are talking about kids here. There attention span is short. My experience showed me that I should have done one section of the story each night instead of the entire thing in one.
  2. Be enthusiastic. If you are not excited, you’re kids aren’t going to be either.
  3. Be flexible. One kid may have a meltdown or ask questions you had not anticipated. Remember, there is no script for this.
  4. Give yourself grace.Β This is not a competition or a race. Your kids will respond to the message of Christ when they are ready. Your job is to simply give them an open invitation.

And whatever you do this season, remember that the joy of Christmas is contagious. To your kids and to those around you. Christ came near to us so we could be free to embrace that joy.

Let’s let it shine bright for all to see.





*Linking up with Meredith Bernard, Holley Gerth, and Jennifer Dukes Lee

23 thoughts on “When Christmas Traditions Don’t Go the Way You Planned

  1. Abby,
    Great post this morning! I remember many of my well intentioned Christmas traditions being derailed by short attention spans…Particularly lighting the Advent wreath when my son was way more interested in the fire and candles than in the meaning behind it. But, as you mentioned, just when you give up hope that anything sunk in…some word of truth will come our of their mouths and you know your efforts were not in vain. Great pointers to keep in mind when sharing Christmas with little ones!!
    Blessings and ((hugs)),


    • Yes, I think all moms go through this in some way. It’s just easy to get caught up in our expectations sometimes. Thanks for your insights, Bev. Always love hearing from you! πŸ™‚


  2. What a wonderful way to encourage mamas on the journey with their little ones…bigger ones too. I would have loved a road map like yours. Good job!

    On a personal side, “When I earnestly seek God, I find him,” spoke encouragement to me, not only as a mama but as God’s.


  3. Yes, Abby. I love your point about being realistic. Kids have short attention spans. My kids are high schoolers now, and sometimes I have to breathe in deep when they joke or make off topic comments during our family Bible times. We’ve got to give ourselves and them grace! (This also reminded me of how my son asked Jesus into his heart at age 5 after we read a Disney children’s version of the Christmas Carol. I think Donald Duck was Scrooge. Andres wanted to know why Jacob Marley wasn’t in heaven, and I shared the gospel. Go figure!)


    • Oh my, you’re giving me a glimpse into the future. πŸ˜‰ I think we’ll always have to contend with it in some way, until they’re adults (hopefully). That is so funny about your son. Thanks for sharing that. It reaffirms what God has been showing me.


  4. Abby…This is so insightful and encouraging, all at the same time. For years I have been trying to point my daughter toward friends at church. I would tell her how wonderful the young adults group seem. She was not interested. I finally put it to rest…kinda. Actually, I started talking to God about it more than I talked to her about it. It has been years…and then VOILA! She announced to me the other day that she really would like to have friends from church. She is open to me helping her get connected by telling her of different outings I learn of that they are doing.

    In short, she was not interested at the time in what I was saying. But it did not mean my words were falling on deaf ears!


  5. This is such a great post, Abby. I have the same advent box and my son loves it, but his younger sister cares nothing for having to wait to open the boxes. I’m so glad God gave you a glimpse of Him working in the midst. We need those reminders time to time. He is. And your children are soaking in more than you realize. I have to remind myself that, too. Blessings friend!


    • That is so funny that you have the same set, Meredith. πŸ™‚ Yes, I believe they are soaking in more than I realize and we moms are hard on ourselves. Thanks so much for your love, dear friend.


  6. Your story reminds me of my four year old daughter Kaylee. I wanted to have the kids decorate the tree with a couple of ornaments a day. My sweet girl took our first four ornaments off of the tree when no one was looking. She hid them. Later she re-decorated. At first I thought Kaylee was just up to her silly tricks. She likes to play jokes on us. Instead Kaylee wanted to re-decorate. She loves decorating. I think she thought that we only had four to decorate with.

    Your story also reminds me of my son Justin who is also six. Just when I think he isn’t listening to a Bible Story or participating in a lesson, he surprises me unexpectedly with his own understandings about God.


  7. “Because my actions fill in the spaces where my words are lacking” Yes, indeed. We need to share God’s love in actions as well as words because they speak deeper to hearts than our voices alone. There also has to be consistency between what we say and what we do. Children are quick to pick up on it where this is not the case!
    I love the way you are sharing God’s story with your children and the great suggestions you offer here to help other mums. My children are grown up now but I have gleaned some useful tips for when my baby grandson is a little older. Thanks, Abby! Visiting from #tellhisstory today. God bless you and yours. πŸ™‚ x


  8. Oh I loved this post and I remember those early years when my girlie was a Little… the best intentions seemingly falling on preoccupied ears. But they are seeds planted and He is at work! You may be surprised at what they are hearing and seeing and what they are taking in as tradition… my girlie is now all grown up and she still loves to do those little things that we did each year when she was young! Great encouraging grace-filled post!


    • Amen, he is at work even when we don’t see the results right away. He has shown me to be patient, but I am still a work in progress. πŸ˜‰ Thanks so much for stopping here and for your encouraging words.


  9. Oh, Abby…I can so relate. Those expectations of “perfect parenting” that get shattered against the weight of 10-second attention spans. For all the good intentions the kiddos just do what’s natural – like play with the box the present came wrapped in. Loved your suggestions too – blessed are the flexible, right? As if we moms had any other choice! Always a pleasure, friend. Hugs.


  10. Beautiful and so encouraging! It’s hard when we have these ideas and images of ‘perfect’ Christmas moments and are trying to form traditions for our families – but I think it’s those ‘imperfect’ moments that may make the best Christmas memories. Coming to terms this year that our family moments won’t be anything like the cherished moments of my childhood – but maybe that’s OK. We have different ways of having special family moments and more ways we talk about our faith and God in our lives.


    • Oh yes, Kathryn. I think finding your own way and building your own traditions is so important. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in how our parents did things but our own kids are different and their surroundings are different too. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here.


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