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iBiL: What are some Christmas traditions that you had growing up?
Lance: My parents taught me that the real meaning of Christmas was Jesus’ birthday. So every year we would bake Jesus a birthday cake. On Christmas Eve we’d bake a cake (not a Devil’s food cake!) and put it in the fridge. On Christmas morning we’d light candles, eat it, and sing. So, growing up I knew that Christmas isn’t about gifts or getting that iPad that you wanted.
Tonya: We’d go to my grandma’s house every year on Christmas Eve and open our gifts. She always gave us a set of pajamas and a movie. We’d watch the movie in our PJs that night, go to bed, and in the morning we’d wake up and be all ready in our Christmas PJs.
We’d put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving evening, and we’d decorate that week. There was a corner cabinet behind my grandpa’s chair entirely full of Christmas decorations. Now they’re bringing Black Friday into Thanksgiving which means that people have to work and it has changed the way our family does things, unfortunately.
iBiL: Are there any traditions that you’ve started in your own family?
Tonya: Our first Christmas as a married couple, we lived with my grandfather, so we did what they did. Lance has kind of adopted whatever my family does, but we do make a birthday cake for Jesus like Lance’s family did.
As we began having our own children, we also started some new things. One tradition that we’ve started is that every Christmas, we give each of our children three gifts: one thing they want, one thing we want to give them, and something they need. Sometimes we might throw in a couple new outfits and a new pair of shoes, too. We tell our kids that if three gifts were good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for them.
Last year we went and cut down a real tree from a Christmas tree farm. We took a tractor ride out to the trees, picked one out, cut it down, and dragged it back. After picking out our tree, we enjoyed hot chocolate together.
Lance: Originally, we weren’t going to teach our kids about Santa, but it is part of American culture. The main thing is, we want our kids to fully, wholeheartedly understand the meaning of Christmas; it’s not just about waking up and getting gifts.
iBiL: How do you teach the meaning of Christmas to your kids?
Tonya: One way we try to teach the meaning of Christmas is that every year the kids go through all their toys and get about 80-90 percent of their toys, most of which they don’t play with anyway, and donate them to other kids that don’t have toys. Our five-year-old was really asking the question the other day, “What is donating?” So we explained that there are kids that aren’t fortunate enough to get new toys for Christmas, so he can give his toys to those kids. We also tell him that Santa won’t come unless he is generously giving to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Also, we’re trying to teach them to take care of the toys that they do have–teach them the value of things.
Lance: We are trying to teach them that greed and gluttony is bad. That’s the way I was raised—I would give you my last five dollars.
When our oldest son was three, he saw a picture of a baby sleeping on the ground and he asked if the baby could live with us. He learned that some kids sleep in the dirt, have to drink from the river, don’t have medicine—and it makes him more grateful for what he does have. After all, there are some kids in orphanages that don’t have mommies and daddies to celebrate Christmas with.
The root of what we celebrate and try to teach at Christmas is to be grateful for what you have. And that greed and gluttony is bad. It’s hard when there are other kids at school who are being taught differently, but we want to teach our kids not to live in a materialistic world. We don’t want them to think that life is all about having a giant house and a nice car. Because, sadly, that’s all the world is nowadays: it’s driven by money. So many people are greedy, which is why it’s important to teach our kids to be humble. You have to keep some humility on this earth, and that’s really what Christmas is about. A baby in a manger. How much more humble can you get?