It took me a long time to realize what made Christmas magic in my home growing up. In fact, I don’t know that I really realized exactly what it had been until today. But I realize now, it didn’t cost a lot and even if you only have a few days before Christmas, anyone can make this kind of magic.
I only remember a handful of gifts, but the feeling of that childhood Christmas magic will never be lost for me. My mom always made Christmas magic for us. As the mom of my own home, I’ve tried really hard to re-create the sense of wonder from my memories, but as I stood over the chaos in my kitchen four batches of cookies into the day, I realized I’ve never really given deep thought about what made it so special.
I know it was hard work. And maybe I’m a bit emotional because my mom turned 75 today and I couldn’t be with her. But she got Christmas right in my memories every year because she loved us.
As I scooped our family’s traditional chocolate drop cookies with sticky fingers, I thought about what made it all so special. The baked treats were special, but they were only part of the puzzle.
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It was mostly love. But it was love spun into family traditions and kneaded into cinnamon rolls, wrapped into presents, shared through stories, and baked into cookies. That is the Christmas magic I really want to pass onto my children, the magic of our savior’s birth and how we love each other because of Him.
That kind of Christmas magic doesn’t cost money and if you haven’t found it yet this year, it’s cheap and easy to find.
Focus on the right kind of presence.
First, wrap everything you do in Christ’s presence. Be intentional to focus on ways He is present everyday. Be His hands and feet to your family, neighbors, church.
and Be present yourself. Quit worrying about all the things that need to be done or the next thing you’ll be doing. Just be when and where you are. There is so much rest that comes with focusing on the moment we’re in.
When I remember Christmas in my childhood home, we were all present more than just physically. Our family spent quality time together. We sat around the table for meals. We talked about our lives, whether it was difficulty with division or anxiety over college applications, or future plans. And there was always so much laughter.
All the funny stories we’d gathered over the years were remembered (and embellished). My dad’s laugh is the kind of wheezing gasp that builds into giant guffaws. It’s still so contagious!
Take the time to treasure your family.
Talking to each other is a lost art. Revive it. Sit around a table with nowhere to go, nothing to do. Get the grandparents talking about their memories. Ask the kids deep questions about their lives or their favorite memories. And really listen.
Kids today don’t know how to sit and listen. Mine are no exception. But I try to teach them to listen to the stories, to value giving someone your attention over staring into a screen. They learn mostly by watching, so show them how to tune out everything but God and family right now (or after you finish reading this ;)).
Play family games. While the younger kids are up, play games they enjoy or family games they can join. Charades or drawing games are always good. A few of our family favorites are shown below. We also really enjoy Wits & Wagers. Older kids are sometimes harder to engage. A family game that forces us to be silly and drop our guard can be just the ticket to find some togetherness.
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Turn on the music & turn off the lights.
When I think about my childhood home at Christmas, I remember how peaceful it was. The lights were soft. The house was warm. It smelled of sugar cookies and cocoa and cinnamon. And Christmas music was always playing from the gigantic record player in the hall.
Dad would put on Bing Crosby’s Christmas album and we’d sneak in Amy Grant’s Christmas before Mom’s favorites. We’d listen for hours. I remember falling asleep to some of those songs. Nightlights were Christmas bulbs and Emmanuel would play down the hall. I would sit at the edge of my bed and sing my little heart out.
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Let the only lights be candles and the Christmas tree. Everything is more magical by twinkle lights. If you have a fireplace, light a fire when you’re all gathered together listening to Christmas music.
Sitting in the dark to just a handful of lights somehow reminds me of the first Christmas. One tiny baby came to light the world. At first only a few could see who He was and bask in His light, but eventually, His light would transform the world. Sitting in the quiet next to the tiny white lights of my tree reminds me how one tiny light is pretty, but how when we all work together, it’s breathtaking.
Read together as a family.
We used to read the Christmas story while setting up the nativity. Each of us had to race to unwrap and place the characters as Dad read from Luke. It was such a fun way to learn the Christmas story and decorate. My daughter doesn’t have to race against two sisters, but we read the story as she sets up her nativity too.
We didn’t have a television in our living room. We didn’t have smart phones. Books were a popular escape, but we would sit together and read, diving into our books, but still together and coming up for air, cocoa, cookies, snowball fights and trivia nights.
Even big kids like to be read to more than they let on. A few good Christmas books have the kinds of stories that can tug the heart strings of all ages. We just finished Holly & Ivy tonight. The last few pages always make me cry as an adoptive mother.
Store bought cocoa, cookies, and movies can be homemade Christmas magic.
A hot cup of cocoa or mug of apple cider over a plate of Christmas cookies feels pretty magical no matter how old you are.
While homemade treats might not be on your radar this year, powdered cocoa is plenty special with a candy cane to stir and squirt of whipped cream. If you’re feeling really snazzy – use a vegetable peeler on a chocolate bar to add some pretty chocolate shavings to the top. Easy magic!
Buy some different types of pre-made cookie dough. Roll it out and use cookie cutters to make Christmas shapes. Red and green colored sugar will make any cookies feel like Christmas. Decorating is the important part anyhow. Pre-made peanut butter dough, coated chocolate candies, and pretzel twists make fun reindeer cookies.
If you feel like baking, try to let everyone pick a favorite recipe so they can all enjoy a taste from their memories. I took a bite of my mom’s molasses ginger cookie recipe today and was transported to 1983 . . .
Drop everything else.
After Jesus, this is the most important one. If at all possible, drop everything else. Focus on the most meaningful parts of Christmas and stop running for the next thing.
Put down the phone. Step away from the laptop. Turn off the television. Whatever you need to do to be able to focus on just loving the people in your life and home for the next few days.
Play on the floor with the kids’ toys. Build with their legos. Have snowball fights (use rolled socks if you don’t have snow).
For all the presents under the tree, the one thing that makes Christmas magic is the presence of the people we love.
In my family tonight, we are celebrating (from afar) my mom’s birthday, but also remembering losing my husband’s grandmother 8 years ago, and mourning his aunt who shared a birthday with my mom.
You won’t get back this Christmas no matter what it looks like. Embrace the best this year has to offer and trust God in the worst.You won't get back this Christmas no matter what it looks like. Christmas Magic means embrace the best this year has to offer and trust God in the worst. Focus on the right kind of presence this Christmas. Click To Tweet
Our Christmas this year is a mixed bag. Our boys will be here, but our families came for Thanksgiving, so it will be just us five. The boys are grown and get boring gift cards and new socks. We are facing major changes and some emotional struggles. But we’ll never be here in this moment again.
We can enjoy what we have with a sense of awe and wonder that the God who created the universe provides for us. He gave the ultimate first gift saving the world through His son 2000+ years ago.