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Celebrating christmas with children: Tips and ideas

Christmas is the highlight of the year for families. In a season that is usually characterised by cold and darkness, Advent brings wonderful feelings with candlelight, the smell of biscuits and carols. Find out here what truly matters at Christmas!

Between anticipation, excitement and silent night

Unfortunately, consumerism and the pressure to outdo each other with gifts and extravagant dishes every year doesn't stop at Christmas. So, what does it really take for children and adults to have a wonderful and enjoyable time together at Christmas? How nice would it be if it wasn't so much about the latest toys or game consoles, but rather singing, laughing and storytelling?

Advent and the Christmas holidays can be stress-free in families with children. Below we have put together a brief list of points to remind you why we still celebrate Christmas today, what Christmas means for children and which traditions and customs make for a more peaceful and intimate Christmas season.

Why do we still celebrate Christmas today?

A birth over 2,000 years ago. "And it came to pass in..." - probably every adult has heard the biblical Christmas story, even if they themselves have little to do with church and religion. The fact alone that the story of the birth of Jesus, which is said to have taken place in a manger in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, still inspires Christians all over the world to celebrate Christmas today speaks in favour of still telling children about Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds in the field and the other protagonists of the Christmas story.

Child in a manger with strawThe baby Jesus was born in the manger.

Many children ask their parents about the child in the manger, the star over Bethlehem and the events that took place on Christmas Eve. But how do parents explain the Christmas story to their children in an understandable way?

It is important to tell children that Christmas is a Christian festival, but it is also celebrated by many people who do not go to church. It stands for love, compassion and peace.

Even young children understand that Christmas is a birthday celebration, which is why presents are given. The birthday child was born in a stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. And this little baby lying in the manger was to grow up to be one of the most important figures in Christianity.

The heavily pregnant Mary and her fiancé Joseph travelled to Bethlehem for a census, but there was nowhere to find a hostel room for the poor family. Fortunately, they were eventually offered a stable where the couple found safe shelter for the night.

At the same time, three wise men were on their way to Bethlehem, following a star. An angel appeared to shepherds who were keeping watch in the field near the stable, announcing the birth of a very special child. Sure enough, Jesus was born that night and the new parents were amazed when the shepherds and the three wise men from the East came to the stable, kept the young family company and brought gifts for the newborn. Unfortunately, Mary and Joseph could not enjoy familial bliss for long – King Herod had heard that a new king had been born and became afraid of his power. The Holy Family had to take their child to safety.

Mary, Joseph and their childMary and Joseph hold their newborn son in their arms.

It's a special story that still fascinates today. Parents who tell it to their children will be amazed at the analogies the little ones can draw. Whether it's about refugees, the injustice of a heavily pregnant woman not being offered better accommodation than a stable, or powerful people afraid of a new generation taking over - children will think a lot about what they can learn from the Christmas story. The Christmas story is not a "perfect world" story but it is a tale that highlights important values that children and adults alike should be reminded of.

Even for the youngest children, there are beautifully illustrated children's books with the Christmas story. And primary school children love it when their parents show them exactly where Bethlehem and Jerusalem are located in an atlas or on a globe. Many Christmas songs recount excerpts from the biblical Christmas story and are an excellent way to internalise what they have learned.

How do children perceive the christmas season?

Is it a wonderful time for all children? Christmas time can be a pleasant time for the whole family - provided that Christmas is celebrated in an age-appropriate way and the adults remain relaxed.

Child holds a candle in his handsFor children, Christmas is a time full of excitement, wonder and joy.

At Christmas, even babies are excited by the twinkling lights and colourful ornaments on the tree. And there is nothing they like better than to hear their parents and grandparents singing Christmas carols to them in a soft voice. The little ones, on the other hand, don't need expensive Christmas presents. If you feel like giving a young family a treat, why not give them a nativity scene figurine to get them started?

