I’ve had several people tell me in the last few weeks how our children are at the “prime age” for Christmas. It’s true. Having three wide-eyed kids 7 and under makes for a very special Christmas season.
I have been trying to soak in all of the festive moments-and we’ve crammed quite a few into December already! We’ve put up the tree, hung the stockings, decorated cookies, shopped, wrapped gifts, seen Santa three times, attended family gatherings and have plans to go ice skating. Whew, no wonder I’m tired.
As much as I’ve enjoyed all of these activities I, like many other parents, want to make sure my children have perspective about what Christmas really means. Don’t get me wrong. I not only want our kids to participate in all of the previous mentioned activities, I want them to enjoy them to the hilt! However, Kraig and I want our kids to know why we do what we do. We want them to “party like it’s Christmas!” but also know who the party is for.
So we tried something. It wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but I also don’t think it was the worst. You see, I wanted our kids to “feel” what the first Christmas might have felt like. No-we didn’t fly them to Israel, speak Aramaic or even sit them on a mule. But we did go to a barn.
We have some friends who have some outbuildings and barns not far from where we live. We asked if we could “borrow” their barn last Friday evening for a little while. They happily agreed, especially after I informed them that we would use LED candles and not real flame and do our best to avoid burning the place down. We were told that one barn in particular had two calves in it. That would be perfect.
We sat the kids down at home that evening before we left and explained to them what we were going to do. We reminded them of the passage in Luke chapter 2 that explains that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn and so they used a stable, or barn, the night that Jesus was born. Jesus… the reason for this month-long party! That’s the way the kids seem to see it. That’s the way we want them to see it. They seem to understand that all of the cookie making, ornament gluing and present buying is fine–good even–because it’s all a part of the party that celebrates the birth of baby Jesus. (Let me put a disclaimer here that our older two children seem to get this. Our one-year-old still seems a bit foggy on the whole concept… but give her a candy cane and she’s good to go!)
Anyway, we told the kids that we wanted to try to see what it might have felt like on that first Christmas. We told them that basically we wanted to make them uncomfortable. I know, aren’t we great parents?! We reiterated that all of the parties and fun are fine, but that sometimes it’s good to feel uncomfortable. Maybe it helps us understand how uncomfortable God must have felt trying to fit inside that tiny baby.
We got to the barn just as it was getting dark outside. I gave each of the kids a little fake candle that they held and with which they were quite intrigued. We went into the barn where the calves were. And I mean were. They took one look at us and got out of there into their fenced in outdoor area. They wanted nothing to do with us and they wouldn’t even make a peep (or moo.) I was hoping for a little ambiance out of them but apparently they haven’t ever sung “Away in Manger.” Oh well.
Nonetheless we five stood freezing in the barn. We took a baby doll that I wrapped in cloth and laid on the floor in the straw (no manger that we could find!) Then we had the kids help us tell the Bible story from Luke 2. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and prayed together. We also had asked the older two kids to take a gift with them to present to baby Jesus. Karson, our oldest, had written a note to God. To: God, From: Karson, it read. I love you God! (with a big red heart he’d colored.) Karson read it out loud. Pretty precious.
Karly, our three-year-old, had a gift that was less on the heartfelt side and more on the practical. A Santa hat. The baby’s head might be cold. 🙂
Yes, we had a fussy toddler who wanted her pacifier and was obsessed with the little switch on the bottom of her candle. Karson and Karly argued about who got to stand where and everyone was hungry and looking forward to our next stop, Pizza Hut. However, even with the noisy children and quiet cows it was still special. Not perfect, but special.
I don’t think it blew the kids’ minds or will be one of their favorite memories of the season, but I do think it planted a seed. Hopefully it’s a seed we can water in the years to come as we remind the kids each year for whom we have this great month-long party.
Memories in a barn. Not perfect, but a good attempt. We knew it was time to go when Karly said, “Let’s get out of here! It smells stinky!” Yes, we made them uncomfortable for a short time. I think we made the cows uncomfortable too. But it reminded me that God made Himself uncomfortable for me. And lowing cattle or not…I’m eternally grateful for that baby in the manger.