Take a moment to ask yourself what Christmas means to you and how you can make that meaning have spiritual resonance with your family. A friend of mine who is a busy single mother says, "I try to tone down the commercial messages about Christmas that seep into my daughter's consciousness. We have come up with our own rituals that include a Christmas Eve gathering of friends-with candles, simple foods, and lots of singing. We make a gingerbread house for the party, and on Christmas Day my daughter and I take it to the woods, where we leave it under a tree 'for the fairies to play in.'"

Here are seven ways you might create a simpler, more soulful Christmas:

  1. Recycle catalogs and brightly colored newspaper inserts as soon as they arrive so your child isn't inundated with commercial messages that encourage the "gimmes."

  2. Encourage family spirit by creating opportunities for sibling collaboration. Let the kids plan a party for their friends at your home, or put them in charge of decorating a small evergreen for the kitchen, making secret gifts as a team, or concocting a festive breakfast menu for Christmas morning.

  3. Shift your thinking to how your family can give to others. Is there a way you can reach out in your community? Ask your priest or minister, school principal, or local Head Start director if they know of a particular family that is in need. Find out the ages of their children and, with yours, create a holiday box full of presents to be delivered anonymously. There are many families outside the "system" whose spirits would be lifted by your generosity and creativity.

  4. Don't forget the critters. Make ornaments for the birds using pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed. Leave a few carrots for the bunnies, a salt lick for the deer. There's an old legend that says you can communicate with animals at midnight on Christmas Eve. When I was a little girl, we trundled through knee-deep snow to the barn to visit with our horses, always convinced we'd heard a few words of wisdom. Ask your kids how they might tune in to the animals this holiday.

5. Weave storytelling into your celebrations. Tell your kids about Christmas traditions from your childhood or your ideal Christmas fantasy. Retell the Nativity story and ask the kids to add details--what did the angels' wings look like? How old were the shepherds and what were they wearing? Children crave downtime with parents, and storytelling gives them glimpses into our very being.

6. Many Christians light weekly Advent candles symbolizing hope, peace, joy, and love. Perhaps you could discuss each quality while lighting the candle it symbolizes. Or your family might give the candles different meanings. They could represent the light of God that surrounds us, the love of God that enfolds us, the power of God that protects us, the presence of God that watches over us.

7. Make decorating the Christmas tree a soulful event. Play music that sets a serene tone, put some cider on the stove to warm, and let the answering machine pick up calls. When you string the lights, talk about the power of light in our lives and how we are beacons of God's light in the world. You could even roll out your sleeping bags and sleep snuggled under the newly decorated tree. Breathe in the pine scent and feel the holiness of the season.

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