Children of kindergarten age love to sing Christmas carols with their parents, cut out biscuits and decorate the tree. They enjoy the intimate family time. On Christmas Eve, most churches have beautiful children's services with a nativity play.

Mother and daughter bake Christmas cookies togetherBaking together is an important ritual for the family.

Schoolchildren already understand the Christmas story well. What they love most about Christmas are the presents. And even if teenagers like to show their rebellious side during Advent, they usually have little to object to when it comes to delicious biscuits, games and a visit from their grandparents.

Christmas is not a particularly relaxed time in every family. If the parents still have to work on Christmas Eve or if conflicts arise, for example, the stress is quickly transferred to the children. In such cases, it is important to lower one's expectations and avoid unrealistic expectations for a harmonious Christmas. There is nothing wrong with ordering the Christmas roast to be delivered by a restaurant, store-bought biscuits and enjoying stollen from the bakery. Much more important than a picture-perfect Christmas is sincere, friendly togetherness.

Celebrating advent and Christmas - A time full of beautiful rituals

In a world where traditions and rituals seem to be out of fashion, Advent and Christmas arguably tug at everyone's heartstrings. Grandparents tell their grandchildren about Christmas celebrations in their childhood, the family bakes biscuits together and in school, busy children's hands make loving Christmas presents for their parents. A detailed overview of Christmas traditions in Germany and other countries can be found here in our magazine. Here, we would like to briefly introduce some of the most wonderful Advent and Christmas traditions that are suitable for families as well:

Baking together

Vanilla crescents, speculaas or butter biscuits - every family has a favourite biscuit with which they ring in the Advent season. Even small children take great pleasure in rolling out dough, cutting out biscuits and decorating them with colourful sprinkles. It is important to allow ample time for Advent baking in the family. Children often need longer to cut out the treats, one or two pieces of dough are eaten straight away and by the end, the little bakers usually end up covered in crumbs and flour. Needless to say, patience is needed. If you want to get in the mood for Advent as early as November, bake fresh stollen and leave it tightly wrapped under the bed to age. A last-minute idea for families with little time is gingerbread houses, which can be bought pre-baked. Stick the slabs together with icing and decorate the house with colourful candies, sugar pretzels and sticks. The finished product will be a delicious gingerbread house that is almost too good to eat!

Advent wreath

Advent wreaths and arrangements are easy to make and decorate yourself. You can find all the materials you need in florists' shops. But a ready-bought Advent wreath is also a source of great joy: every Sunday in Advent, a family member lights an Advent candle, a song is sung and perhaps even a beautiful story is read aloud.

homemade advent wreathA homemade Advent wreath is a must at Christmas.

A plate of cinnamon stars, Printen or chocolate moons certainly can't hurt either. And with every candle that burns on the Advent wreath, the anticipation of Christmas increases immeasurably.

Saint Barbara's Day on 4 December

4 December is the day of remembrance for Saint Barbara. In some regions, people put fresh branches in a vase filled with water on this day. The forsythia, redthorn or fruitwood twigs blossom until Christmas Eve and are considered by many people to bring good luck. Saint Barbara's branches can also serve as an oracle: For this, each family member hangs a wish or message on a branch. The branch that blossoms first holds the message that is to come true.

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To ensure that the Barbara branch blooms, certain factors should be taken into account. Because frost stimulates the branches to flower, in warm winters you should put the branches in the freezer for two days before 4 December. Then cut the branches at an angle and place them in a vase filled with lukewarm water. Change the water every three days. During the first few days, place the vase with the Barbara branches in a cool room, such as a bedroom. Have you noticed that the buds are starting to swell? If so, it's time to move the vase to the living room or another warm room. If the humidity is low, it is advisable to mist the branches with a little water from time to time. The fact that the seemingly dead branches begin to blossom in the middle of winter is symbolic of the light that the birth of Christ brought into the world. The custom of putting up Saint Barbara's branches is age-old and is something that children also enjoy. On this beautiful occasion, why not read aloud a child-friendly version of the legend of Saint Barbara alongside the Christmas story?

