--- We make a big deal about the Christmas story and read it often. We request every book at the library that deals with the nativity and read them together (over and over :) and discuss them. Some that my girls have particularly enjoyed are: "Mortimer's Christmas Manger," "Room for a Little One," and "Who is Coming to Our House?" We also read each version of the Christmas story in all of our different children's Bibles. This has been a lot of fun for the girls and they both LOVE any book they can find that has Mary and Baby Jesus in it. I have also tried to extend the story so that they get more background, including Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Anna and Simeon.
--- I try to ask them regularly, "why do we celebrate Christmas?" (Because it is Jesus's birthday!) My Mom usually does a "Happy Birthday Jesus" cake that Karis looks forward to decorating and eating. Like Leah, we don't talk about getting presents, (and they have no idea that they will be receiving any!) but we do discuss giving presents to others because it is kind and just like the wise men gave gifts to Jesus. My girls get very excited about giving presents to Daddy and wrapping presents for their cousins. Karis has even come up with some ideas for giving to others all by herself! She was bound and determined to take cookies to our next door neighbor and pestered me about it until I finally made time to do it! They have been thoroughly confused the few times people have asked them what they want for Christmas and were so surprised and delighted this Sunday when some sweet members of our church brought them some small gifts :) I am sure that as they get older and start to remember Christmas morning at the grandparents' each year, then it will be harder to keep the focus on Jesus's birthday and giving, but that will definitely continue to be our goal each year.
--- My husband and I have decided to keep our little family gift exchange very simple to avoid distracting the girls from the real reason for celebrating. We just give them a book (usually the next level of Bible that Karis is ready for) and a CD (because our girls absolutely LOVE Christmas music and it is really hard for them when we put it up for the year!) Last year we got them The Big Picture Story Bible and the Songs for Saplings CD: Questions With Answers. This year we are giving them The Children's Everyday Bible and Seeds of Praise CD. We also do simple stocking stuffers of things they need (like a new toothbrush, socks, gloves, etc.) and something fun (this year it is fingernail polish for Karis and play dough for Karlie). Now I have to be honest with you and let you know that the girls end up getting spoiled at their Grandparents' houses, with lots of presents and super fun stockings, but they get spoiled there pretty much anytime they go visit so it doesn't take away from the season too much... they just see it as the fun of being at the grandparents' houses! And we are so blessed to have wonderful parents who ask us what our girls need or what I would like for them to have, so all of their gifts are always much-appreciated and well-used. This year they are mainly getting doll accessories (since they are obsessed with babies and will be even more so after the new one arrives!) and educational toys that I have been wanting for them.
--- We have presented Santa to our girls as something fun and "pretend" that people like to talk and sing about around Christmas time, much like Frosty the Snowman. Next year I plan to get some books about St. Nicholas and try to delve into the historical tradition a little more, but for now, Karis has been happy to see Santas everywhere and just know that it is a fun story people like to read and sing about during the winter time. When she gets a little older, I'm sure I will have to discuss with her about the fact that some children actually believe the stories and that she shouldn't spoil their fun by telling them it is just pretend, but it hasn't been as issue for us yet :) She views Santa more as a fun decoration than anything else.
--- Have any of you done the Jesse Tree for Advent with your children this year? I didn't have it together this year and just now got all my ornaments made, but it is something that I am very excited about doing with my girls next year. Basically, each day you read a passage from the Bible and place an ornament on the tree -- Each ornament represents a different story, starting at the beginning of Creation and working all the way to the coming of Christ Jesus. Each reading shows how all the Old Testament points towards the coming of Christ as the Messiah.
So those are a few of the ideas we have for keeping Christmas simple and Christ-focused as much as possible. I would LOVE to hear more suggestions from all of you!