Saint Nicholas Day

Freshly cleaned boots, nuts, apples and a friendly, fat man made of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate - what more do you need for a wonderful Saint Nicholas Day with children? Even though only very few boys and girls today are afraid of Saint Nicholas and his assistant Knecht Ruprecht, who sometimes wields a rod to punish naughty children, Saint Nicholas Day is an exciting celebration for the little ones. If you want to know who Saint Nicholas really was and why we celebrate Saint Nicholas Day every year in his memory, you can read about it here.

Advent calendar

No Advent season is complete without an Advent calendar. Children love to open a new door every day and are delighted to find a little surprise behind each date. Many parents make and fill the Advent calendar themselves. In some cases, the godmother or a grandparent also does this. It doesn't always have to be something sweet either. Lucky charms, trading cards, building blocks, balloons and other small items are also great Advent calendar gift ideas. For children, the unwrapping and the surprise are usually more important than the gift itself.

Girl is looking at her advent calendarA self-made Advent calendar passes the time until Christmas Eve with little surprises.

Christmas cards

Christmas is a wonderful time to send postcards and letters to distant relatives and friends. Children can create beautiful Christmas cards from coloured cardboard, stickers, glitter dust and straws. Family photos are also beautiful motifs for an individual Christmas card.

Christmas time is story time

Christmas is the time for storytelling. Besides the biblical Christmas story, there are funny, exciting, sad and simply beautiful Christmas stories for every age group that are great to read aloud. Selected book recommendations for Advent can be found here.

Christmas tree

Of course, we can't forget the Christmas tree. With its lights, shiny ornaments and other decorations, it's the centrepiece of every living room. These days, there are also potted Christmas trees that can be replanted after Christmas. Artificial Christmas trees are similarly popular and while they may not smell as nice as their traditional counterparts, they certainly do the trick.

Every family has its own rituals for putting up and decorating the tree. Some cut the tree themselves in the forest, some put it up on Christmas Eve and others decorate it together with the children. Of course, a decorated coniferous tree does not appear in the biblical Christmas story. In this article, we look at why and how we put up Christmas trees today.

The nativity scene - a wonderful tradition

Nativity scenes bring the Christmas story to life in a very special way. Children can't get enough of the lovingly carved nativity figures and are inspired to imagine and reflect on the Christmas story. In some families, the nativity scene is passed down from one generation to the next. In other families, parents buy another nativity figurine every year and gradually add shepherds, animals, angels and the like to the stable. Once the 24-piece nativity scene is complete, another figure can be added every day during Advent until the baby Jesus is placed in the manger on 24 December.

Two children are playing with the Fairy-Tale nativity sceneThe Fairy-Tale nativity scene by Lignoma is not only very beautiful but also perfect for children.

If you would like to know the order in which the nativity figures are placed, you can read about it here. If a family has its own tradition, adhering to it is no problem at all, of course. In our blog, you can also find information about the meaning of individual nativity figures. In some towns, large nativity scenes are set up at the Christmas market, which, along with mulled wine and roasted almonds, prove to be crowd-pleasers. Carving nativity figures and setting up nativity scenes has a long tradition. If you would like to learn more about this craft and the history of the nativity scene, you can find more information here.

Not every nativity scene is suitable for families with children. Children love to hold the nativity figures in their hands and play with them. Therefore, when buying, make sure that the nativity figures are not made with delicate parts that can break off easily. Figures with rounded shapes, on the other hand, fit well in the hand and can be played with. A very beautiful 24-piece nativity scene that is suitable for families with children is the Fairy-Tale nativity scene.

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A stress-free Christmas with children

The goose has to go in the oven, the last presents haven't been wrapped yet and the string of lights just won't go on - it's no wonder Christmas can so easily become stressful. We have prepared some tips to make Christmas stress-free for the family. This way, Christmas really will be one of the highlights of the year:

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner in particular is a source of real stress in some families- the children don't eat up, don't want to sit down for so long or save their appetite until dessert. We have put together some helpful tips for a stress-free Christmas dinner with children:

  • No false expectations: Children will behave no differently during the Christmas hustle and bustle than they do in everyday life. No grandma or uncle should hold it against the little ones if they get up between courses, spill or refuse the Brussels sprouts.
  • Child-friendly Christmas menus: You know best what your child likes. Include your child's preferences in the planning of the festive meal. A Christmas menu that many children will enjoy would be, for example:
    • Flädlesuppe (German Pancake Soup) as a starter
    • A roast with dumplings, croquettes and a small salad as the main course
    • A chocolate mousse or a baked apple with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert
Christmas dinner with the whole familyA lot of stress and trouble can also be avoided at Christmas dinner with children.
  • Let your children help with cooking, setting the table, serving and clearing away. This way everyone has something to do and contributes to the success of the festivities.
  • Preparation pays off: Many classic Christmas dishes can be prepared well in advance. Red cabbage, for example, usually tastes better on the second day. A wild game goulash can also be cooked ahead of time. And why not get the preserved fruits from the summer out of the cellar for dessert? Make the preparation as easy as possible for yourself.
  • Accept help: If your mother-in-law offers to help with the dishes, kindly accept. Any relief will reduce the feeling of stress.
  • Working until 23 December and have a good restaurant in town? Think about having a Christmas goose delivered complete with dumplings and red cabbage. Nothing beats a festive meal where everyone is relaxed and happy.

Gift giving

Especially with small children, it makes no sense to delay the giving of presents until the little ones can hardly stand the excitement. Early presents ensure that the wait comes to an end and the children still have enough time to unwrap, try out and set up their gifts. If electronic toys are given as gifts, parents should always check in advance whether they have the right batteries in the house.

Child receives a Christmas present from his parentsA relaxed and stress-free Christmas is within reach.

Fresh air and exercise

A walk, fresh air and romping around have been proven to lower stress levels in parents and children. Whether it's a short walk before the presents are given out or a brief night hike - if you're out and about on Christmas Day, you'll see a lot: other families also getting a breath of fresh air, festively lit houses in the neighbourhood and, if you're lucky, even a shooting star to remind you of the Star of Bethlehem.

If the dream of a white Christmas comes true, it's even more important to spend as much time outside as possible. Building snowmen, tobogganing, ice skating, building an igloo or having a snowball fight with the whole family - the possibilities are endless. A torchlight hike, a walk with a lantern and a get-together around the fire are fun in almost any weather. Maybe even another friendly family has time to join in.

Moderating the use of smartphones and tablets correctly

It's hard to imagine everyday family life without smartphones and tablets. The phone serves as a camera and gaming device and offers numerous chat options and social media apps through which information and pictures are shared. But who wants a Christmas where the children sit on the sofa all day staring at their screens?

Family takes selfie with smartphoneSmartphones and tablets often spoil the mood at Christmas. Setting clear rules can help.

Doing without smartphones and tablets during the holidays is not easy and can rarely be achieved without a fight. However, with the following tips, their use can be moderated:

  • As in everyday life, parents should also set a good example at Christmas. Adults who repeatedly pick up their smartphones cannot expect their children to behave differently.
  • Instead of bans, positive communication can take the tension out of the topic. Instead of smartphone-free time, for example, one or two hours per holiday can be firmly agreed upon, which should be used specifically to send Christmas wishes, make fun videos and play online games. You will be surprised: the agreed-upon time is often undercut by choice.
  • If the children display addiction-like behaviour when using smartphones or mobile phones, establishing consequences may be the only way to help. For example, all devices are locked in a fancy box or stacked together for an agreed-upon period of time. Whoever takes out a device has to do a small household task.
  • Board games, geocaching outdoors, a schmaltzy Christmas movie on TV - if you offer your children attractive alternatives, you significantly increase the chance of smartphone-free holidays.
  • Even if Christmas is beautiful, not every single moment has to be captured in a photograph. Experiences that are made purely and without a camera are often remembered much more intensively than what can be seen later in photographs. If you don't want to do without photos at all, you should appoint a person before the festivities who will be responsible for taking photos during the holidays.

Avoid giving too many presents

Too many presents spoil the joy and ensure that children no longer know what to do. If you make it clear to your children before Christmas that time together is the best gift, they will be happier on Christmas Eve.

Grandpa giving his grandchild a giftChildren often receive too many gifts. What they want most of all is connection and attention.

To reduce the number of gifts, open and honest agreements should be made with grandparents and other relatives. As an alternative to Christmas presents, they are often happy to fill the Advent calendar or transfer a small amount to the children's savings account. Secret Santa is a fun alternative to hastily bought last-minute gifts. Unwrapping and inspecting Secret Santa gifts together can bring great joy.

Most children understand much more than adults give them credit for. If a child's wish list is too long or if there are far too expensive ideas on the list, it is time for a frank discussion. If a child is lovingly told that a new bicycle, an electric guitar and the latest game console simply cost too much money, their joy over the actual gift they receive at Christmas will be much greater than the disappointment that excessive expectations are not fulfilled.

Wrap gifts sustainably

At Christmas, we create a huge amount of packaging waste. Yet gifts can be wrapped beautifully without glossy paper, glitter foil and colourful ribbons. Sustainable packaging materials can be found in every household: old newspapers, sheet music, woollen threads, pine branches, cinnamon sticks and much more can be used to create beautiful packaging. Wooden crates, empty bottles, cardboard boxes and round tins can also be used to wrap vouchers and gifts creatively and sustainably.

Nativity play

Whether in parish halls, schools or in church - at Christmas, nativity plays are performed in many places. Children who would like to play Mary, a shepherd or a little sheep can register in late autumn and take part. Parents get involved by sewing costumes, making props or distributing handouts.

Even though pastors would be happy to have full churches all year round, at Christmas they are prepared for families to come to the service who don't usually go to church that often. So take heart - a Christmas service is always something special.

Thinking of others for the festival of love

As the "Festival of Love", Christmas is the ideal time to teach children that not everyone is equally well off and that it is important to think of others. Why not bake some Christmas biscuits for the elderly neighbour or offer to bring the widower in your building a delicious dinner on Christmas Day? In church congregations and public institutions such as hospitals, homes for the elderly, shelters for the homeless or homes for refugees, there are always contact persons who know who would be happy to receive a small gift basket. Children love to put together such gifts, contribute a self-drawn picture and are happy to help with shopping and wrapping.

Families sing a song to the neighbor at ChristmasMaking others happy at Christmas is more important to children than you think.

Animals can also be helped: the birds in the garden will be pleased to receive a birdhouse built by the family or homemade feed balls. Those who bring the concept of "charity" to life through such concrete actions give their children important values for their whole lives. Giving joy to others is at least as much fun as receiving gifts yourself.

Games, storytelling and reminiscing

In some families, there is a board game under the Christmas tree every year that parents and children spend the holidays playing over and over again. Many people remember their own childhood particularly fondly at Christmas and - inspired by the smell of biscuits and the glow of lights - begin reminiscing. Another enjoyable Christmas ritual is to get out the photo albums and explain to the children, with the help of cute baby photos, that a star has risen with their birth - just as it did with the birth of Jesus.

The whole family is celebrating ChristmasBeing together as a family is the most important thing. We should learn to appreciate that again and be grateful.

For most parents, the desire to give their children an unforgettable Christmas is strong. However, to ensure that Christmas with children remains stress-free, it is also important to find space for yourself and treat yourself to something nice. Drink a nice glass of red wine after the children are in bed, listen to the Christmas Oratorio on CD or give yourself a present. You've earned it.

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